By Terence Dooley
Matthew Macklin has had a turbulent 2011 even though he has yet to open his in-ring account since his decision win over Ruben Varon at Liverpool’s ECHO Arena last December. The Birmingham-based boxer was scheduled to fight Khoren Gevor on the undercard of Amir Khan’s WBA light-welterweight defence against Paul McCloskey at the MEN Arena on April 16 only to withdraw from the bout in order to face “Super” WBA 160lb boss Felix Sturm on July 25th.
Macklin played the Sturm card close to his chest. Weathering a storm of criticism in the wake of the Gevor fiasco before revealing that he had snubbed the match-up to fulfill his dream of contesting a legitimate world crown.
“We were back and forth with the contracts with Golden Boy regarding the Gevor fight. There were a couple of things that I wasn’t happy with. In the meantime Sturm came in with a solid offer of a fight so you’re not going to turn your nose up at a world title fight when you’ve been waiting for one for so long,” revealed Macklin.
Macklin’s performance against Varon, in which he picked up a cut and looked ragged in the final round, may turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to ‘Mack The Knife’, who feels that Team Sturm plucked him from the chorus line partly due to his recent performances. Saying, “I believe I can win.”
“They’ve probably seen my last couple of fights and then offered me this one but obviously things are different when you’re preparing for a world title fight. This is the hardest and best I’ve ever trained. This is a big step up from (Sturm’s last challenger) Ronald Hearns, who just had his name. This is a genuine world title fight.
“I think the Varon performance ticked a box with them. They thought, ‘Yeah, we can make this fight’. I fit the criteria: top five, former two-time European champion, sellable but, in their eyes, maybe on the slide a little bit. People no longer view me as the danger man who knocked out Amin Asikainen in a round. I don’t know, I’m just guessing.
“You push yourself for all your fights but when it comes to work rate and tactical awareness everything is sharpened for a fight like this. You have that fire in your belly whether you’re running, sparring or hitting the bag. Everything has that extra purpose and on the 25th you’ll see the best version of me that there’s ever been – I’ll fulfill my potential.
“I’ve been cutting serious chunks from my interval running times – I am smashing the runs. Everything has that extra bit of intensity. I have been going beyond the usual targets. Blowing them out the water. These are facts, not just a feeling I have before the fight, and you can see it in black and white when you look at the times. I am going to be on the top of my game for this fight. I have to be and will be.”
Sturm, 35-2-1 (15 KOs), has not tasted defeat since he lost his WBA belt to Madrid’s Javier Castillejo via a tenth-round TKO in 2006. Since then, Sturm has racked up a series of wins with only a single draw, against Randy Griffin in 2007, blotching the copybook. The 2000 Olympian defeated both Castillejo and Griffin in rematches; he often called for a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya, who relieved Sturm of the WBO belt courtesy of a controversial decision in 2004. Macklin believes that this willingness to rectify his slip-ups sets Sturm apart.
“I think he’s a brilliant fighter. He was a top class amateur. You don’t lose that natural talent and pedigree. He’s sharp, explosive sharp, not in terms of being heavy handed but in his quickness – both in reflexes and punching. I think he’s got good hand-to-eye coordination. Although he’s very big at the weight, I don’t think he’s heavy handed or a concussive one punch guy. He’s also very experienced,” enthused the 29-year-old.
“He’s got bottle, too. Castillejo floored him in the second round of their fight. He got up and used his experience. You don’t stay a world champion for the best part of a decade without being able to rough and tough it out. He’s a bona fide world champion.”
Adding: “The division is a tossup between him and [consensus champion] Sergio Martinez, they are the two guys that Kelly Pavlik always wanted to fight when he was seen as the man after beating Jermain Taylor, who beat [Bernard] Hopkins – Pavlik was seen as the man who beat the man who beat the man.”
“Sturm’s first loss was the controversial one to Oscar. He lost to Castillejo but won the rematch. He is very much the man at middleweight. But all good things come to an end, nothing lasts forever, every dog has its day – you can pull fifty clichés from the bag but the bottom line is that my time is here,” laughed the 2001 ABA welterweight champion.
Indeed, the challenger believes that his amateur credentials have been overlooked due to a slow burning professional career. With critics failing to acknowledge that his brawn is complimented by skill.
“My own pedigree was as a good as anyone’s turning pro,” he argued. “I turned over when I was nineteen and in a short space of time as an amateur had done a lot, fighting everyone and anyone. I beat Eduard Gutknecht, the current reigning European light-heavyweight champion when he was top-drawer. I knocked out Alexey Cherkov in a round in the pros. Darren Sutherland, God rest his soul, was an Olympic bronze medalist, I boxed him twice, beat him twice as an amateur.
“People say I haven’t achieved in the pros but I’ve won the Irish, British, the European titles and been involved in the fight of the year (with Jamie Moore) in 2006. It is quite a statement given what I’ve won but I believe that I’ve only shown flashes of what I can do.
“On the nights when I felt I was going to go on and show what I’m about the fights ended very quickly so I believe that this one will give me that opportunity. I am in physically in my best shape. That comes down to being in good mental shape. I have the desire, purpose and drive – the challenge is the big thing. You need to go that extra mile and I have done.”
