Your middleweight champion is doing all he can. Sergio Martinez at least got himself into the discussion as a potential future opponent for money-makin’ Floyd Mayweather, Jr., even if that honor went to someone else in May. He keeps pestering the WBC to give him the shot he was promised at a potentially rich fight with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. His promoter, Lou DiBella has talked about keeping him busy off-TV rather than relying exclusively on HBO, and DiBella has apparently convinced some critics that he’s finally got the right approach to handling Martinez. And failing any chance at a big one against Mayweather or Chavez in the immediate future, Martinez is facing one of the top few middleweight contenders Saturday on HBO — and a contender who, by virtue of being British-Irish, is helping Martinez in New York City with ticket sales, an elusive target so far for a late-blooming, 37-year-old Argentinian campaigning in the United States.
A while back, people would’ve laughed off Macklin as an opponent for Martinez. But a couple things happened in 2011 to make things considerably more even between the pair in the court of public opinion. The first of those things was that Macklin nearly upset then-#1 middleweight Felix Sturm, and many are convinced that Macklin was flat-out robbed in Sturm’s homeland of Germany. Either way, Macklin showed he could fight world-class opponents on no worse than even terms, and now Macklin is the #3-ranked middleweight per Ring Magazine. The second of those things was that many saw Martinez’ struggles with Darren Barker as a sign that Martinez might not have been as good as previously believed, or perhaps that Martinez had begun his downhill plummet, physically.
There are those who think that Macklin, with as hard-nosed as he is, could beat a declining Martinez. I’m inclined to think he’s good enough to at least give Martinez another rough night, the kind that Martinez hadn’t had since becoming middleweight champ, until Barker arrived, anyway. But Macklin is also a seven to one underdog for a reason: Martinez, if he’s anywhere near the top of his game still, isn’t just the best middleweight in the world — he’s one of the best five or so fighters period.
I still haven’t made up my mind why Martinez struggled with Barker. He did have some legitimate injuries going into the fight. Barker also played a lot of keep-away to minimize contact. From the start, I thought most people were wrong about Barker and viewed him as a potentially competitive opponent, a crafty sort of the variety Martinez hadn’t seen much lately if at all. And yeah, it’s totally possible that Martinez has finally “gotten old.”
But as the Barker fight went on, Martinez was still winning it, and he closed the show to boot by stopping Barker late. He wasn’t his usual scintillating self, but the result was the same. I don’t buy this retroactive “he wasn’t as good as we thought” stuff, though. You don’t beat Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Serhiy Dzinziruk, or even Barker or Alex Bunema if you suck. One subpar outing, it seems, is enough to make boxing fans and writers dismiss your entire career as an illusion. If we assume that age isn’t to blame for Martinez’ performance against Barker, then Macklin shouldn’t win. Martinez is too fast, too powerful, too unpredictably herky-jerky, too well-prepared by Gabriel Sarmiento and completely able to recover if he gets into trouble.
It usually takes a second straight subpar performance by an older fighter to make me inclined to blame the ravages of time. And Macklin’s style is such that he very well could bring that subpar performance. He’s very aggressive. He is physically strong, if not a devastating puncher. He can take a shot. He’s a devoted body puncher. And he’s going to be in Martinez’ grill for as long as he can stand up. If Martinez is now an old man, that kind of pressure could make him look downright elderly. And, though it’s ancient history, a pressure-fighting style is responsible for Martinez’ most resounding defeat, to Antonio Margarito.
Macklin is also coming off a performance that should do wonders for his confidence. Macklin had recovered well from his loss to the similarly-gritty but lesser-talented Jamie Moore, notching victories against contenders and fringe contenders like Wayne Elcock and Amin Asikainen. Nearly beating Sturm had to convince him he could fight world-class opponents. Macklin proved the slower and more hittable man against Sturm like he often has, but he also wasn’t quite THAT slow, and his upper-body movement gave Sturm trouble early on. It also won’t hurt Macklin in this fight that he’s the younger man at age 29 and will have the crowd in The Theater at Madison Square Garden behind him, what with it being St. Patrick’s Day weekend and all. And should Macklin get this upset win, look out: He could take America by storm, since a bunch of Irish-Americans would quickly embrace him.
Because I am unconvinced that Martinez is over the hill, I can’t in good conscience pick him to lose to Macklin. Even if Martinez is simply getting ready to start his decline, he should have enough speed and power to win. It would take Martinez dropping off the cliff for me to pick Macklin for the upset. Special talent often wins out, although maybe March Madness shows that it doesn’t always. Still, I bet Macklin makes his share of contact, and I bet Martinez won’t get rid of him easily. I’ll take a 10th round knockout for the middleweight champ. But I also bet both these pretty boys won’t be quite as pretty by the end of the night.