NEW YORK -- Becoming a star in boxing at 35 isn't easy. The conventional blueprint dictates starting young, often as early as 18, to develop name recognition.
Perhaps that's why most would be hard-pressed to identify the current middleweight king.
Meet Sergio Gabriel Martinez, a charismatic fighter from Argentina with a face that belongs in Giorgio Armani ads -- when it hasn't been punched lately. He's well-spoken and respectful, with an easygoing attitude.
But one of the best fighters in the world has only plied his trade in the United States a handful of times, including a bloody destruction of Kelly Pavlik this year to lay claim to the 160-pound throne. So despite an all-action style that has given boxing some of its best recent fights, Martinez remains something of a mystery to all but the most ardent fans.
"Just look at him," promoter Lou DiBella often says. "He should be a movie star!"
Martinez is hoping for a breakthrough performance Saturday night against Paul Williams at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in a fight that will be televised live on HBO.
It's a rematch of their meeting last December, when both hit the deck in the first round and traded blows the rest of the way in a candidate for Fight of the Year. Williams, a three-time champion, ended up winning a controversial mixed decision.
That fight was held in the smaller ballroom just off the boardwalk. This one is moving to the main arena, a sign that the world is starting to realize Martinez.
"You have, in my mind, two guys in Paul and Sergio who can scream out loud they're as good as the top two fighters in the world, because they're not given the opportunity to prove they're not," DiBella said, referring to superstars like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., who have been reluctant to move step into the ring with Williams and Martinez.
"Really, what this is a battle for is to decide temporarily who is third," DiBella said, "and if they're ever given the opportunity, the chance to establish they're pound-for-pound the best fighters in the world."
Martinez came to boxing relatively late at age 22, and likes to say he's a young 35. The first time he fought outside of his country, he was starched in seven round by former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito.
He quickly returned to Argentina and won before eventually moving to Spain and the junior middleweight division. He kept fighting in small arenas across Europe until he hooked up with respected manager Sampson Lewkowicz. Along with DiBella's help, they ventured to American two years ago and shot to the top of the boxing ladder.
Even though Mayweather has fought at 154 pounds, and Pacquiao just claimed a title in the division, DiBella realizes that there's almost no shot that either of them winds up in the ring with Martinez, who has fought so much of his career at junior middleweight.
That's one of the reasons he's back in the ring with Williams, and why the discussion Wednesday turned to the potential for a trilogy regardless of what happens in their rematch.
"I will fight only important fights, and definitely Paul Williams will be important in the future," Martinez said through a translator. "So I will fight him any time he wants."
Williams said he's willing to fight anybody, regardless of the place and time, though his promoter Dan Goossen was quick to put the brakes on discussing anything beyond this weekend. He remembers the brutal fight of less than a year ago.
"We've read a lot of stories the last few months about the fans, media, everyone wanted to see the biggest and best fights that could be made," Goossen said. "No argument this is one of those fights."