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Macklin: I Won't Blow My Big Shot With Felix Sturm

For Matthew Macklin, Saturday night's WBA middleweight title challenge to Felix Sturm in Cologne will represent the culmination of a tortuous journey to the brink of global stardom.

Marked out since his professional debut in 2001 as one of British boxing's young stars to watch, Macklin's progress has been held back by a restlessness in his promotional and training activities.

His list of former cornermen includes modern greats Buddy McGirt and Floyd Mayweather Snr - neither of whom were able to steer Macklin into the kind of major world fights he has long craved.

Ironically, it is since linking up with the relatively down-to-earth Joe Gallagher in Ricky Hatton's old gym in Denton, Manchester, that Macklin has finally found the momentum to take him within touching distance of the top.

Macklin will start as the undoubted underdog against Sturm, in his third reign as champion, who is best known for coming mighty close to derailing Oscar De La Hoya when he dropped a highly contentious verdict in 2004.

But the Birmingham-born Irishman - who has tended to embroil himself too deeply in rollicking domestic wars in the past - believes it is just the sort of occasion which will bring out the best in him.

"It's only natural Sturm will be the favourite but I've had the best performances of my career when I've fought the best fighters," said Macklin. "For fighters not at my level I drop to their standards.

"When I've been underdog or gone in up against it, that's when you've seen the best of me. The nerves make me perform better. They make me sharper. When I know I have to be at my best, I lift my game."

There is no doubt about the history to which Macklin is referring. In 2003 in Dagenham, when the hype had been heightened by 10 straight wins, he dropped a poor points decision to the domestic-level Andrew Facey.

Then, suitably resurrected but this time hampered by weight-making problems, he was dragged into a war by Jamie Moore and lost his British light-middleweight title bid by 10th round knockout.

The fact that it was hailed as one of the best domestic showdowns in years did little to appease Macklin, who looked so dangerously vulnerable in the bout that there were questions over his fighting future.

He moved up to middleweight and has not lost since. He has picked up the British and European middleweight titles and belatedly nudged his way into global contention. When the chance to fight Sturm came up, it was one Macklin grasped with both hands.

"I'm prepared to fight anyone in this division to prove what I'm capable of," added Macklin. "I believe I can go all the way in this division. I believe I can be a champion and stay there for quite a long time.

"Felix is very experienced and he always finds a way to win. He has a great defence and a very good jab. When he got hurt in his last fight he stood toe to toe and showed a lot of heart. He will be tough, no doubt about it.

"But Saturday night just can't come soon enough. I'm really confident and looking forward to it. Like I said, the challenge of Felix will take my game to another level. I'll have to be at my best - but no doubt I will be.

Like Macklin, Sturm enters the fight in the best form of his career. He has not lost since he lost the title for the first time when he was stopped in 10 rounds by Javier Castillejo in 2006.

A swift rematch win underlined Sturm's credentials as a consistent top-level fighter and nine wins since suggest the Leverkusen-man, though lacking fireworks, is one of the most under-rated champions in the business.

Macklin's numerous inconsistencies have ensured that much of his undoubted potential has remained unfulfilled, and Sturm on home soil must start as overwhelming favourite. But that is just the way Matthew Macklin likes it.

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