Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez is a world championship boxer and current holder of the WBC middleweight title but that’s not always been the case. In 2011, the Argentine’s title belt was unceremoniously stripped away by the World Boxing Council despite not having lost a match. In order to win it back he needed to go toe-to-toe with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the coddled son of Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez.
A new documentary titled Maravilla, directed by Juan Pablo Cadaveira and premiering this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, recounts Maravilla’s struggles with the politics of boxing and the lead up to the much-anticipated match against Chavez Jr. The dynamic documentary, with intimate access to the fighter’s personal life, matches Maravilla’s charismatic energy. What becomes clear is that he’s an unorthodox boxer both inside and outside the ring. A relentless southpaw who moves his legs too much and carries his arms low, many see his fighting style as risky. And at 39 years old he is pushing the upper age limit of typical pro boxers. Outside the ring he’s an activist who speaks out against bullying and domestic violence. Plus, he looks more like a male model than a boxer. His outspoken promoter and executive producer of the film, Lou DiBella has helped him chart an untraditional career. A late bloomer of sorts he has finally connected with his home audience and is now a bonafide star in Argentina.
We caught up with the undeniably charming but still humble champ ahead of the film’s premiere at Tribeca to chat about the documentary, the need to talk smack before a bout, and his favorite Rocky movie.
How did you meet the film’s director, Juan Pablo Cadaveira? What did you think when he asked you to be in his documentary? Did you have any hesitations about filming?
We met at the press conference of the Barker fight while I was being interviewed for an Argentinean TV network. I was approached by him to make the film. He spoke to my advisor prior, Sampson Lewkowicz, who was reluctant to the idea of making the film because there was no TV network or film studio attached. I said yes once we had a meeting with him in Oxnard, California.
In the movie you say that you, “Won the title in the ring but lost the title in an office.” Now that you’ve seen the ugly side of boxing (the business and the politics) does it change your outlook on having wanted to become a boxer?
I’ve always seen myself as a person who tries to see the positives in everything that occurs in my life. Boxing has done so much for me personally and for my family. Without boxing my life would be completely different. I do realize that this is also a business and there are politics involved but in all types of businesses there are these issues, not just in boxing. In the end, it all worked out for the positive.
In the film we see the press conference before the big match against Chavez where the two of you insult each other in a very theatrical way. Do you believe that’s part of what makes someone an entertaining fighter? Is that part of your boxing persona or simply your personality?
Boxing is a sport but it is also entertainment and people pay very good money to see boxing matches so I believe the build up to the fight is very important for the success of the show. If there is no conflict in the build up why would the common individual who is not a fan of the sport be interested in watching the fight. When I’m preparing for a fight my personality changes and I need to have aggression towards my opponent. That is how I motivate myself to be better than them. When I’m not preparing for a fight, I’m very reserved and humble except when I’m with my friends, then I like to make a lot of jokes and have a good time.
Do you believe the match starts even before entering the ring? What is your strategy for interacting with your opponent before the match?
Boxing is 90% mental and you can defeat your opponent well before you enter the ring. I always show my opponent respect because you risk your life when you enter a boxing ring and it takes a certain individual to do so. I’ve always told my opponents beforehand, my game plan of when I’m trying to finish them and how I’m going to do it.
Is there anything about the documentary you would change?
Maybe a little bit less of the filming of the ESPN body issue photo shoot when I was only wearing the WBC belt and that’s it. Just kidding, I think Juan Pablo did a great job with the film.
Famed trainer Freddie Roach is working with Cotto to prepare him for the title fight against you at Madison Square Garden in June. This isn’t the first time Freddie Roach has trained a boxer to fight you; he also worked with Julio César Chávez, Jr. In interviews, Roach has said that Cotto will knock you out. He also said that your defense is poor and you carry your hands too low. What would you say to Roach?
Freddie Roach is a great trainer but he was saying the same things before with Chavez Jr. so I don’t really pay attention to when he says things like that. What I can say to Freddie is that he better prepare Cotto for the fight of his life because I do expect to knockout Cotto by the ninth round. That is a promise.
What actor would play you in a movie chronicling your life and career?
Mark Wahlberg, even though he already played Micky Ward in the fighter, he would be a good choice.
Which is your favorite: Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, or Rocky Balboa?
Probably Rocky Balboa because my promoter, Lou Dibella, is the promoter in the film.
In three words describe your boxing style.
Like a Matador.
Do you listen to music while you are training? What do you listen to?
I listen to Calle 13 when I train. I’m good friends with the singer, Rene.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve seen in a boxing gym or that has happened to you personally during a match or in training?
None that I can share with the public but I’ve seen some good ones.
If you weren’t a boxer, what other career would you have liked to have tried?
Stand up comedy. I have done a stand up show in Argentina. I really enjoy performing my brand of humor in front of crowds.
You have been very vocal in speaking out against bullying and domestic violence. Why are these issues so important to you?
Because of my status people listen to me and I feel that if I put the message out there and bring awareness to these issues, people will notice.
Lots of news outlets and sports journalists seem to think that your retirement is near. What would be the sign for you that it is time to hang up your boxing gloves?
When I lose the desire to give 100% in training for a fight that is when I know it is time to retire. I only have a couple fights left and I promised my mother I wouldn’t fight past the age of 40.