British boxers have endured mixed fortunes when vying for world titles. Amir Khan, Ricky Burns and Nathan Cleverly won their belts here in the UK. Both Gary Lockett and Michael Jennings were brutally taken out when fighting away from home against Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto respectively for major world titles. Macklin, though, believes he can go one better.
“No disrespect to Gary Lockett or Michael Jennings but I think knew they were out of their depths. I’ve been craving this one for a long time, in fact I think it is overdue,” mused Macklin.
Matthew has trained under Peter Harrison, Billy Graham, Buddy McGirt, Freddie Roach and Joe Gallagher during his nine-year career. Now settled with Gallagher, the Brummie feels that he is hitting his peak and that Sturm is also fighting at his optimum level since hooking up with renowned coach Fritz Sdunek.
“I think he doesn’t move as much but that could be because he felt he was wasting energy previously. As I said, he doesn’t have heavy firepower at world level to deter aggressive guys so maybe he felt that he couldn’t maintain the movement over the distance against those guys and adapted a bit,” he opined.
“He’s big at the weight, big arms, biceps and forearms, so maybe he thinks he can take shots on the arms and have more success without giving as much ground. That looks like something he’s done in recent years because as people get older they do adapt and tweak a few things. We’ll see. If you look at him and the way he works you see what he can do and how to deal with it. If he does decide to jab and move then I know I can cut the ring off. If he comes out and takes it to me then I’ll be as equally ready for that.”
Sturm has attracted criticism for his conservative approach. However, the 32-year-old showed fine finishing qualities in his seventh round win over Ronald Hearns, son of Tommy, in February. Felix is an opportunist, give him an opening and he will finish the fight.
“I wouldn’t call him limited because he can fight,” declared Macklin. “He got hurt against Castillejo and I was surprised by how well he did on the inside. His jab is the potent weapon. High guard, nice jab and good left hook. He’s very experienced. He suffered a bad loss but came back from it and cracked on with the rematch, which says a lot about the man.
“But no one goes on forever. There aren’t too many Bernard Hopkins in the world. I believe that on my night I can beat anyone in the division. You can’t base that belief on my last few fights but anytime I’m in with someone favoured to beat me or it is a fifty-fifty then you see the best of me. My record tells you that as a fact. I’m more up for this one than any other fight in my life.”
Felix is underrated, ‘Leonidas’ has operated at the top-level year in and year out while other big names have fallen by the wayside. Quibbles over his opposition aside, the Germany-based boxer knows what he is doing and how to negotiate the championship distance – a road that Macklin travelled for the first time when out-pointing Varon.
“He’s sharp, just because there’s not got a huge knockout ratio doesn’t mean he can’t take a finish when it comes, he’s been at world level for eight years. I remember when people were saying Floyd Mayweather wasn’t a puncher when he went in against Ricky but he knocked Ricky out,” insists Macklin as talk turned to the champion’s tendency to retain his title on points.
“Floyd had been at world level since he was 21. Felix’s last fight showed that if you come down a level slightly then you’re going to starch people. I am sure Felix hits hard enough. At world level he isn’t a heavy one-punch hitter. If he hits you with his jabs, hooks and uppercuts then it is going to take its toll.
“I am full of respect for Felix. When I fought Jamie Moore I showed a staggering amount of guts and determination, but my body couldn’t do what my mind wanted it to. I was drained. There was nothing in me but that won’t be the case for this fight. I will have that same intensity but will be healthy at the weight, and now I have the experience. If you have determination, ability and desire then it makes you a hard man to beat. I don’t think Sturm will be able to stay with me.”
News of his withdrawal from the Gevor fight led to some frustrated comments from forum users. The highly ranked contender could be forgiven for gloating a little after making the right decision. “What is the point?” asked the 28-2 (19 early) fighter.
“You’re going to get stick anyway so you get used to it after a while. In boxing you can be worse enemies one week and best friends the next. It was a storm in a teacup. Everything blows over, everything changes bar the wins and it is water off a duck’s back for me.”
German fighters and promoters are renowned for bringing over the right opponents at the right time. Their shows owe less to the Corinthian ideals of the sport and more to the spectacle of the gladiatorial arena – seemingly over-matched opponents facing the local favourite in front of a massive crowd who go away happy as long as their man beats the visitor.
The British fundamentally do not get the German mindset, which is probably why we are behind them in many sports. Macklin, though, is aware of the fact that he will have to endure a lot of pomp and circumstance as well as an over-blown ring walk before the action gets underway.
“It will”, he joked when asked if the titlist’s ring walk could straddle a few days, “but as long as you know that going in then you can deal with it. I watched Lockett against Pavlik and he looked overwhelmed by the occasion. Suddenly you’ve got a hundred microphones and camera shoved in your face, I think it spooked him.
“I was around Ricky for the Mayweather fight in Vegas, very much with him for the Kostya Tszyu fight. I am fairly independent. I have travelled to gyms in America on my own to spar and train so I don’t really see anything like that fazing me. If anything, I think this is where I belong and am looking forward to it all.”
Sky Sports 1 and HD1 will televise Sturm-Macklin.
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