By Jake Donovan
The real middleweight champion has spoken, this time in the ring.
Sergio Martinez has been forced to go the soapbox route in having his voice heard in recent months. The Argentine southpaw has been in search of big fights befitting of his pound-for-pound status, but instead has been left with the type of defenses nobody else particularly pursues.
The latest came on Saturday night in front of a sold out crowd at MSG’s The Theatre in New York City and once again live on HBO, as Martinez made the fourth successful defense of the lineal middleweight championship with an 11th round stoppage over Matthew Macklin.
Martinez was his usual self in the early going, bouncing around with his hands by his waist looking to sharp shoot with his straight left hand. Macklin tried to maximize on the opportunities presented by Martinez walking straight into his right hand, but had next to no success in the first few rounds.
A brief scare was endured by both fighters in the second round, though Macklin was worse for the wear. Martinez scored with a straight left hand to knock Macklin backwards, but the Brit of Irish descent recovered well enough to score with a chin shot of his own. Martinez shook off the blow, but sheepishly grinned in acknowledgment of getting caught.
Martinez began to pay the price for circling towards Macklin’s power hand, getting clipped with a straight right hand early in the fourth after a convincing boxing display in the third. The success to be found from the moment was delayed, as Macklin ate two more left hands midway through before closing the round strong.
Macklin suddenly found himself in the role of effective aggressor in the fifth round, capitalizing on the momentum late in the previous round. Martinez offered lateral movement but not very much offense as Macklin charged forward, though both fighters walked into each other’s best shots in a furious exchange at rounds end, bringing the festive St. Patrick’s Day-minded crowd to its feet.
After giving away the sixth, Macklin atoned for the lapse with a tide-turning seventh round that saw Martinez suffer a knockdown (sort of) for the first time in more than two years. A chopping right hand by Macklin knocked the defending champion off balance, causing his right glove to touch the canvas. Referee Eddie Cotton correctly ruled the sequence a knockdown, much to the chagrin of Martinez who was slowly letting the fight slip away.
Round eight saw flashes of the man regarded by many as among the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound. Combinations were flowing for the first time since the early rounds for Martinez, as Macklin briefly found himself in trouble late in the round.
Martinez carried over the momentum into the ninth, moving backwards and to his left before coming back in with jabs and straight lefts. Macklin was unable to adjust for the time being, running into several straight lefts that left him wobbly late in the round.
Trainer Buddy McGirt demanded more jabbing from Macklin as the rounds hit double digits. However, Martinez’ in and out movement all but disrupted Macklin’s rhythm, sliding backwards and forward, repeatedly scoring with his left hand. A late flurry saw Macklin stumble into the ropes, though the bell disallowed Martinez from fully capitalizing.
While nervous energy struck Macklin’s corner in between rounds, Martinez’ handlers were all smiles and laughter as they entered the championship rounds. It turned out to be good for reason, as on this particular St. Patrick’s Day, Argenine eyes would be smiling by the end of the round and fight.
Martinez was surgical in the 11th round, boxing masterfully as Macklin was completely thrown out of sorts. The icing on the cake – had the bout went to the scorecards – came in the form of two knockdowns scored by Martinez, on the strength of his potent left hand.
To his credit, Macklin shook off the blows to the best of his ability in rising from both knockdowns, the latter coming just as the bell sounded to end the 11th round.
Martinez was looking at a majority decision heading into the final round, as he was up 105-101 on two cards and surprisingly even at 103-103 on the card of Julie Lederman. Fortunately, there was no need to offer anything dramatic in the final three minutes, as the last moments of the 11th proved to be the end of the fight.
McGirt saw a defeated fighter in his corner and declined to send his guy out for further punishment, prompting the referee to officially call of the contest.
The official time was 3:00 of the 11th round.
It’s another dramatic finish for Martinez, who required a late surge to fend off another British challenger in Darren Barker last October. This time around, Martinez came with far more swagger once he hit his stride in the second half, never worried that things wouldn’t ultimately go his way.
“I knew it was a matter of time, just like cutting a tree – little by little, I knew he was going to fall,” stated Martinez, who improves to 49-2-2 (28KO).
The win marks his fourth successful defense Martinez won in a 12-round decision over Kelly Pavlik nearly two years ago. All four defenses have ended in knockout though by his own admission, this one took a while before the script he studied proved to play out.
“It was a difficult fight. He didn’t come out and attack like I expected and his defense wasn’t open. It’s a 12-round fight so I took my time and won in the last rounds. I saw that he opened his guard, and that’s exactly what I was expecting it to be (knocking him out).”
For Macklin, it’s his second straight loss as he falls to 29-4-1 (18KO). There’s no disputing the outcome this time around, however. The normally durable middleweight came in on the heels of a disgracefully scored split decision loss to Felix Sturm last June, in a fight where he took it to the champion from the opening bell.
Had he done that here, Macklin most likely would’ve been shown the exit much earlier in the bout. He knew as much, all but acknowledging afterward that the night went as planned, just to unfavorable results in the end.
“Against Sturm, I took it straight to him in the first round. You can’t do that against a guy like Sergio,” Macklin rightfully recognized. “Putting reckless pressure would be detrimental against Sergio. I thought that it was close and I was in the driver’s seat but I got a bit heavy on my feet and he’s a sharp counterpuncher.”
The night marks his first stoppage loss since moving up to middleweight full time in 2007, following a letdown against Jamie Moore. If he had his way, Macklin would’ve finished the fight on his terms, if only for the rabid contingent on hand in support. Still, he respects the call made at the end.
“I put my hand on my heart in saying this, I’ve never ever quit in a fight. Buddy McGirt stopped the fight; I wanted to continue,” Macklin stated in clarifying who ended the fight.
While Macklin’s title aspirations are once again dashed, the future remains wide open for Martinez.
Pre-fight talks circulated of a long awaited showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. being targeted for September 15. Plans for such a fight have been in place since last June, when the unbeaten second-generation middleweight defeated Sebastian Zbik, who was all but handed the belt that Martinez previously vacated though with the promise of an eventual alphabet title shot.
Chavez Jr’s handlers have done their best to skirt around the fight, though for the first in more than a year there exists positive signs of progress.
Whether or not it actually materializes is of little consequence to Martinez, who firmly believes that even at age 37, time is still on his side.
“I’ll keep waiting (for the big fights). I’m a young man, I’m not as old as they think.”
Young or old, they needn’t think of Martinez as anything other than the only true middleweight champion in the world today.
The evening’s chief support bout saw unbeaten Edwin Rodriguez take one step closer towards title contention with a 10-round decision over Donovan George.
Many expected the co-feature to steal the show, but those anticipating a fight instead watched a boxing match break out. Rodriguez boxed smartly for the most part, scoring with his jab and outworking George in nearly every round.
George wasn’t without his own success, with his efforts recognized in varying degrees on the scorecards. The Chicago native managed to creep within a two-point margin on one card, perhaps giving him too much credit for his spurts of aggression. While ultimately overmatched, George did his best to make a fight of it, including a valiant effort in the final round knowing he needed a knockout.
Rodriguez improves to 21-0 (14KO) with the win, though has now been extended the distance in three of his past four contests.
George falls to 22-2-1 (19KO), having accepted this fight after previously pulling out of a title eliminator with Librado Andrade in a dispute over the ring size. Negotiations were ordered to reschedule the fight, but George instead favored the opportunity to appear on HBO.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .