Photos by Sumio Yamada
FELIX STURM vs MATTHEW MACKLIN
Middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm feels he is now better than in any of his previous fights, while his challenger avows: “You’ll see the best Matthew Macklin ever.” If both men have got it right about what they will bring to the ring on Saturday in Germany we could be looking at one of the year’s best fights (EPIX is showing the bout live in the U.S., Sky Sports will have the fight for British fans).
Sturm is the favourite, of course. He is boxing at home in Cologne (he lives in nearby Leverkusen) and he looked strong and sharp in his last fight when stopping Ronald Hearns in the seventh round.
Macklin, though, struggled in his last fight when he outpointed Ruben Varon in a European championship defence. What looked like an easy win on paper for Macklin turned out to be a gruelling struggle, and he left the ring looking very much the worse for wear, cut over the left eye and with his right eye just about swollen shut. I made the note: “If V. had been a puncher, M. would have been in big trouble here.”
Now, a cautionary word, we can get it wrong when looking at the last fights of two boxers. Macklin, 29, has always insisted that he will be at his best when he is in a really big fight. He says he cannot get motivated when he is meeting a boxer he doesn’t feel is in his class. Perhaps lack of motivation was the problem against Varon, but it was worrying to see how easily Macklin was getting hit and even backed up by a boxer not expected to last more than six or seven rounds much less make it a long, punishing fight.
Macklin, from Birmingham in the English midlands but with ancestral roots in Ireland, is a better fighter than he looked against Varon. Macklin looked tremendous in quick knockout wins over Wayne Elcock and Amin Asikainen, but neither of these boxers is noted for durability — each had been stopped twice previously.
There is no doubt that Macklin can fight. He is strong and game, has a useful jab and puts punches together well, and looking at the records of the two men, the challenger would appear to be the puncher in the fight. To me, though, Macklin is a bit too easy to hit. Three years ago he had a tough win over Geard Ajetovic, who seemed to hurt him in the fifth and eighth rounds. Macklin finished the fight with bruising under the eyes and blood inside the mouth. Ajetovic is one of those fighters who is sparing with his punches — a bit like a bigger version of Rocky Juarez — but every time he let his hands go he could hit Macklin. The verdict was fair — Macklin was much the busier man — but, as in the fight with Varon, he came out frankly looking more like the loser than the winner in terms of damage suffered.
Sky TV’s Jim Watt made the point after the Ajetovic fight that Macklin needed a top-level contest to bring the best out of him. “I thought the spark was missing tonight and the only way the spark’s going to come back — the spark that we’ve seen so often in the past from him — is in a fight that means something, a title fight,” Watt said.
On Saturday, Macklin has the fight that he has long sought, the type of fight he says he has dreamed about. If he can rise to the level he assures us he can reach, then he has a chance of upsetting the odds. The Macklin of the Ruben Varon fight will be out of his depth. So, how well Macklin does on Saturday depends on whether we will indeed see the crowd-pleasing fighter give the best-ever performance that he promises.
This is a tough fight for Macklin, though. Sturm, 32, will have a roaring crowd behind him and he is a veteran of championship boxing, having been the 12-round distance 13 times — including his unpopular loss on points against Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas seven years ago.
Although Sturm lost to Javier Castillejo on a shocking 10th-round stoppage five years ago, he clearly outboxed the Spanish veteran in a rematch. I think that Sturm tried too hard to please the crowd in the first fight with Castillejo and didn’t keep his defence as tight as he had in past, and as a result Sturm got caught, hurt and dropped in the second round. Although Sturm gamely rallied and was winning on points after nine rounds his jaw was severely swollen and he was tiring — a relentless Castillejo caught him again in the 10th, and this time Sturm could not recover.
I believe that Sturm has learned from that fight. He looks a stronger and a much more solid fighter with maturity, and his style has changed somewhat. Whereas Sturm once used movement while piling up points with the jab, now he is much more inclined to stay right in front of an opponent or even press the fight, hands up high, blocking shots on gloves, arms and elbows, and pumping in the jab at every opportunity. Sturm’s jab is a thudding weapon. He is one of those boxers who can win a fight with the jab.
Macklin does have boxing ability, he is talented, but I don’t think he will want to stay back and get into a duel of left hands with the master jabber Sturm. It will be difficult, I believe, for Macklin to win a set-piece boxing match against the German fighter (of Bosnian heritage). I think that Macklin has to bring power and pressure into play and try to hurt Sturm and back up the champion and impose his will. In trying to do this, I think that Macklin is going to get hit by sharp, clean punches.
I don’t quite know what it is with Macklin, but it seems to me that once he starts getting hit in a fight he keeps getting hit, as when Jamie Moore outlasted him and stopped him in the 10th round of a truly magnificent fight five years ago. Macklin is a very brave fighter and I think that in the heat of battle he just forgets about defence to some extent — some might call it a lack of concentration.
I do believe that Macklin’s mind will be fully concentrated when he ducks between the ropes on Saturday night. His excellent trainer, Joe Gallagher, says he wants Macklin to adopt the type of win-at-all-costs mentality that Marvin Hagler displayed in his brutal win over Alan Minter in 1980, which does suggest that the plan is to carry the fight to Sturm and make the fight as uncomfortable for the German boxer as possible. So, I believe that Macklin will be dangerous early, and he could even be in front on points at the halfway mark.
Macklin, though, has never won a long, attrition-type fight — at least not at this level — and I think that Sturm might be the steadier, more accurate fighter in the bout’s second half. Sturm says he has noticed that Macklin doesn’t always react well to body shots and the German boxer has indicated that he will be seeking to inflict punishment downstairs. If Sturm can indeed hurt Macklin to the body it could have a major effect on the disposition of the contest.
I am expecting a courageous and determined challenge from Macklin, but I give Sturm the clear advantage in what should be a fast-paced, exciting fight.
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