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UK Insider: Macklin; Butler-McDonnell; Mathews-Marsili?

By Nick Halling

Expect to hear some news regarding Matthew Macklin’s future in the next week or two. The three-time world title challenger is considering his forthcoming plans, and given his pedigree, he has attracted plenty of interest from the usual suspects.

The Birmingham-based Irishman, who these days spends his time in Spain, has had some brave shots at the world crown against Felix Sturm, Sergio Martinez and Gennady Golovkin,  but has yet to find himself in the right place at the right time. This is a vital phase of his career, and the thoughtful, intelligent fighter knows his next move – whatever that should be – needs to be the correct one.

Macklin has endured a frustrating few months. First, a rematch with Sturm failed to materialise. Macklin sensed that the German was avoiding him following their close-run first encounter, and he may be right. Even more irritatingly, he watched as a seemingly-faded Sturm was then outclassed by Sam Soliman. And Soliman’s next fight could be against another British boxer, Martin Murray.

Then there was the Daniel Geale affair. A deal had been done with the former IBF belt holder, only for the Australian to prove tricky to tie down. Geale withdrew from a Macklin showdown, then signed to box Gennady Golovkin instead, thereby ensuring himself a lucrative, if painful, night’s work.

While his future inside the ring gets sorted, Macklin has been very busy on the business side of his affairs. He’s long been recognised as one of the smarter operators on the domestic scene, and the Anglo-Irish middleweight has certainly been living up to his billing.

Two years ago, Macklin invested a chunk of his ring earnings in setting up and running a gym in Marbella, Spain. Initially envisioned as primarily a training base away from a cold and variable British climate, his MGM gym is now seeing a steady stream of British fighters passing through in search of a change of scenery.

Not only is the gym well equipped with the usual cardiovascular machines, it features two rings, and the area offers some daunting hill runs. It’s also barely 400 metres from the sea, so when the time comes for relaxation, fighters don’t have to travel too far to chill out.

Marbella has effectively become Macklin’s base these days. Not only does he have the gym, but he’s also taken business interests in some of the town’s bars and restaurants. His brother, Seamus, is also a regular, helping not only with Macklin’s training, but also with the overall running of the gym. The highly-rated Bradley Saunders, who is trained by Seamus, seems to have become a temporary expat.

The gym is attracting a number of trainers and boxers looking either to pick up some decent weather, or simply to break up a long, arduous camp. James DeGale has been to Marbella three or four times, most recently in preparation for his victory over Brandon Gonzales at Wembley last month.

Derry Mathews also based himself there ahead of his British lightweight title fight against Martin Gethin. Mathews regained the title, and is expected back in Spain for his next camp. Joining him will be his regular trainer, Danny Vaughan – who also works with Scottish cruiserweight Stephen Simmonds in sunny Spain.

When Macklin is in camp, he flies in his own trainer, Jamie Moore – who also brings in his other fighter, lightweight prospect Tommy Coyle. Former Olympian Tom Stalker is a regular, Liam Walsh dropped in for a few days last month, while another old pro, Peter McDonough,  is never out of the place.

It works very well. Macklin has accommodation at the gym, and can also arrange discounted food at one of his restaurants. The facilities are new and up to date, and with so many boxers passing through at any one time, sparring can often be had simply by turning up. And if anyone is tempted to think of it as a soft option, Macklin just lets them loose on a 10k hill run around the town. That, apparently, gets everyone’s full attention.

Long term, the gym may offer Macklin a future once his fighting days are over. For now however, he remains ambitious and hungry after three attempts at winning a world title. That fight against Geale recently fell through, and Macklin’s pursuit of Sturm now seems a waste of time and energy. It seems he’s in search of someone who can get deals done.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Macklin’s name his the headlines again soon. But until it does, the gym is keeping him more than occupied.

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Derry Mathews is supposed to defend his British lightweight title against Manchester southpaw Terry Flanagan on 26 July, and may still do so. But there’s an outside chance the fight not happen.

There are rumours doing the rounds that the ever-popular Liverpool fighter might be offered a shot at the European belt currently in the possession of the veteran Italian Emiliano Marsili. It’s a tough one to corroborate, because Marsili was in action at the weekend, successfully defending his belt against Benoit Manno. He wont be rushing into his next defence any time soon.

Mathews and Marsili have already met, with the Italian grinding down his rival with body shots on the way to a seventh round stoppage in January 2012. At the time it looked a bad result, and possibly a career ender for Mathews. But Marsili went on to pick up the European title, and Mathews bounced back to win the British title from Anthony Crolla with a stunning sixth round stoppage.

Far from reaching the end of the line, Mathews has picked up some impressive wins since, most recently regaining his domestic belt at the expense of former champion Martin Gethin. A rematch between a revitalised Mathews and an older Marsili might have a very different outcome.

Quite simply, it would be an opportunity far too good to turn down. In addition to claiming the European title, Mathews could also annex Marsili’s No 3 ranking with the IBF and No 8 with the WBC. If the rematch is offered to him, nobody would begrudge him the chance to go for it.

Where such a scenario might leave Flanagan and the 26 July date is anyone’s guess. But there’s a possibility that Mathews could choose to vacate if the European title fight gets made. Flanagan might then face a new opponent with a vacant belt on the line.

Either way, the Manchester man’s future looks bright. In recent weeks, Flanagan has been doing a lot of technical work with Brian Rose, ahead of the Briton’s challenge to WBO light middleweight boss Demetrius Andrade this weekend. Andrade is, of course, a southpaw.

Flanagan’s work has been hailed as invaluable by Rose, who also believes that his southpaw tutor could be genuine world class. Whether it’s Mathews or somebody else in the opposite corner on 26 July, there’s a strong sense around the business that Flanagan’s time is coming.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Nobody likes seeing a good fight cancelled, but this one could potentially be a win/win scenario for both boxers. Watch this space, and don’t be surprised at further developments.

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One fight which definitely wont be happening is the bantamweight unification contest between WBA belt holder Jamie McDonnell and newly-minted IBF boss Paul Butler.

Despite the fun and games between rival promoters on social media this week, this one’s a non-starter and all interested parties know it.

Butler’s promoter, Frank Warren, was first to stir the pot, making an offer to McDonnell’s “BBB of C registered manager”. This, of course, is Dennis Hobson, and relations between McDonnell and Hobson broke down last year. The two men aren’t exactly the best of friends, so this was a safe “offer” to make.

This prompted a counter “offer” from McDonnell’s current promoter, Eddie Hearn, of £200,000 for Butler to put his belt on the line against the WBA champ.  This, too, was a safe one. Hearn knows he will not have to honour it – although word is that the offer was genuine.

And the reason it’s so safe is because Butler will almost certainly have to first defend against the Nicaraguan-American, Randy Caballero, the IBF’s number one ranked contender. Caballero was supposed to get first shot at the previous champ, Stuart Hall, before agreeing to step aside and allow the all-British clash between Butler and Hall.

But terms of the deal called for the Golden Boy-backed Caballero to face the winner, and it will be tough for anyone to shunt him aside for a second time.

If Butler can get past Caballero, there might be further conversations about a unification fight. And all involved can be expected to take things rather more seriously.

Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.

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