An intelligent, gutsy performance from Martin Murray (25-1-1) fell just short of wresting the WBC middleweight title from the grasp of Sergio Martinez (51-2-2) in Buenos Aires. All three judges scored 115-112 for the champion, who saw the canvas twice and looked troubled by the St. Helens fighter's sustained pressure.
It was a massive night for 38 year-old Martinez in Argentina. Stormy weather brought the start time forward by two hours for his first fight on home soil since 2002.
Murray resisted Martinez's early attempts to goad him into attack. In the first round, the champion fell short with his jabs but scored with shots to the body as Murray kept up a tight, high guard throughout the second and was outworked.
Martinez's low guard allowed Murray to land a neat right hand in an even third round in which Murray turned into the aggressor. The champion winced in the fourth from a swiftly delivered right hand borderline low blow, and as Murray's confidence increased, he rocked the Argentinian, putting him off balance with a shoulder punch and taking the round with powerful advances.
Martinez was more industrious in the first half of the fifth, but Murray waved him on, dropping his own guard momentarily and responding with counter jabs. Blood had started to trickle down Martinez's left eye from a previous head clash, and he was beginning to realise that once again, that he was in a tough fight with a Brit. Murray's game plan had started to work.
The pair swapped banter while Murray delivered solid shots to the body and got the better of the exchanges in the sixth - Murray's best round so far, connecting cleanly with right hands. Martinez had a better seventh and increased his work rate, but seemed fragile and was being caught regularly.
A straight right hand sent Martinez staggering back and down halfway through the eighth. He was soon up and throwing, but Murray exercised patient aggression and got through with another right on the bell to take the round 10-8.
Martinez upped his work rate, but Murray continued as the aggressor in the ninth and kept landing with a straight right. Murray had Martinez down again in the tenth from what looked like a glancing headshot, but the Italian referee Massimo Barrovecchio (wrongly) ruled no knockdown. From there, Martinez threw plenty but couldn't breach Murray's guard and looked fragile when Murray closed the space to deliver his work.
Murray was quiet in the first half of the eleventh and was kept at bay by Martinez's jab, which was sharper then in the previous few rounds. Murray went on to chase Martinez down, and although tiring, ended the round strongly with Martinez sat on the ropes after being pressured into the corner. Martinez was busier and edged the closing round from the back foot as Murray wilted slightly, and was less accurate with his attacks.
All three judges scored 115-112 for Martinez. BoxRec News scored 113-114 for Murray.
Although Murray now tastes his first defeat, he can be truly proud of his performance. With the odds stacked against him, the St. Helens fighter went one better than domestic rivals Barker and Macklin and took Maravilla the painful distance in a homecoming fight that the Argentinian lineal champion was expected to win handily.