Photos by Sumio Yamada
SERGIO MARTINEZ vs MATTHEW MACKLIN
The odds were against Matthew Macklin when he fought Felix Sturm in Germany last June and the odds are much wider tonight when he steps into the ring to meet the world’s best middleweight, Sergio Martinez at Madison Square Garden’s theatre, with HBO televising in the U.S. and Sky Sports in the U.K.
Martinez, who defends his WBC Diamond belt, looks unbeatable at 160 pounds. If Macklin can pull off the shocking upset it would rank with the all-time great performances by a British boxer.
Macklin, Birmingham-raised but with ancestral ties to Ireland, will surely have the crowd on his side in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day. He has reunited with trainer Buddy McGirt, who moved from his Florida base to prepare Macklin at the Trinity gym in lower Manhattan.
Both fighters looked in tremendous condition at Friday’s weigh-in and it was good to see mutual respect shown after recent unfortunate events involving British heavyweights in Germany.
Macklin, who has trained in New York for 10 weeks, has done everything possible to prepare himself for the fight of his life. He almost beat Sturm — and many believe that the German boxer was fortunate to get the split decision victory. Now, he must raise his performance to a new level to stand any chance on Saturday night.
Martinez is a remarkable fighter, a fast, athletic, dangerous southpaw. His only loss in the last 12 years was in a fight that could have gone either way when Paul Williams got the vote of two judges, but he flattened Williams with one punch in the rematch to gain emphatic revenge.
Still, there is hope for Macklin — Martinez turned 37 last month, and he didn’t look scintillating in his last fight, when struggling in the early rounds before knocking out Britain’s Darren Barker in the 11th round.
While Barker did well early, he allowed himself to be pushed into an increasingly defensive fight in which he was more concerned with blocking Martinez’s blows than landing his own, and when Barker tried to open up in the 11th round he got caught and knocked out.
Macklin will have to take the fight to Martinez and put pressure on him, of course, but he will also have to be smart. The wholehearted, high-punch-volume aggression that Macklin exhibited against Sturm might work for a while, but Martinez is such a skilled counter puncher that the Birmingham fighter will be at risk of running into seriously hard shots if he doesn’t try to vary his tactics — Sturm hits with authority, but Martinez can knock people out.
“He’s not going to walk straight in like the last guy [Darren Barker] did, like Paul Williams did,” McGirt told me. “You can’t walk into him, you’ve got to put pressure on him, but it’s a controlled type of pressure you’ve got to put on him.
“We know what Martinez can do, we know what he brings to the table,” he said, “but they don’t really know what Matthew Macklin brings to the table.”
Martinez probably expects Macklin to be steaming ahead all night. McGirt hints at a more subtle fight than this, perhaps with Macklin not just forcing the fight but also standing back and jabbing, trying to give Martinez what some call “different looks” but always endeavouring to give Martinez something to think about.
Martinez is a superfit type, but Macklin is the younger man by eight years and goes into the fight with a winner’s attitude, believing as he does that he deserved to get the decision over Sturm.
I believe that Macklin will fight assertively and confidently. He has long maintained that he needs the big fights to get motivated and produce his best form, and the near-miss against Sturm bears this out..
Martinez’s hands-low, relaxed style of boxing is flashy and instinctive, but Macklin might be able to unsettle him with a busy, uptempo approach. Yet while I don’t make the fight the mismatch the wide odds suggest, it is difficult to see past Martinez.
If Martinez is in a less-than-inspired mood on the night and shows signs of ageing; if Macklin drives himself to reach a higher level than he has ever reached, then we could have the greatest upset victory involving a British middleweight since Randolph Turpin outpointed Sugar Ray Robinson — but the reality is that Macklin will likely leave New York the same way he left Cologne after the Sturm fight: disappointed but not disgraced.
(The above is an updated version of my big-fight preview that appeared in Boxing Monthly.)
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