Main events, especially featuring superstars like Saul Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KO), often take up all the oxygen during fight week. This week is no different. The reigning WBC/WBA super middleweight titlist is expected to win big on Saturday night (DAZN, 7 PM EST) in a mandatory defense against Avni Yildirim (21-2, 12 KO). The intrigue, where there is some, comes from the quick turnaround and aggressive schedule Alvarez currently appears to be planning with possibly five fights in the twelve months between December 2020 and 2021.
Four to five starts in a year wasn’t always a big deal. In this era, it’s positively retro.
Novelty doesn’t make for suspense in what looks on paper like a solid but predictable activity fight before bigger action down the line.
The suspense will likely come before the main event.
Mexico’s 26-year old WBC flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (17-1, 13 KO) has already built a pretty solid cult following among hardcore fans. Crowd pleasing, aggressive, and defensively reckless, Martinez is good TV and a candidate to replace a generation around his weight that isn’t getting any younger.
Martinez impressed in a No Contest against Charlie Edwards in his first title shot. A ruled errant body shot cost him a chance at gold but he had it one fight later with an even more impressive thrashing of veteran Cristofer Rosales for the belt after Edwards vacated. He again turned heads in a fun decision win over Jay Harris to defend the belt and with a massive knockout on the undercard of Juan Francisco Estrada-Carlos Cuadras II last fall.
That set the table for this weekend.
The big chance.
With prime real estate beneath an Alvarez main event, Martinez can do more to expand his audience and create demand than on perhaps any other night of his career to date. To do it, he will have to get by the most experienced and, on paper, talented opponent of his career. Originally slated for last August, Martinez’s fight with McWilliams Arroyo arrives right on time.
The question is what happens off paper. Can the 35-year old Arroyo (20-4, 15 KO) be as good in the ring as his history suggests? There are reasons to wonder about what is left for the 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian and 2009 World Amateur champion.
This looks like a last chance.
To date, amatuer success has been met with professional frustration in a career defined most by inactivity and tough losses. 14 of Arroyo’s 24 pro starts were completed between 2010 and 2012. An early decision loss in his fourth start didn’t keep him from a shot at a major belt. He’s had two of those. So far, the trophy case is bare.
In 2014, he went on the road to Thailand and had then IBF flyweight titlist Amnat Ruenroeng on the floor in the sixth. He couldn’t finish him and the tricky Ruenroeng retained by the slimmest of margins. It was a fight that could have gone either way.
It didn’t go Arroyo’s.
Two fights later, Arroyo accounted well for himself against a Roman Gonzalez still at the peak of his powers. Arroyo did so even with the sole of his right boxing shoe coming off in the fourth round. Beating Gonzalez on any night has never been easy. Beating him with one functioning shoe was far too tall an order but it cemented Arroyo’s place as a real contender in a really good era.
Arroyo proved how real he could be in his very next start, upsetting Cuadras on the undercard of Estrada-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai I. His reward was a knockdown and decision loss at the hands of the outstanding Kazuto Ioka. Arroyo has won three straight since that defeat, including surviving a two-knockdown fright against former strawweight titlist Carlos Buitrago.
Martinez is a far more imposing threat than Buitrago. Without a fight in 2020, Arroyo has to hope a long rest was more restorative than rusting.
Martinez has to punch through Arroyo either way. With an impressive win, the young titlist could have a healthy piece of comparison shopping against some of the best flyweights and Jr. bantamweights of recent memory. The risk that comes with Arroyo is the possibility of a defeat where the comparison shopping works in reverse.
With discussed willingness to pursue some unification, perhaps against ageless IBF titlist Moruti Mthalane, and a whole lot of action from Jr. flyweight to Jr. bantamweight being aired by DAZN right now, including Estrada-Gonzalez II in little more than two weeks, bigger chances can arrive sooner than later for Martinez.
So can another last chance for Arroyo.
Alvarez may take up most of the oxygen this week, and that makes sense. But this is the one likely worth holding one’s breath for this weekend.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org