Sergio Martinez takes a break from cyber-bullying Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. when he meets bruising dreamer and EBU middleweight champion Matthew Macklin tomorrow night at the Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Macklin, 29, will be the third consecutive fairly anonymous European to face Martinez, whose mythical “P-4-P” status allows him to call out welterweights, hold press conferences to bewail his lot as a prizefighter, and face run-of-the-mill opponents for exorbitant purses despite an inability to sell tickets or produce significant ratings points for HBO. If you think all this P-4-P nonsense does not affect reality, think again. By having a free PR campaign comprised of media members, pound-for-pound penthouse dwellers eventually come around to believing their own blogspot clippings. It is also the reason why tickets to Martinez fights are so expensive, since his standing as a “superstar” is used by Lou DiBella, rightly so, it should be noted, as a promotional tool to hype any fight involving “Maravilla.”
Despite all the mythomania surrounding Martinez, however, there is no doubt that he is an extraordinarily talented boxer. Above all, Martinez, 48-2-2 (27), seems aware of putting the “performance” in his performance art and fights with an enthusiasm calculated to separate himself from the all too commonplace waltzes of his contemporaries.
Quick hands, sneaky counterpunching skills, a tricky southpaw style, and above-average punching power make Martinez 40 miles of bad Patagonian road for anyone who answers the opening bell against him. Martinez, now fighting out of Oxnard, California, but originally from Buenos Aires, likes to drop his hands and shimmy on the perimeter in order to draw leads, but Macklin will need no special invitation to throw punches. The Birmingham-based Irishman, 28-3 (19), is a genuine hardcase. A pressure fighter who works both hands on the inside and belabors the body with brio, Macklin likes to set a scorching pace early. What separates Macklin from most brawlers, though, is his commitment to the jab, often doubling or even tripling it on the way to waging war in the trenches. Macklin has also added some head movement over the years and likes to feint from the outside as well. With Martinez, 37, closing in on middle age for a fighter and suffering from assorted nagging injuries accumulated over the course of 50 fights, Macklin probably has his best chance to make his championship dream come true.
Still, there is a marked gap in experience between the two men. While Martinez has faced solid opposition in England, Argentina, and the United States—along with some Guardia Civil types in Spain—Macklin has fought fairly limited foes, mostly in the United Kingdom. After more than a decade as a pro, his best results remain a first-round KO over chinny Finn Amin Asikainen, a comfortable points win over fossilized Yori Boy Campas, and an early stoppage of Wayne Elcock in 2009 for the British middleweight title. It is a hell of a jump to go from Elcock and Asikainen to Sergio Martinez. Not even Finn McCool, perhaps, would attempt that. In addition, the only notable southpaw Macklin has faced—Jamie Moore—left him counting atoms in a 2006 bid for a the British light middleweight title. In that hair-raising brawl, Macklin was frighteningly kayoed in the 10th round and removed from the ring on a stretcher. Macklin, who was spent after nine torrid rounds, was out before he even hit the canvas, and referee Victor Loughlin wisely halted his count to wave in the ringside physicians.
Since the Moore disaster, Macklin has tightened up his defense considerably, but he remains a fighter who takes too much punishment as the rounds go by. Against Sturm in Cologne, Macklin took a quick lead only to see it vanish over the late rounds when he unraveled completely. Ultimately, Macklin was unlucky to drop the duke to Sturm last year, but when you lose four or five of the last six rounds against the hometown favorite, you are asking for bitter disappointment at the end of the night. Fatigue can make an ordinary pug out of even the best fighters, but when Macklin decelerates, he is close to easy pickings. Sturm, whose feather fists have seen him go 12 rounds in seven of his last ten bouts, had him reeling in the waning seconds of their fight. Macklin also took some serious punishment from Geard Ajetoric and Ruben Varon in distance fights. But Macklin, whose attitude can best be described as gung-ho, is a man whose dreams of overreaching are overriding. Having switched trainers (from Joe Gallagher to Buddy McGirt) and set up camp in New York, Macklin is more than just prepared to win—he is prepared to lose everything, and that, in boxing, at least, is a fine distinction. “Everything I did when I was young,” Macklin told Boxing Monthly, “I was steeped in boxing, absolutely loved it. The house was full of boxing DVDs, Champions Forever….”
Macklin is the kind of pug who sat around reading about the legendary exploits of prizefighters from years ago in newspapers and magazines. In another era he would have seen fighters exalted in the work of Trevor Wignall, Denzil Batchelor, George Whiting, Peter Wilson, and Hugh McIlvanney. No doubt Macklin will settle for coverage in The Mirror, The Daily Star, and The Sun. There is nothing more he would like to see, it seems, than his name in headlines followed by a series of exclamation points. He will do his best tomorrow night to earn them.
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