Why Sergio Martinez pushes himself beyond the limit

Former middleweight champion Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez announced his retirement Saturday. (Getty Images)

Monday was a typically long day for Sergio Martinez. The affable Argentinean, who holds the WBC middleweight title, awakened early to attend a news conference in Puerto Rico to promote his June 7 bout at Madison Square Garden with Miguel Cotto.

At midnight, he was in a hotel suite in New York, munching on a plate of pasta, meatballs and prosciutto, still doing interviews.

He's had surgery after each of his last two bouts, victories over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Las Vegas in 2012 and Martin Murray in Argentina in 2013, and his body seems on the verge of collapse.

He says he mostly feels good, but rates his surgically repaired knee as a nine on a 1-10 scale. Given the rigors of training camp, he should be so lucky on fight night to be able to rate his knee a nine.

He's now 39, and still considered one of the best pure athletes in the sport.

Yet, Martinez's body is betraying him because he pushes it relentlessly for one simple reason: He doesn't believe he's that good.

Martinez, who is 51-2-2 and has been widely regarded as one of the five best fighters in the world for at least the last six years, simply doesn't believe he's that naturally gifted.

"I'm not all that talented, which is why I have to train so hard," he said. "I don't believe I'm so talented, so I have to put many more hours in than the other fighters."

That sentiment is almost hard to believe after watching him over the years move so effortlessly in the ring, use stunning quickness to move into and out of punching range, and land punches from all sorts of odd angles.

He was a cyclist and a semi-pro soccer player during his youth, and didn't take up boxing until he was 20.

He's had a sense of inadequacy ever since, and it's led him to drive himself relentlessly in a quest for perfection.

He's 35-1-1 in the last 14 years, losing only a disputed decision to Paul Williams. The draw was an even bigger joke, as he actually cleanly stopped Kermit Cintron, only to have the referee inexplicably reverse himself and re-start the fight.

He's kept himself at or near the top all that time by remaining humble and pushing himself to limits others refuse to go.

"Boxing isn't natural for me, but I train harder than the rest of the world," Martinez said. "I don't believe I'm a natural talent for this sport and it's not like I took boxing up at a very young age. I feel I have to go the extra mile to be on the same level as the other guys. My knockout power is not natural ability; it's something I've worked hard to develop."

He's developed it quite well and is finally getting the recognition he has long deserved.

In Cotto, he'll face his most high-profile opponent in a bout in which Cotto will be attempting to win a world title in a fourth different weight class.

Cotto enters the bout 1-2 in his last three fights, losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout and then defeating Delvin Rodriguez in his first bout with Freddie Roach as his trainer.

Roach received all sorts of accolades for his work with Cotto and was named the 2013 Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in large part because of it.

That led to the bout with Martinez, who only fought once last year after being injured during his bout with Murray.

Being off gave Martinez, an outspoken advocate against bullying and violence against women, the opportunity to travel to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis.

Martinez met the first Argentine pope in St. Peter's Square and presented him with a world championship belt.

"It's something that is very difficult to describe," Martinez said of meeting Francis. "Right now, I'm still trying to meet God, and I was right next to someone who was very close to God and who all the Catholics follow."

He's healthy, relatively speaking, now, and so his mind is only on preparing for his next bout.

That preparation will be so fierce that he'll do damage to himself while he gets into fighting condition, but it's the only way he knows how to go.

"I have totally sacrificed my body for this," he says of his boxing career. "I left my home and my country for this. I put my body through this because it is the only way I know how to make up for not being a natural talent at boxing.

"I believe that working hard, you can make things possible that didn't seem possible. And so I just push myself because I know it's the only way for me to be successful."

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