It’s a little of an under-the-radar treat this Saturday, when lightweight contender Frank “The Ghost” Martin faces his biggest test against fellow undefeated up-and-comer Michel “La Zarza Ali” Rivera in a 12-round main event at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The PBC event will be broadcast live on Showtime (10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT).
For boxing fans, it’s a great fight to wind down 2022.
It’s a great fight the southpaw Martin (16-0, 12 knockouts) plans on creating.
“I feel like my career is in a good spot right now and this fight for me is going to take me to the next level,” said Martin, The Ring’s No. 7-ranked lightweight facing the No. 8-rated Rivera. “This is one of those fights that every fighter has to go through to break that wall to find out if a fighter is really good or is he just a prospect. It’s one of those fights for me. This fight will out me in the talks for everybody. This is absolutely the most important fight of my career. It’s the fight that will take me up a notch.”
Martin is coming off a 10th-round knockout win over Jackson Martinez in July. He showed staying power late by flooring Martinez in the ninth and 10th rounds. Rivera, who will show up in his Muhammad Ali motif, is unlike any previous fighter Martin has faced. He’s rangy, fast, mobile, possesses good power and is an accurate puncher.
In July 2021, Rivera (24-0, 14 KOs) faced his biggest adversity in the ring when he was knocked down by Jon Fernandez in the sixth round of a scheduled 12-rounder. It marked the first time Rivera had been knocked down in his career, when Fernandez caught him with a right hand as Rivera dropped to throw a left hook. Fernandez’s punch landed first, and Rivera landed on the canvas. He later recovered to win in spectacular fashion plowing Fernandez with a straight right.
“This fight right here will open bigger doors for me,” Martin said. “Rivera is a good fighter. He’s a balanced fighter. He has speed. He has power. I know he’s a good fighter. I know he’ll wear his Ali gear (laughs). I just feel everything is working for me right now. My defense, my offense, my jab. Everything right now is clicking.”
Martin says he’s improved in a year. He’s calmer. He’s hungrier.
He says his signature victory, to this point, is his Martinez victory. He came in late and didn’t have time to train properly. He had to find his distance and range during the fight. He was supposed to fight Ricardo Nunez. When that fight fell out, Martin then faced Martinez.
“In the beginning of my career, the late notices used to happen a lot,” he admits. “I won, but I really had an off night that night. My legs weren’t working, a lot of people wouldn’t know that. I just didn’t feel right. I waited longer than I needed, and I had to figure him out. I had to make adjustments during the course of the fight.”
It makes Martin a dangerous fighter. Rivera may study as much film of Martin as he wants, though Martin’s ability to change his tactics and style may transform him into a completely different fighter.
“In my last fight, I needed to tighten some things defensively,” Martin said. “I have. You’re going to see an action-packed fight. The fans will see a good fight. You’re going to see speed, some power. I like fighting. He’ll be in shape, or at least I hope he is in shape. You may see the man go down. I’ll mess up that Muhammad Ali look of his. I’m going to be Joe Frazier Saturday night.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.