The pressure is on as Macklin leads the resurgence of Irish Boxing.
Five years have passed since Matthew Macklin (31-5) last fought in Ireland. Between then and now he’s boxed eight times, winning five and losing three, with the three defeats all coming in world title challenges. Now at 32, his continuing quest to become world champion brings big time boxing back to Dublin.
There’s no question Macklin has fought the top middleweights on the planet during his run. In his first step up to world level, he arguably got the better of Felix Sturm, although the judges in Cologne had other ideas. In his very next fight, Macklin pushed a still prime Sergio Martinez to his limits, putting the Argentinean great on the canvas in the seventh round before being dropped twice himself and ultimately stopped in the eleventh. In those two bouts though, Macklin showed he belonged among the best in the world at 160 pounds.
His third attempt was less successful however; a three round wipe-out by the division’s rising phenom Gennady Golovkin. Golovkin, a bad styles match up for nearly anyone, but particularly someone as attack-minded as Macklin, dispatched of him in short order. Two rebound wins later, Macklin is again looking to ready himself for one last charge at world honours. That starts Saturday with Jorge Sebastian Heiland (24-4-2) in a WBC title eliminator.
Fourth chances don’t often come around in this sport. After three failed attempts, some may still posses the skills and others may have the desire, but few can maintain both. For Matthew Macklin, he’s in the game to become a world champion. Having already won Irish, British and European titles, that’s all that’s left for him to do. He’s not tied to boxing. He has other options away from the ring. He can comfortably walk away whenever he feels the time is right, but he doesn’t want to do so without first taking home that elusive world title. It’s the only missing piece of the puzzle, and he believes it’s still within his grasp, but he also knows that time is running out for him and he can afford no more setbacks. That makes Saturday night’s main event with Heiland a must win. A loss effectively closes the book on Macklin’s title aspirations and by extension his career as well.
The Irishman has appeared confident and focused in the build up all through fight week. He looks physically and mentally well prepared. The move back to trainer Joe Gallagher is a positive step too. Macklin’s best performances have come under Gallagher, and Gallagher, for his part, has been working miracles with his entire stable of fighters lately. The atmosphere in that gym seems to bring something extra out of each of the boxers and that could provide the lift Macklin needs for one last big surge.
In the opposite corner, Jorge Sebastian Heiland is ranked 4 by the WBC. He’s the type of opponent that will test what Macklin has left. He’s useful; a busy fighter with a come forward style. He will look to press the action and keep the punch output high. He will take Macklin on and make him work. Out of the four loses on his record, Heiland avenged the two most recent. The other two defeats came back to back in a pair of fights he had on the road in 2010 – the only two occasions he’s previously fought outside of his native Argentina. One of those was against the then unbeaten Sebastian Zbik in Germany for the Interim WBC belt. He’s maxed out at a clear level below the true title contenders so far though. If Macklin is still to be a force at middleweight, this is the type of opponent he should get past and look good doing so.
It’s not just a big fight for Macklin, but for the sport of boxing in Ireland as well. There have been no major televised cards from the Republic since March 2011 when RTE pulled the plug on their boxing coverage. Matchroom and Sky’s Irish expansion hinges on Macklin’s success. For it to progress they need a viable headliner and Macklin is the only one to fit that bill right now. The emerging talent is there to grow the sport, from new pros like Luke Keeler, to former amateur stars such as John Joe Nevin, Declan Geraghty and Tommy McCarthy, and the next wave of boxers set to follow their lead into the paid ranks. They just need somebody to hold the door open for them while they continue to develop. Right now that has got to be Macklin.
Macklin at his best beats Heiland and probably stops him too. Even at 75%, he should still have enough to get the job done. However, if the flat performances in his two fights since the Golovkin defeat were not the result of circumstance, and are instead more of a reflection of the fighter he is in 2014, this could become a very tricky fight for him. Matthew is a guy who has had a long, hard career, but he’s also somebody who has shown the ability to regroup and rebuild again and again. I expect Heiland’s style to bring out the best Matthew Macklin of right now – whatever that might be. I’ve liked everything I’ve seen and heard in the lead up to this one. My gut tells me he’s still got a few big fights left in him. A reinvigorated Macklin closes the show out in style and keeps the ball rolling.
Prediction: Macklin by 11th round KO