NEW YORK -- It was Matthew Macklin's moment, the one that was supposed to make all the rough ones worthwhile. All the small venues and minimal paydays, the obscure fights and battered bodies had all led to this, a shot at the middleweight title against the man, Felix Sturm, who had owned a piece of the crown the longest. Macklin put it all on the line that night in Cologne, Germany, hacking away at Sturm's midsection, taking the fight to the stunned middleweight king.
Macklin got the job done that night -- the German TV crew had him winning the fight -- but as is often the case in boxing, just winning isn't always enough. Germany is Sturm's backyard and the judges tend to lean in his favor; and they did, handing in two 116-112 cards in favor of Sturm, stripping a well-earned win from Macklin's grasp.
"It was very disappointing," Macklin said. "I put it all on the line that night. I gave it everything. And they took it from me. But you can't cry about it. You have to move on."
The silver lining for Macklin was that even though two judges didn't believe he won the fight, everyone else did. The fight with Sturm was broadcast worldwide, including in the U.S., where Macklin's performance caught the eye of promoter Lou DiBella, the man behind middleweight king Sergio Martinez, who has been snapping up 160-pounders put in front of him. Macklin signed with DiBella last August and seven months later he will get back in the ring in a bigger fight, with a bigger opportunity, a shot at Martinez at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, HBO). Martinez isn't recognized by any of the sanctioning bodies as a world champion, but he's known as the
"I guess losing to Sturm was a blessing in disguise," Macklin (28-3) said. "Now I've got a chance against a guy everyone knows is the top guy in the division."
Macklin has studied Martinez's last few fights and says he has come away unimpressed. He watched Martinez's last fight, against Darren Barker, and says he spotted some holes in Martinez's game. He credits Martinez (48-2-2) for starting quick and closing strong but said in the middle rounds Martinez tends to let up and leave himself open. He sees some decline in the 37-year-old Martinez, weaknesses he can take exploit.
"I wasn't massively impressed," Macklin said. "He didn't look like he did in wins over Paul Williams or Sergiy Dzinziruk. "He looked beatable. Maybe he didn't prepare properly, maybe he didn't have the butterflies you need to be sharp. But he didn't look like he had a whole lot."
Macklin thinks his 5-foot-10 frame will be an advantage. He says Martinez has taken advantage of taller fighters who stand straight up and try to box him, citing the 6-foot-plus Barker, Williams and Kelly Pavlik as examples. Macklin says he won't try to get into a tactical fight with Martinez, rather he will take the fight on the inside and try to wear him down.
"I put a lot of pressure on my opponents when they are in with me," Macklin said. "For Sergio, fighting me is going to be a different story. He won't have time to compose himself or settle down. He will have to keep fighting. And sooner or later, fatigue will set in."
Martinez is the champion, but Macklin isn't worried about losing another controversial decision. New York is his turf. The crowd at the Garden will be stuffed with Macklin supporters on Saturday night, with more than 1,000 coming from overseas to back the British-born, Irish-bred contender on St. Patrick's Day. Indeed, beating Martinez won't erase the memory of that night in Germany, nothing will. But it will go a long way toward making it a distant memory.
"It won't change what happened," Macklin said. "But going into MSG and beating [Martinez] on this stage will make up for it."