Contrast and conflict lie at the heart of boxing and Saturday's match between IBF junior featherweight titlist Jonathon Romero and challenger Kiko Martinez exemplifies that dynamic.
The willowy Romero stands 5-9 and owns a 68 1/2-inch reach while Martinez is 5-5 with a 66-inch wingspan. Romero is from Colombia while Martinez is a native of Spain. Romero has an unblemished 23-0 (12 KO) while Martinez has recorded a 28-4 (20) ledger. Romero stays away from the body for the most part while Martinez loves to work the flanks. But best of all, Romero is a long-range boxer who prefers to move forward while Martinez is an all-out aggressor who really likes to move forward.
On paper, the styles appear to be a pleasant match and only time will tell whether they will mesh inside the ring. Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Romero vs. Aggressors: Four fights earlier Romero faced Chris Avalos, who came straight at Romero and let his fists fly. Throwing 81 punches and 45.2 power punches per round, Avalos overcame a dominant Romero first round by dropping him with a flurry in the final seconds. He forced Romero to fight off the ropes amidst chest-to-chest warfare and the Colombian ended up adjusting well to his new environment. By the seventh he began teeing off with right uppercuts that nailed Avalos coming in and in rounds nine and 10 he out-landed Avalos 46-29 (total) and 35-16 (power). Not only that, he landed 68% and 51% of his power shots in those rounds en route to a deserved split decision win.
The numbers backed up the judges' verdict. Despite being badly out-thrown (810-479), Romero out-landed Avalos 214-182 (total) and 169-125 (power) to offset Avalos' 57-45 jab connects lead, which was really the product of Avalos throwing so many more (358-148). Romero's sharpness against Avalos' aggression was impressive, for he landed 45% overall, 30% jabs and 51% power shots while keeping Avalos' percentages down (22%, 16%, 28% respectively).
Romero was even more impressive against super-aggressive Efrain Esquivias, who marched forward and took a disturbing leather shower for 12 straight rounds. Romero out-landed Esquivias 367-101 (overall), 89-22 (jabs) and 278-79 (power). His accuracy also was sky-high as he connected on 46% overall, 28% jabs and 59% power while limiting the brave Esquivias to 13%, 8% and 16% respectively.
Martinez knows well he must push the pace to win, for if he allows Romero to command distance and fight comfortably, Romero will dominate. Alejandro Lopez and Mario Macias both made that mistake and they paid the price.
Against Macias , his 54.8 punches per round were more than enough to handle Macias' 37.6, which resulted in connect gaps of 185-68 (total), 76-15 (jabs) and 109-53 (power). Romero landed 34% overall, 29% jabs and 38% power to Macias' 18%, 9% and 26%.
Meanwhile, Lopez -- fighting for the vacant belt in his hometown, no less -- timidly backed away in most rounds and allowed Romero to dictate distance and intensity (57.4 per round to 51.5). Romero out-landed Lopez in 11 of the 12 rounds and led in 32 of 36 when broken down via total punches, jabs and power shots. He out-landed Lopez 223-151 (total), 91-57 (jabs) and 132-94 (power) while also being the more accurate fighter (32%-24% total, 28%-17% jabs, 37%-33% power).
Martinez vs. Speed: Two fights ago, Martinez traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to face undefeated local hero Carl Frampton. The Spaniard did his best to push the pace but Frampton seized the day by forcing Martinez to wade through a ticket of punches (76 per round) that were more accurate (29%-28% overall, 41%-30% power) in order to get inside. Martinez was out-landed 200-130 (total), 55-27 (jabs) and 145-103 (power) en route to a one-punch ninth-round TKO loss.
The story was far different in Martinez's most recent fight against Argentine journeyman Damian Marchiano. Marchiano, a loser of two in a row and three of his last five, couldn't backpedal his way from Martinez's pressure nor his superior accuracy. Thus, he suffered knockdowns in rounds one and two before the fight was stopped at the 1:41 mark due to a straight right to the pit of the stomach that forced Marchiano to turn away.
Martinez precision was key. He landed 44% overall, 31% of his jabs and 49% of his power shots, far above the divisional norms of 32%, 21% and 39%. He out-landed Marchiano 50-20 (overall), 10-2 (jabs) and 40-18 (power) and kept the South American to 21% overall, 8% jabs and 25% power.
Prediction: To pull the upset, Martinez must work his way inside Romero's long arms, work the flanks furiously and force the title-holder into bell-to-bell trench warfare. His history doesn't suggest an ability to produce extreme volume, however, and Frampton showed speed and length bother him. The more physically gifted Colombian will impose his long-range game, force Martinez to back up and score a lopsided decision victory.