There’s no fazing Matthew Macklin.
It was perhaps unwise to sit him down for a chat at the side of the blue ring centrepiece of Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Boxing Club during the week. However, when one of the two sparring fighters inside the ring careened backwards onto the ropes and grazed a little too heavily off the unsuspecting middleweight world title challenger, Macklin barely raised an eyebrow and continued his response without missing a beat.
Here he is again in New York, adjusting naturally to the intense burst of media interest that comes with being one of the most respected 160-pounders in the world.
Tonight in Connecticut, he will try to dethrone the IBO and WBA champion Gennady Golovkin so he can finally take possession of a couple of belts to go with that undeniable courage, that devil-may-care desire to lift the sport and not dodge the big fights when they come knocking.
According to one of the promoters of tonight’s event, Brian Peters, Macklin was one of five middleweights to whom the undefeated Kazakh (26-0, 23 KOs) sent text messages offering a blockbuster fight: Julio Chavez Jr and Sergio Martinez being two of the others. Nobody responded except for Tipperary’s most famous Brummie.
“I’ll fight you,” was the reply. “I’ve fought the best and you’re no different.”
“That’s why Matthew delivers and ticks all the boxes for HBO,” adds Peters, his knee perched up on the ring as he leans in to make sure we have all the bases covered.
They were different, unrecognisable eras, for sure, but there’s no shame in Macklin aspiring to the example set by Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Graziano, Tony Zale and Jake LaMotta after the Second World War and that other quartet three decades later — Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran all taking each other on with little thought for their own career paths.
“They’re the fights you want to be involved in, the people you want to fight, and to be the best you have to beat the best,” Macklin reasons.
“Back in them days, when we’re on about the heyday of the middleweight division, they fought and beat each other and fought each other again. They weren’t trying to build one up to be superhuman.
“There were four or five of them who were the best fighters in the world and then when they fought, they had great fights and everyone enjoyed them and it was ‘my day today, it could be your day next time’.
“Now sometimes the media try and build someone extra special, but he has two arms and two legs, he’s going to weigh 160lbs, if he gets hit on the chin he’s going to hit the floor like anyone else, he’s going to get tired like anyone else.
“[Golovkin’s] a good fighter, he does things well, but so do I, so does Kid Chocolate [WBO middleweight champion Peter Quillin], so do three or four other guys in the division.
“The best need to fight the best and I’m a believer in that.
“In fairness, no one wanted to fight me because they probably saw me as someone who definitely could be world champion and they don’t want to risk their title. They don’t see me high on the risk-reward scenario.”
More than a year ago, it was Sergio Martinez who Macklin challenged — and lost to — with relish. While Martinez moved on to take care of Chavez Jr, Macklin has only had that one quick September victory over Joachim Alcine before his return to the big time this weekend, an overly long lull, he admits.
“That was a concern. But I’m 31, I’ve been a pro a long time, I’m used to doing this. I’m not too worried about it. I felt good sparring. I sparred further out than I normally would in Spain. But I feel ready, I feel sharp.
“Today I was shadow boxing — I feel like the snap’s there. My third world title fight in four fights. You get used to it.”
Ironically, Macklin was speaking two years to the day since that first world title bid, the controversial defeat to Germany’s Felix Sturm, who that night retained the WBA title now in Golovkin’s possession.
The split decision which went against him still rankles.
“It should have been my belt that night. I won the fight, I just didn’t win the belt.
“This time I’ll be leaving the ring with the belt.”
Macklin is relishing the prospect of his highly hyped opponent’s camp looking past him and is eyeing tonight’s bout at Foxwoods Casino, three hours from New York city, as a possible upset.
“I think they feel that he’s a pound-for-pound legend in the making and on the way up there, but I have my own ideas,” added Macklin.
“I think he’s a good fighter and he still may go on and achieve all those things, but like I said before, everyone hits a speed bump on the way. This will be his first one.”
Almost 10 years ago, Gennady Golovkin marched decisively past Andy Lee on points at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Bangkok.
Golovkin would go on to win gold that year and silver at the Athens Olympics the following summer but it was his mind-blowing overall amateur record of 350-5 which set the Kazakh up for a busy and much observed professional career that launched itself in May 2006.
The only problem has been finding suitable opponents at middleweight, even though he has taken possession of the division’s WBA and IBO belts. Testimony to the ease of his passage through to this point is his 88% knockout ratio, the highest of any pro boxer today.
“There has been some criticism as far as him only fighting junior middleweights or not the top-level competition,” his promoter Tom Loeffler said. “ In fact, there’s no name that we’ve turned down yet for Gennady.”
Into that void steps Macklin who is billed as his toughest proposition yet and who has himself yet to satisfy his craving for a tussle with Lee.
“I think this is a great fight for us,” Golovkin said. “Matthew is going to be the toughest challenge I have ever had. He is just as big, fast and strong as me, and we are expecting a very tough fight.”
Lou DiBella, the main promoter of tonight’s fight night in Connecticut, believes Macklin has a big chance tonight.
“Nobody wanted to fight this guy,” said DiBella. “There is no doubting he had a great amateur career and his knockout ratio now is amazing. The difference in this fight, though, is Matt Macklin is not scared. Macklin is a big, strong, aggressive middleweight. This is going to be the hardest fight of Golovkin’s career.”