By Jake Donovan
The last time Matthew Macklin hit the road was also the last time he stepped foot in a boxing ring.
Needless to say, the past nine months have been filled with anxious moments and bitter memories.
“I beat Felix Sturm from pillar to post,” Macklin (28-3, 18KO) said of last June’s middleweight title challenge, in which he traveled all the way to Germany only to land on the wrong end of one of the worst decisions of the year. “Anyone who saw that fight knows it was a bad decision.”
Having not fought since then, it’s fair to question why the UK-based boxer would cross the Atlantic to fight Sergio Martinez this weekend in New York City. Macklin will be thousands of miles of home, facing the best middleweight in the world without the benefit of a confidence builder in between.
Perhaps a fair response would be that Macklin and his handlers gained all the confidence they needed in winning last year’s title challenge in every way but officially.
“It wasn’t just a victory, it was an ass-whooping,” noted Lou DiBella, never one to mix words. The New York-based promoter signed Macklin to a promotional contract soon after the Sturm robbery.
The plan was to get his career back on the right track and build him as a potential threat to his own middleweight king in Martinez. Absence of second chances, all parties agreed to fast-forward straight to the top.
Plenty of risk comes with taking on a fighter as dangerous as Martinez, regarded by many as not just the best middleweight in the world, but arguably the best fighter in the sport not named Mayweather or Pacquiao. However, if there’s one thing the Argentine heartthrob lacks, it’s a steady fan base.
Therein lies one – and perhaps the only - area in which Macklin is believed to hold an advantage.
“The fact that it’s March 17 here in New York with the big Irish community, I will feel like I’m fighting in Dublin,” Macklin said of Saturday’s HBO-televised headliner at MSG’s The Theatre.
A famous line from the award-winning film Million Dollar Baby was offered by Morgan Freeman’s Eddie ‘Scrap Iron’ Dupris character in regards to the rapid following of Maggie Fitzgerald, the fictional fighter portrayed by Hilary Swank. “Seems there are Irish people everywhere, or people who want to be.”
The term couldn’t hold greater credence than the celebration often to be found every year on St. Patrick’s Day. Most people use it as an excuse to wear green and drink themselves into oblivion. For the sake of the promotion, it’s hoped that Irish eyes are smiling in attendance, or at the very least that Irish wallets are emptied at the box office.
“There’s not just the Irish here in New York, but Irish all around the world coming here on March 17,” Macklin noted of the following he will bring to the basement room of The World’s Most Famous Arena.
However, a fan base alone is not enough to get past Martinez, even if he has shown signs of slipping in recent times. The reigning middleweight king struggled early before surging forward to turn back the challenge of previously unbeaten Darren Barker in his previous defense last October. Rave reviews were hardly produced for Martinez, who has since celebrated his 37th birthday.
Add to the equation recent reports (albeit unconfirmed) of his struggling in training camp for this weekend’s fight and there exists the possibility of Macklin upsetting the massive odds placed in front of him.
Still, Macklin – Britain-bred but of Irish descent – doesn’t leave anything to chance. He instead prepares for the best possible version of Martinez to show up this weekend to defend his lineal middleweight championship.
“Over the last 10 years I’ve had up and down performances and I know I need to bring the best of me against Sergio Martinez. I will need to be at my best. I’m very confident that I will be middleweight champion of the world.”
The question many ask is a one-word inquiry - how?
While it’s universally stated that Macklin deserved the nod over Sturm last June, the fact remains that the rest of his resume is paper thin. Quality wins have been few and far between over the course of a career 10 years and running.
There’s something to be said, though, of experience and learning on the job.
Whatever led Macklin to last year’s title fight against Sturm isn’t as important as what he did with the opportunity. The 29-year old Brit enters this weekend as the uncrowned titlist, wronged last June in Germany and now given another chance to prove that he’s championship material.
The old saying goes that a fighter improves by 25% after becoming a champion. Macklin doesn’t need a belt around his waist to believe that he’s far better than the version who showed up ill-prepared and outgunned against Jamie Moore more than five years in suffering the lone knockout loss of his career. Nor does he need an official win over Sturm to consider himself unbeaten since that Sept. ’06 night.
All he needed was another chance to earn the right to be called champion.
“Sometimes there is a silver lining in that fate,” Macklin notes of receiving a shot at the real middleweight crown as opposed to a rematch with alphabet titlist Sturm. “I’ve been rewarded with a chance at the middleweight championship of the world against Martinez.
That opportunity comes this weekend, against a fighter whose many in-ring advantages Macklin admittedly recognizes, but in a venue where he won’t serve as a man without a country.
“I’m coming forward, I’m coming to win. He’s the slicker fighter, he’s the faster fighter and he’s a southpaw. If I can make him fight, I’m the bigger and stronger fighter. It’s a matter of who can force the other to fight their fight. I don’t believe Martinez is going to be able to cope with the intensity and burning desire that I will bring into that ring with me at Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]