By Terence Dooley
Matthew Macklin inked a multi-fight deal with Lou DiBella in the summer after his stock rose considerably in the wake of a contentious decision defeat to WBA middleweight titlist Felix Sturm on June 25th. Although a loser in Cologne, ‘Mack The Knife’ used the impetus from the fight to secure a contract that he believes will lead to a St. Patrick’s Day challenge to Sergio Martinez unless ‘Maravilla’ is rewarded with a Floyd Mayweather date after failing to fire during Saturday’s win over British challenger Darren Barker.
A fighter in firm control of his own future, Macklin snubbed the offer of a rematch with Sturm to join DiBella’s roster, he had been keen to meet Felix for a second time but the title holder’s option clauses and desire to profit from the Birmingham boxer nixed the deal.
“To a degree,” stated Macklin when asked if the DiBella link was made all the sweeter by Lou’s impressive list of 160lbers. “I met with Lou last year after my contract with the Hattons was up. I was at the Khan-Malignaggi fight and Lou wanted to do something then. I was mandatory for [Darren] Barker at the time, was sure I’d do a number on him and as mandatory I knew I didn’t necessarily have to sign long-term with anyone so I just decided to see what would happen.
“To fight in America at that time didn’t add up because of where I was at, the money wasn’t right, but since then the Sturm fight has put me on a different level so things do add up now. There are a lot of opportunities with Lou at middleweight; he’s got Martinez, Andy Lee and Ronald Hearns.
“Plus being in New York is better for me, better than the West Coast because you’re trying to crack into a Hispanic base there but in New York and the East there’s Italian’s, Irish and the Polish who traditionally would follow a fighter like me.”
He added: “Lou is passionate, it is good to see – you want that. If I did get a rematch with Sturm down the line having Lou there, and knowing the way he is, would put a lot more pressure on the promoters and judges.”
The 29-year-old contender still hankers for the opportunity to put things right with Sturm, arguing that ‘Leonidas’ was fortunate to escape with his title and has underlined this by making it near impossible for Macklin to secure a return encounter. Matthew feels that subsequent events – his decision to aim for Martinez and Sturm’s December 2nd meeting with Martin Murray – speak volumes.
“I’m not going to sell myself short just to get the fight – I know what I’m worth,” stated Macklin. “I wasn’t fussed about money in the first fight because I wanted the opportunity to prove myself, I did this and it changed things, the Martinez fight could be there for me.
“I deserved the win over one of the top fighters in the world so won’t accept second best terms. Previously I had been plateauing at European level. You’re in the top ten to five in the world but are struggling to break through. The fight with Sturm gave me that opportunity. Now I’m in the top three in the world so I won’t just take any terms to make the fight.
“Sturm wants to restore credit to himself. He needs a rematch with me. I won’t sign ridiculous options where if I beat him he gets forty percent of my future earnings for three or four fights.
“I didn’t get the decision; it made the original contract null and void so he told me after the fight we’d have a rematch. I said ‘Yes’ in the ring, which isn’t a contract, and the Monday after he issues a poster with the title ‘Revenge’ announcing a rematch. Why would he need to get revenge if he felt he had beaten me?
“Sturm knows he got beat, the people who work for him know, the German boxing public, everyone knows. Sturm needs to cop himself on, stop saying he wants the fight and prove it by offering good terms. He hasn’t so in other words he doesn’t want the fight.”
Prior to meeting Sturm, Macklin had told me of the difficulties of producing grade A form when taking on the likes of Ruben Varon, Shalva Jomardashvili and Rafael Sosa Pintos, the training was just as intense for these outings as it was for impressive wins over Wayne Elcock, Amin Asikainen and the Sturm bout yet the 2001 ABA welterweight champion believes that big fights produce big performances.
“I knew training for it,” his answer to my question of when he knew he was in with a chance of unseating Sturm. “I had that edge to me. It is still hard to explain. You are up for every fight – you are professional – but some fights have that edge. You’re not on the piss for some fights and not for others. You train for them all exactly the same, but there’s something else there that drives you when you’re going up another level.
“If the opponent is a step up then I step up. For Sturm I had twelve weeks notice. For other fights I’ve not found out who my opponent is until a few weeks before. So you’re running and shadow boxing but it isn’t the same.
“Look at the Varon fight, it was ten weeks after my last one, I got the flu, lost two weeks, and eight weeks became six. Then I went to do Ringside, got a chest infection and thought I’d shook it off but still had it in me in the fight – I felt weak. You’re always up for fights but circumstances aren’t always the best. Things were the best they could be for Sturm.”
Sturm started the battle of wills during the ring walks. The 32-year-old made his challenger wait, wait, and wait some more. The ploy backfired; it was the champion who looked dry and ponderous early. Indeed, the challenger suspected that Felix’s slow start was part of a carefully constructed game plan.
