Crossroads, according to an online site, the official definition is: a road that crosses another road, or one that runs transversely to main roads. In the world of boxing, it is almost cliché to deem a bout a crossroads fight but in the case of Christopher Martin and Teon Kennedy, who meet Friday, January 13th, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, it is anything but that type of fight.
The ten round super bantamweight match up is scheduled as the main event of ESPN2′s “Friday Night Fights” series.
Both fighters are coming off their first professional losses. Martin (23-1-2, 6KOs) last October at the fists of journey man Miguel Angel Beranza while Kennedy (17-1-1, 7KOs) to Tijuana slickster Alejandro Lopez last August. The winner heads in one direction down the road, hopefully to bigger and more meaningful fights while the loser, with two consecutive losses, must re-think if he has hit the ceiling as a professional prizefighter.
The fruits or ramifications of the result of the match up are not lost on the twenty-five year old Martin, “It is the most important fight of my career because another loss would just be devastating. Who knows if I lose, Top Rank would not want to keep me and I want to stay under the Top Rank banner, I want to keep competing under them. This is a must win, there no being denied in this fight.”
After an average amateur career, Martin came into his own in the professional ranks, which he joined in ‘06, and built up a sizeable and loyal fan base in his hometown of San Diego, California. Late last year, the full-time correctional officer and father of two young boys signed on with Bob Arum’s Top Rank and found himself in his first fight in Las Vegas on the under card of Toshiaki Nishioka’s controversial win over Rafael Marquez. Martin was set up against tough journeyman Jose Angel Beranza in a showcase bout but instead, Martin walked away with his first loss.
“I underestimated him. I trained hard but I didn’t train the same edge I trained for a couple of other fights,” Martin explained as he winded down after a spirited sparring session. “I was expecting to blow over him considering his record, 33 and 20. My mind set wasn’t right that night. It was focused on many other things besides the fight and he surprised me. That’s all I can say, I wasn’t able to make any adjustments that night.”
Martin is a rarity in the sport, a candid fighter who is honest with himself in his triumphs and shortcomings instead of giving the always-canned generic responses. The frankness rings true as he further broke down that night in Las Vegas, “I knew the fight was slipping away, in the seventh, eight and definitely in the ninth, they were telling me but there was no urgency. Sergio (Melendez, Martin’s trainer) was saying the fight was close, I kind of felt that I was losing. There was no urgency and I couldn’t turn it up, as much as I wanted to because of what I said, the training, my mind set wasn’t there. Instead of thinking of what I could do, I was getting mad because he was hitting me. Too many things happened.”
“Like I said, a lot of things were happening,” Martin pointed out. “I got nervous, I hadn’t felt those nerves since my very first fight in Phoenix, my pro debut. It was a weird feeling. My legs were rubbery when I got to the ring. Just a feeling I am not used to and it was very quiet, there weren’t any people in the stands. It was difficult to overcome, everything.”
Like any employee who hasn’t lived up to the expectations of their employer, Martin was expecting a sour reaction from the people from Top Rank but that was not the case. Never the less, he still feels that there was a consequence.
“There really hasn’t been any contact except for Sean Gibbons who was very supportive,” Martin said. “He said it was ok, we will get past this, we’ll keep working. No negative feedback really except the fact that they had told me that I was going to fight December 3rd on the Margarito-Cotto under card and whether or not it was because I lost, it still made me feel that’s the reason, you know?”
Many would believe that after being undefeated for almost six years, the pressure to keep the unblemished record would at times be unbearable but for Martin, it was just the motivation needed to push in the big fights, “I think having that ‘0’ helps because there were times that that there were fights where I said, ‘I don’t want to lose.’ I believe Mayweather said it before, ‘you lost once, it is easier to lose again.’ I’m just going to do my best; I am going to try my hardest. In this fight I don’t see Teon Kennedy beating me.”
In a way, Philadelphia’s Teon Kennedy’s career mirrors that of Martin. Pro since 2007, Kennedy has fought all around the east coast making his name as a quick fisted, tough fighter. With solid wins over Alex Becerra and Jorge Diaz, Kennedy also owns a win over Martin’s conqueror, Miguel Angel Beranza, but in his last bout, Kennedy found himself on the wrong side of a unanimous decision when he faced Alejandro Lopez. Lopez is a sound technical boxer with a more traditional style than Martin’s but the “SD Kid” feels that a better version of Kennedy will face him this Friday.
“He is a pressure fighter, well balanced,” Martin said of the east coast fighter. “I have seen him fight against Alejandro Lopez in his last fight, he have looked a little flat-footed but I am preparing for a better Teon Kennedy than that because I know he is coming off a loss and feels the same way I do and he doesn’t want to lose. I am just looking to out work him, jab, keep him at a distance and when the time is right, pressure him.”
One pressure that Martin would not have to deal with is the fact that the match up, which he will be dedicating to Melanie Melendez who is struggling with cancer and his own sister in law Claudia Martin who recently beat it, will be televised nationally by ESPN, a stage that Martin has performed on before as well as on Showtime when he upset the then up and coming Chris Avalos and on Telefutura where he defeated Charles Huerta last year. “I am looking forward to it, I have been on ESPN once on ‘Friday Night Fights’ but that ended up being a draw that I later avenged to Gregorio Torres so I am looking to look good in this fight.”
Not to make the same mistake twice and feel no threat from his next challenge, Martin is conscious of the task at hand and knows it will not be an easy night, “No, because I know he can beat me. Same thing when I fought Avalos, Arcos, guys that had undefeated records or good records, when I fought Huerta, I know that I can beat them yet I know it is a challenge. As opposed to when I fought Beranza, I knew that I could beat him and I didn’t think he was a challenge. That factored more in him surprising me and I don’t see Teon Kennedy surprising me this time because of the way that I have been training.”
Usually, Martin would train at the Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, CA, but now finds himself traveling around San Diego county and even in neighboring Tijuana for the best work he can find. One might say the only positive result to come from his last fight.
“This is actually where I would start at the beginning of my career, there were more top level guys but now the only one is Juan Carlos Burgos,” Martin stated referencing the Azteca Gym located mere miles from the international border between Tijuana and San Diego. “Just go back to what used to work, come in here, be willing to travel, get out of my bubble like someone told me. I would sit there at Alliance, would never travel, I had that kind of arrogance where everybody had to come to me but now after that humbling experience, I have been to Undisputed (another prominent San Diego boxing gym). I have been here and willing to go anywhere else to find good work.”