By Terence Dooley
Birmingham's Matthew Macklin was cast in the role of villain last month after pulling out of a showdown again Khoren Gevor due to 'contract issues'. Many fans questioned the move because the 28-year-old had driven a knife into the heart of Amir Khan's MEN Arena homecoming against Ireland's Paul McCloskey by turning his back on the Gevor fight. Fans were insisting that the fighter was running out of credibility.
I caught up with Macklin at Joe Gallagher's Denton-based, CNP-sponsored base days before the announcement that he would not be featured on Khan's undercard; the top ten rated contender sparred a few rounds and also had his weight checked. He told me to sit on our interview quotes as he had a few irons in the fire. Roll on a month and Macklin now finds himself in the position he always craved, as world title challenger. He takes on Felix Sturm for the WBA 'super' middleweight title at the Lanxess-Arena in Cologne on July 2nd.
Certainly, the former law student has ploughed his own furrow to get his dream fight; the 28-2 (19) fighter turned his back on the UK scene, and Darren Barker, his main domestic rival, when signing on to fight American legend Winky Wright for a proposed April 9th date. That one fell through due to a hand injury suffered by Wright. The Gevor match was then hastily made and hastily broken yet Macklin was adamant that his career was heading in the right direction.
“Sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't,” he said when looking back over recent events. “No matter what happens you will always have people who criticise. Winky was due to be a big fight on HBO over in American so it was a credible move. I'm top ten across the board, top five give or take, and don't have to prove myself at European level. I've never had a promoter behind me pushing me up the rankings.
“I'm up there on merit. It is based on my wins and the right results for the right titles. I don't think my ranking or credibility is in doubt – I probably just lack a bit of momentum because I've boxed in Ireland, America and in Britain. If I'd have got a win over Winky it would have made my name in America and been a marquee fighter.
“Look at Nathan Cleverly, two years of headlining shows and Sky shows and being developed by Frank Warren. I haven't had that, I haven't had four fights in a year since 2005. Look at 2009, three fights, three different promotions and three different cities. I hadn't had that springboard. Winky would have been a big chance for me and it justified moving on for that fight, even if it didn't work out.”
Fans, though, still question Macklin's decision to leave UK rival Barker behind; the fighter, however, feels that 'Dazzling' Darren missed the boat when withdrawing from last year's scheduled September 18 showdown. “End of the day, I signed to fight him in Birmingham last year, he pulled out, not me,” he insisted.
“What is to be scared of? He's got some flashy combos but I think he lacks a lot of substance, he's chinny, is a sharp but not a heavy puncher and I don't think he's strong enough for me. He looked average against Affif Belghecham [last April]. Fair enough, I looked bad myself in my last fight so maybe there was a reason for Darren's struggle but this was his big chance. My old European title was on the line and he failed to shine in that one – I took my chances impressively against [Wayne] Elcock [for the British belt] and [Amin] Asikainen.
“I didn't have to sign for Barker in September, I took it because I fancy beating him big time. It will happen if we both carry on winning, it is a natural as long as we get past our next fights, so I'm not saying it won't ever take place but I don't think it will happen in the short term.”
Sturm is 35-2-1 (15) and has not tasted defeat since losing to Javier Castillejo over ten rounds in 2006. The German-based title holder recently defend his crown by halting Ronald Hearns, son of the legendary Tommy Hearns, in the seventh round. Macklin acknowledged Sturm's fine form during our discussion, telling me that the 32-year-old has flown under the radar following his controversial WBO title point's defeat to Oscar De La Hoya in 2004.
“A lot of people thought [Khoren] Gevor was unlucky against Sturm [in 2009] so you can get to him but Sturm's been at the top for a long time. Some people live in their own bubbles and don't know how good he is. I follow the game and know there's more to him than that close fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
“You know those types of fights are loseable so you give it one hundred percent, and then some more. In my last one [Ruben Varon], I shouldn't have even boxed because I was ill before the fight. I got the win and that is what counts. The performance before [Shalva Jomardashvili] was quite average, I didn't do anything wrong but the guy came to survive and it wasn't a vintage fight.”
Macklin's form has stuttered during recent outings. Wins over Shalva Jomardashvili and Ruben Varon – a sixth round corner retirement and points win – were based on grit and determination rather than the power and precision that marked his victories over Elcock and Asikainen. Matthew believes that he raises his game when he fears his opponent, a good omen going into the next one.
“Against Elcock and Asikainen you saw that little bit of devilment in me. I was like that even before I turned pro. When I was in there with people who gave me the jitters I was top class but dropped my standards against other guys,” he explained when analysing his most recent contests.
“You try to address it. People say you should stay professional and I train, run and diet just as hard but some people thrive on that nervousness, it makes me perform at the top of my ability. When you've got that bit of nerve and know you can get hit then you are up for it big time. Your reflexes are that bit sharper and you hit that bit harder, it is a subconscious thing. I can't explain it.”
There will be no such problems when he faces Felix, the champion is a huge name in Germany and will have a sizeable, if quiet, crowd behind him come July. Macklin, though, is used to taking his show on the road, he should be on point as he bids to net the world title that he has craved since turning professional in 2001.
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