“I thought he might be holding back,” mused Macklin. “I was waiting for something late on. Put yourself in their minds. I couldn’t get an EBU defence after banging out Asikainen in a round, suddenly I struggle a few times and Sturm comes in. I thought he was reading into that, which was good for me.
“If you’re preparing for me you look at the fight with Jamie Moore [for the British 154lb belt], the Elcock fight, Asikainen and the win over Varon, so you think I’m dangerous early but fade late. I felt that Sturm believed he could tuck up, let me blow myself out and come on late to stop me. I don’t think he could believe the way I kept on going, hurting him to the body and head, not to the extent where he was going to be taken out but I did shake him a few times.
“Credit to Sturm, he fired back, that is what good champions do, he was gambling on stopping me in the seconds half and it didn’t happen, he read too much into other fights. I had no power, strength of energy in the Varon fight. I felt crap early but saw it out. I went to war with Jamie and was f*cked at the weight – I don’t know how I did ten rounds.
“I do think he read a lot into the Varon fight in particular, he saw that and thought I was a good name with credibility who he could take out. They thought it wasn’t as big a risk as it would have been two years ago so took it.
“Sturm likes to fight in bursts anyway, so he couldn’t deal with the workrate, his work was lovely at times, jabs and uppercuts, but he struggled because he couldn’t consistently get his jab off. His left jab, hook and uppercut is good, he lost that because I stayed low and moved my head, it upset his rhythm. I was blocking, pushing his shots to the side, manhandling him, if someone does that to you then the jab goes. My head movement and my work rate were the things that stopped him stamping the jab in. There wasn’t the same regularity.”
Sturm did come on in the second part of many stanzas and late in the fight. Showing greater accuracy throughout when he did let them go, particularly during an explosive final round in which he appeared to stun his opponent in the last ten seconds. Macklin, though, disagrees with those who feel he was out on his feet come the final bell.
“I was upsetting him. Sturm had success with the right uppercut and right hand as counters but when he hit me with a good shot I’d hit him with a few in reply so there was never a stage where he was dominating.
“He was accurate but not powerful. He was explosive in terms of the strength on the shots, I could feel it when he hit me on the gloves, and he would knock me sideways when he unloaded but his hands weren’t heavy, they weren’t hurtful shots,” his summation of Sturm’s power.
“I didn’t feel I needed to take risks in the last round, he did. I just needed to stay on my feet in my mind. There wasn’t anything in the last round. You can argue that Sturm took the round because of the last ten seconds. It was a close round, I gave as good as I got. When the clicker went I switched off and he jumped all over me. It looked worse than it was, he didn’t land as cleanly as people felt – he landed a left uppercut and I grabbed because the round was nearly over.”
“Everyone,” he laughed as talk turned to how many people in attendance had him winning. “His corner looked embarrassed. They were relieved as well, almost sheepish. I told people in the press conference that I had won the fight and there was no argument.”
Sturm-Macklin caught the wider imagination. There have been so-called ‘robberies’ before in Germany but this one became a brief cause célèbre amongst pundits, fans and one or two casuals, with Macklin’s stock rising in defeat and Sturm becoming a bit of a pariah. The WBA incumbent is now viewed as a champion in name only, with Macklin convinced that the furore over the fight has diminished Felix’s reputation.
“There’s a possibility of that,” his response to claims that Sturm may now have to restore his credibility. “There’s the possibility that no credible top ten contender will go over there to fight him, they’ll just wait to take on someone who will give them a fair crack. Bona fide contenders might not want Sturm anymore, guys like Martin Murray are not genuine top ten fighters, the guys who are top contenders will just wait for Martinez, Chavez or Geale rather than go to Germany and get ripped off.”
For now, though, Macklin is seeking to make a name for himself on America’s East Coast, he flew out there last week to prepare for his next bout, trainer Joe Gallagher, who has been at the helm for recent successes, is expected to hook up with him nearer the time. The 28-3 (19) contender believes that he finally has a long-term promotional home and can build something positive in New York.
Saying, “I’m with DiBella Entertainment, my last fight was on EPIX, Lennox Lewis had me winning, there’s been replays on MSG television and people are coming up to me in the street over in America. I’m number three in The Ring magazine. Sturm was a great fight for me, it was disgusting that I didn’t get the decision but why dwell on it.
“New York is the place to be. I burst onto the scene when I first turned over, lost to [Andrew] Facey and people wrote me off a bit. I was treading water, moving about, changing trainers, fighting in different places and lost momentum. I lost that wow factor. It is back now. New York is a fresh start for me and will give me a bit of stability. Now I’m living and training in New York. Fighting in America and training in the UK doesn’t work, training in the UK and then going abroad doesn’t work, you need to train and fight in America unless you’re a name like Ricky Hatton who can go over there a good few weeks before the fight.”
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