The opening scenes of "Maravilla," a documentary about WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, set the tone for the entire film. Martinez is shadow boxing in the dark, the only available light coming from a car's headlights down the road. As a silouhette of Martinez gracefully moves in and out of the headlights, it creates a mood of beautiful athletic skill, surrounded by the uncertainty of the darkness.
That is the essence of Martinez's story.
While Martinez is from Argentina, he has been spending a lot of time in New York. "Maravilla" screened at the TriBeCa Film Festival last month and Martinez defends his middleweight title against Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on June 7.
Anyone who has been around boxing knows that the business side of the sport can be cruel and completely unfair. Martinez sums this up in the film by saying it is "much difficult, much harder, much dirtier than a boxing fight between two boxers."
Martinez is not the first fighter to be victimized by the powerful promoters, networks and sanctioning bodies that run the sport. Nor will he be the last. But in this case, Team Martinez was being followed by a camera crew for much of the ordeal. That makes for a compelling film. Fighters such as Martinez can elevate the sport to an art form, but this film is a true look at the ugly business of boxing.
As a world champion, with a television contract from HBO, Martinez had made it to the pinnacle. The drama of the film centers around Martinez being stripped of his WBC middleweight title and his quest to get it back from the man who wound up with the belt, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
The film does a fantastic job of sorting out this complicated mess. Director Juan Pablo Cadaveira used impartial journalists from the United States, Mexico, Argentina and England to help the viewer understand the machinations of boxing and how a champion such as Martinez ends up being stripped.
Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter and the film's executive producer, steals the show. Seeking justice for Martinez, and a title shot, he verbally goes toe-to-toe with boxing's most powerful men. The scene of DiBella addressing the hierarchy of the WBC at their annual convention is priceless. And it happens to be a Long Islander, Joe Dwyer, on the WBC board who finally makes a motion for Chavez Jr. to fight Martinez.
Ultimately, Martinez and Chavez Jr. fight again. Some of the most poignant moments of the film come on fight night. A camera crew was inside the home of Martinez's mom as she watched the fight surrounded by family and friends in Argentina. The emotional roller coaster of a parent watching a child fight was riveting.
All of the political drama of the film is interwoven with Martinez's journey from unknown preliminary boxer to star. The footage of him as an amateur was fun to watch and his awkward, hands-down style was evident even when he was a teenager. There are also some interesting moments revealed throughout Sergio's rise in the ranks. His father explains that they would often have to pay the opponent Sergio's purse as well, because no one wanted to fight him. This was illustrated when Martinez won the Argentine title and walked home from the fight, title belt slung over his shoulder, because he didn't make enough money for a bus ride.
Things didn't get much better when he came to the United States. Martinez was paid $900 for his first fight in Las Vegas, a TKO loss to future champion Antonio Margarito.
The film opens in Argentina at the end of May, with Disney handling the theatrical distribution. Negotiations are currently underway for U.S. distribution.