By Thomas Gerbasi
September 18, 2010 wasn’t the best night to be Enzo Maccarinelli. A former world cruiserweight champion, the Welshman had just lost his European title to unbeaten Alexander Frenkel, which wouldn’t normally be that Earth-shattering if not for the fact that it was his fourth defeat in eight fights.
All four came by way of knockout, and this was the worst of the bunch, as a perfect left hook sent him crashing hard to the canvas in the seventh round, snapping his neck on the bottom rope in the process
“To be honest, I was quite surprised I even got up,” Maccarinelli told BoxingScene earlier this week.
So was everyone watching the bout, but the gutsy fighter made it back to his feet. Obviously in no shape to continue, referee Erkki Meronen inexplicably waved Maccarinelli back in, a move widely criticized from the moment the nearly defenseless fighter was drilled again with another left hook and sent back to the canvas. Looking back now, Maccarinelli believes the fight should have been stopped after the first knockdown.
“A hundred percent,” he said. “But I watched it again and he did ask me can I fight, and I did say yes. My mind was working, but my body wasn’t.”
The 31-year old laughs now, a good sign considering the worried faces at ringside that night at the LG Arena in Birmingham, where most believed they had seen Maccarinelli fight for the final time. In the locker room though, “Big Mac” decided that he still had more to give to the sport. Actually, that decision was made for him as he prepared to leave the arena.
“I had a broken jaw, and I was advised to go straight to the hospital and get the jaw seen to straight away,” he recalled. “I’m in the changing room, obviously moping about the place, I get my bag, put my kit in the bag, and I go to walk out the door. The gentleman from the drug testing agency pulled me back and said ‘you have to do a drug test.’”
Maccarinelli, in fairly colorful terms, told him his thoughts about taking the test, and he continued walking. Yet just as he was approaching the door, he turned back to the official.
“Well,” said Maccarinelli, “what’s the implications of me not doing the test?:
“You’ll never box again.”
The fighter put down his bag.
“I made my mind up there and then and I done the test,” he said. “Instead of going to the hospital, I waited around two hours until I could pee into a cup.”
It’s been 14 months since that fight, and tonight, Maccarinelli makes his return to the ring at York Hall in London to face Gyorgy Marosi. It’s a walk the Swansea native has made 37 times before in his 12 year career, but the first time he’ll do it as a light heavyweight. Yet as he explains, the talk shouldn’t be about him dropping from 200 pounds to 175.
“It was never a weight cut,” he said. “When I lost last year to Frankel, a week before the fight I jumped on the scale and I weighed 13 stone 2 (nearly 185 pounds), and the limit was 14 stone 4 (201 pounds). So it’s not as big a weight cut as people might think. Obviously I’ve had to watch my diet and make sure it’s clean. I’m a big lover of chocolate and Italian food, so I’ve really had to cut them out. But my diet has been clean.”
Weighing in at 178 pounds for tonight’s bout, it’s a new beginning for Maccarinelli, who says that despite being six-foot-four, he’s always been a small cruiserweight, something that hit home to him after the loss that started his recent skid, a second round TKO loss to future heavyweight champion David Haye. Only his response to the defeat wasn’t to slim down, but to bulk up.
“I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was the night I lost to David Haye,” he said. “Looking back it was basically that he pulled the trigger before I pulled the trigger. That’s what I put it down to. But on the night, I started going through things in my head – I was too small, I never had to cut weight so I was giving my advantage away, so I started messing around and doing a lot of weights and strength work and I bulked my body up. But for this, I’ve gone back to old style basic training which the Joe Fraziers, Muhammad Alis, Mike Tysons did – running and boxing. That’s all I did and the weight’s just flown off.”
He’s also gone old-school in another way as well, reuniting with former trainer Enzo Calzaghe, best remembered Stateside for leading his son Joe throughout his storied career. As far as Maccarinelli sees it, the move was necessary for him if he wants to recapture past glories.
“I trained myself (for the Frankel fight),” he said. “I was going in the gym and telling people what I wanted to do, and that’s not right. The guy who was in the corner helping me, Karl Ince, is a good friend of mine, and he was telling me things to do, and I was just looking outside, looking at the lights, looking at the crowd; I was looking at everyone but my cornerman. Later I watched the fight when I boxed Wayne Braithwaite, who to me, is a much more dangerous fighter than Frankel at the time, and in the corner after every round of the fight, my eyes did not come off Enzo Calzaghe. And that’s the discipline he holds. His style is suited to my style and my style is suited to his style, so I made the decision. It’s hard work, and he does believe in running you into the ground, which, strangely enough, I actually enjoy.”
