The world middleweight title will be fought over tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada between the rising star of the division and the recognized king of the hill in what promises to be an intriguing matchup.
Officially, we have Mexican WBC champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, 46-0-1 (32), putting his crown at risk against WBC "Diamond" titlist Sergio Gabriel Martinez, 49-2-2 (28), but this one isn't really about dubious sanctioning body titles; it's a test to see who is really the top man at 160 pounds.
After a long matriculation process against record-building opposition, 26 year old Chavez Jr finally got his chance on the world stage in 2011, wresting the WBC belt from Sebastian Zbik by majority decision and has since retained against the trio of Peter Manfredo Jr, Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee.
In his 48th professional contest, Chavez Jr is finally squaring off with a top class fighter in the form of 37 year old southpaw Martinez.
Martinez himself had a lengthy career, 11 years in fact, before he was placed into world title contention, coming out of Argentina to stop Alex Bunema for the Interim WBC light middle strap in 2008 before drawing with Kermit Cintron and losing a controversial majority decision to Paul Williams at middleweight in 2009.
2010 was a breakout year for Martinez, who shocked WBO/WBC middleweight king Kelly Pavlik by decision before crushing Williams with a single punch in the second round of their rematch for the WBC strap.
Martinez disposed of former WBO light middle boss Serhiy Dzinziruk without difficulty for the vacant WBC Diamond trinket in 2011 before struggling at times with British fighters Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin before producing 11th round stoppage victories.
It is those last two performances which lead to the question of which Sergio Gabriel Martinez will show up tonight in Las Vegas?
Will in be the Martinez who blitzed Williams and schooled Pavlik? Or will we see the Argentine lefty who took a surprising amount of punches from Barker and was on the deck against Macklin? Team Chavez are obviously banking on the latter, which is why we are seeing Jr placed in the same ring with the (once?) dangerous Martinez.
We know what we are getting with Chavez Jr: a young, strong, very large middleweight who pressures and grinds down opponents. This could present Martinez with either the perfect opponent or a genuine nightmare.
If Martinez simply fought down to the level of opposition against Barker and Macklin and is going to bring his slippery, awkward, counter-punching A game against the more threatening Chavez Jr, he will shine against the slower, predictable Mexican.
But, if age has caught up with "Maravilla" and he no longer has the reflexes or stamina to play matador for all 12 frames, he could have to stand and fight in the second half of the bout and that would definitely play into the hands of the WBC challenger.
A super undercard supports the main event as big-punching former WBO super feather champ Roman "Rocky" Martinez, 25-1-1 (16), gets the chance to win back his belt, now vacant, against Mexican grafter Miguel Beltran Jr, 27-1 (17).
Martinez was surprisingly dethroned by Ricky Burns in 2010 and came back after a year's absence to halt veteran Daniel Attah in December, 2011. The popular PuertoRican will have to shake off the ring rust but should turn back the less experienced Beltran Jr, who has fought three times over the past year, including a two round No Contest for the IBF super feather strap against Juan Carlos Salgado.
Former Cuban amateur superstar turned WBA super bantam champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, 10-0 (8), continues his young but highly successful professional career with a scheduled 12 round title defense against American challenger Robert Marroquin, 22-1 (15).
Southpaw Rigondeaux has been on the accelerated program since joining the paid ranks in 2009, winning the NABA belt in just his third contest before caging the Interim WBA crown in bout number seven.
The Miami resident cracked the big time last year by knocking out reigning WBA champion Rico Ramos with a sixth round body shot before canvassing challenger Teon Kennedy five times enroute to a fifth round stoppage in June to retain the title.
Marroquin has faced a career full of little known opponents leading up to his first world title shot and will likely face a schooling at the masterful hands of Rigondeaux this evening.
Previously mentioned middleweight Matthew Macklin, 28-4 (19), a former European titlist, looks to get back into the top ranks of the division following competitive losses to Sergio Gabriel Martinez and Felix Sturm by meeting ex-WBA light middle champ Joachim Alcine, 33-2-1 (19), who is coming off an upset of big-punching fellow Canadian David Lemieux for the WBC International trophy last December.