The fighters involved are Sergio Martinez, Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, and Kermit Cintron. Last December, Martinez and Williams fought to a near-standstill in a spectacular middleweight bout, with Williams emerging victorious in a disputed majority decision. Martinez, however, still holds a junior middleweight title. In his next fight, he went on to outpoint Pavlik, competitively but convincingly, to claim the middleweight championship of the world. On May 8 in Carson, California, Williams will meet Cintron in a 154-pound bout. Cintron is a live and dangerous underdog, but Williams undoubtedly will enter the ring as the favorite.
Though it wasn't known at the time, the fight between Williams and Martinez, both of whom are openly fluctuating between the two divisions, may have been a matchup of the top two fighters at either weight. If Williams defeats Cintron, as conventional wisdom says he will, then we saw the finals of this four-man tournament five months ago and are watching the semifinals now. And to make matters even more complicated, if Williams does defeat Cintron, a second version of the tournament finals, Martinez vs. Williams, may emerge.
Needless to say, this is not the way a four-fighter tournament normally works. But then again, having two weight classes essentially meld into one isn't normal either. A fighter like Williams who can simultaneously campaign at 147, 154, and 160 pounds isn't normal. And a fighter like Martinez going from relative anonymity in his early 30s to world champion at age 35 isn't normal.
These are bizarre times in these two weight divisions. But with talent like this at the top, they're wonderful times also.
"We're all fighting to be the best, and it doesn't really matter what division we're fighting in," Williams told HBO.com. "I've been fighting in three weight classes, wherever I can get a fight. The one in the middle, 154, that's getting really interesting, because a lot of the guys that are fighting at 147, they're going to come up to 154."
Martinez and Williams have shown a willingness to seize opportunities at middleweight, but both might be at their very best at junior middle. Whether that's the division in which the rest of this drama will play out remains to be seen. There are all sorts of variables at play, such as whether Pavlik elects to enforce his immediate rematch clause and face Martinez again; whether any other big-name fighters (such as Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito) inject themselves into this mix; and, most immediately, whether Cintron can pull off the upset over Williams the way he did a year ago against the previously unbeaten Alfredo Angulo.