With all those pieces of the puzzle in place, the next task was to convince the world, or at least his section of it, that he still had what it took to make another run at things. Age isn’t an issue, as he’s probably in the physical prime for a light heavyweight. Power is always the last thing to go, and 25 knockouts in 32 wins show that he can punch. But can he still take one? That’s been the albatross Maccarinelli has been carrying around for years, and while the left hook that beat him against Frankel was a perfectly timed shot, you never want to take too many of those.
“People call me chinny and I say look at the shots I’ve taken,” he said. “That was a clean shot. And he wouldn’t have got the shot on (heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko), but if that was a clean shot on Klitschko, I’m sure he would have gone down as well.”
But what about his wife and family? They had to have had some concerns.
“No one’s ever gonna tell me to quit,” he said. “If I ever quit and someone else told me to quit, I’d be an absolute nightmare to live with, more than I am now. (Laughs)”
One person who did want him to hang them up was his promoter, Frank Warren, who in the time since the Frankel bout has been using the engaging Welshman as a commentator. Eventually, the two had to talk about this comeback.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work on Frank’s new network, BoxNation, doing commentary work and I’ve had really good feedback, but I’m sick and tired of people calling me Enzo the commentator,” he laughs. “I wanted to get back in the ring. I was speaking to Frank, and deep down he’s a friend of mine and I think he wanted me to quit, but I convinced him and told him I’m not ready to give up my day job yet. I just love boxing, I love to compete, I’ve got an amateur gym back where I’m from where I look after the boys three nights a week there, and I just love the sport.”
And despite his string of bad luck since the Haye fight, the former WBO champion has earned this latest opportunity to see if he can perform at light heavyweight. If he loses on Friday night against the 12-0 (8 KOs) Marosi, it may be safe to call this a wrap. But until then, Maccarinelli is innocent until proven guilty, and if he is successful in his new weight class, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is a future fight with the WBO light heavyweight boss, Maccarinelli’s former stablemate and fellow Wales native Nathan Cleverly. It’s not a fight “Big Mac” was necessarily looking for, but it may just find him.
“We sparred plenty of times, we were teammates, we were friends, and I still thought that he was a friend,” said Maccarinelli. “I won’t go too much into the subject, but his dad burned a lot of bridges between us. I remember when I first made the announcement that I was going to come to light heavyweight and that was the question I was first asked – would I fight Nathan. I said I don’t really want to fight Nathan; he’s a friend, he’s an ex-stablemate. If the fight happens in a couple years, we can make massive money and put our friendship aside for one night and get on with it. But then his dad went out and burned a lot of bridges, so I’d be quite happy to fight Nathan.”
And oddly enough, though he didn’t consider retirement in the immediate aftermath of the Frankel bout, six months ago, he did wonder whether it was all worth it to put himself through the rigors of training and dieting for one last shot.
“Six months ago, I’m doing the training and doing the dieting, and a little thing come over me – I’ve been boxing for 20 years, maybe it is time to call it a day,” said Maccarinelli. “I was literally thinking of calling it a day. And then, Vince Cleverly, Nathan’s dad, said all these things, and he tried to lie and say he didn’t do these things, but I know he did, and it’s given me motivation like I’ve never had before. That’s what keeping me here.”
So does he carry a picture of Vince in his pocket to keep him motivated?
“I’ve seen him enough times,” he laughs.
Boxing is a beautiful and a cruel game, depending on what side you’re on at the end of the night. No one knows this better than Enzo Maccarinelli, precisely because he’s been on both sides. And when a fighter who has been down tries to pick himself up from the canvas, that’s when he has to answer all the questions over and over again, when all he really wants to say is tune in on fight night and you’ll see. Tonight, Maccarinelli gets to answer all the questions, and he hopes to be doing it with a smile on his face.
“The statement is just to make people believe again,” he said. “I’ve had all these questions and all these doubters, and people don’t realize that I’m looking to impress on Friday night. I feel good, I feel sharp, there’s not gonna be any ring rust, I’ve been in the gym for 14 months working on things, being more disciplined, and I’m really looking forward to putting on a great performance, and hopefully I will.”