The unbeaten lightweight contender will lay it all on the line when he faces fellow unbeaten 135-pounder Michel Rivera in a highly anticipated PBC main event Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
There is a slender line separating hopeful from confident, and another separating confident from arrogant. How any fighter on the rise proceeds past those invisible barriers, while maintaining proper perspective of the potential prize that lies ahead, goes a long way in determining just how high his career ceiling eventually reaches.
Highly regarded lightweight prospect Frank “The Ghost” Martin was widely conceded to possess talent as a southpaw boxer-puncher, of whom more evidence as to his full potential would be gleaned from his July 9 performance this year against the sturdy Jackson Marinez in San Antonio, Texas. That Martin passed the test with flying colors, scoring a 10th-round stoppage, moved him closer to that second slender line, where needed confidence must be maintained without assuming that continued success will forever advance unabated. Overconfidence is the booby-trap that has periodically ensnared even some of boxing’s greatest champions.
The Detroit-born, Indiana-raised and now Dallas-based Martin (16-0, 12 KOs) can move a step closer to the kind of legitimate stardom envisioned by his trainer, Derrick James, and WBC/WBA/IBF welterweight champion and promoter/role model Errol Spence Jr. when he squares off against fellow phenom Michel “La Zarza Ali” Rivera (24-0, 14 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, this Saturday, December 17, in the 12-round PBC on SHOWTIME main event (10 p.m. ET./7 p.m. PT) from the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The WBA title eliminator bout not only moves the winner within sniffing distance of a title shot, but is that rarest of rarities in a boxing landscape where 50/50 pairings at the elite or near-elite level are frequently discussed but not nearly as often made as the public might desire.
“I feel that Rivera is a good fighter,” Martin said of what figures to be his sternest test to date. “He can punch, he can counterpunch. He can box. He pretty much can do a lot of things, but there are some things I see that I can take away from him. Once I take away those things, I’ll make him look like a different fighter. Then I can work my magic on him.
“I do feel that this is one of them fights that kind of went under the radar a little bit, but now, the more that it’s getting pushed out there, I feel a lot of people are, like, `Man! This is a must-see fight! Both of these guys are putting it on the line!’ People can’t believe that a fight like this is happening right now, but me and him both believe in ourselves. We made this fight happen, and the best man is going to win on Dec. 17.”
On paper, where prizefights are only theoretically contested, Martin-Rivera certainly appears to be the sort of matchup where important momentum is achieved by the winner and is at least temporarily blunted for the loser. The 24-year-old Rivera comes in ranked No. 2 by the WBA, No. 6 by the IBF, No. 9 by the WBC and No. 10 by the WBO. Martin, 27, is listed in the top 10 of only one of the fourth widely recognized sanctioning bodies, No. 10 by the WBA, but his support from those willing to put their money where their mouths are is such that he went from a slight opening-line underdog to a slight favorite in the Vegas sports books.
“ This is my opportunity to continue to grow and continue to work my way up. ” Undefeated Lightweight Contender - Frank Martin
Before his confrontation with Marinez, Martin – clearly having moved past the hopeful stage and increasingly into the confident – dropped hints as to when he thought his pugilistic apprenticeship would soon reach the graduation level.
“I’m trying to get something (a world title shot) by the end of the year, maybe the beginning of next year,” he said. “Nobody specific. The next fight I’m looking for is a title eliminator that gets me to where one of those guys got to fight me.”
That elimination bout is now about to happen, and Martin is firm in his belief that it’s not happening by accident. A future champion’s destination, like train travel, is best served by maintaining a rigid schedule.
“I feel like I spoke it into existence,” Martin said of the career building block as represented by Rivera. “I knew this opportunity would be coming soon. I felt that it would be by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. It came at the end of this year, and I’m ready for it.”
Part of that readiness comes from his daily exposure to James, whose work with Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) and undisputed world super welterweight champ Jermell Charlo (38-1-1, 19 KOs), as well as with Martin and others, has certified him as one of the most accomplished trainers in the sport. Even if his most prized pupils were so disposed, James is not the sort to let anyone in his gym cross that slender line from confidence to arrogance.
“Man, they give me that extra push that I need,” Martin said of the hard-work dictums continually cited by James and exemplified by Spence and Charlo. “The fighter who I would be fighting for the belt (WBA lightweight titlist Gervonta “Tank” Davis) has stuff he got to take care of himself on January 7 (when he defends against Hector Luis Garcia in Washington, D.C.).
“One thing that helps me to maintain focus is not getting too comfortable. A lot of fighters, once they get in a certain position, they get comfortable. One thing Derrick always stresses is not to get comfortable, no matter how high you are. Even guys like Errol and Jermell, they’re not comfortable. Here (in Dallas), we try to keep it balanced – don’t get too high or too low. That’s something that’s stuck with me.
“I know I’m not there yet. I’m still trying to get there. This is my opportunity to continue to grow and continue to work my way up. I’m getting there, but I’m still not there.”
For a closer look at Frank Martin, check out his fighter page.