As he prepares for the biggest fight of his career, star Irish middleweight Matthew “Mack the Knife” Macklin speaks with IrishCentral Community News about Tipperary hurling, his training regime at his New York base, and how exactly he plans to deal with the man considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
Macklin (29) meets WBC “Diamond” champion Sergio Martinez (37) at Madison Square Garden on March 17 in a fight which will be beamed across the world via HBO and Sky Sports.
Here's the full interview with Macklin:
When and why did you move to New York?
I've been living in New York now since last September. My last fight took place in Germany in June 2011 against Felix Sturm for the WBA World title and it was shown on the Epix network in the US. A lot of people saw that fight over here so it meant that US boxing fans got to see that I got a raw deal from the judges. That led to me signing a deal with the New York-based promoter, Lou DiBella, shortly after the fight. With that in place I wanted to relocate to New York and start to build a following here and give people the kind of nights they enjoyed when John Duddy was selling out venues in New York on a regular basis a few years back.
My first sporting love was actually hurling. Even though I grew up in Birmingham my dad who is from Four Roads in Roscommon was a hurling fanatic and my mum hails from Tipperary, where hurling is basically a religion, so from the age of about two I was always messing about with a hurley. I used to go back to Ireland for the summer when I would have my school holidays and played regularly back there. I was quite decent and would have played underage hurling with a lot of the lads on the current Tipp panel.
Actually just last week Eoin Kelly, who was the Tipperary captain when they won the All-Ireland in 2010, sent me a team photo from an under-18s South Final back in 1997. That brought back great memories. I was playing for Ballingarry although I was actually only 15 at the time, and it was during the school year so the club paid to fly me over from Birmingham for the final, which was a really big deal for me at the time. We were up against against Eoin's team, Mullinahone in the final and there was real rivalry there. There was a lot of local pride at stake because the two parishes are only a few miles apart. We beat them by two points that day and I scored three so I always give him a bit of slagging over that because Eoin, his brother Paul and another guy, Paul Curran, were on the Mullinahone team and would eventually go on to win All-Ireland hurling medals for Tipp at senior level.
So why go from hurling to boxing?
My Dad had always been a boxing fan too, so at the age of 11 I had my first amateur fight. Ironically it was on St. Patrick's Day 18 years to the day that I will fight Martinez at Madison Square Garden. I was hooked on the sport straight away and by the time I got to around 16 I knew I had to make a choice between hurling and boxing, because I was doing both at a decent level and I knew something had to give. In the end the choice was kind of made for me because I got a knee injury which stopped me from hurling for a few months but I was still able to do my boxing training so I kept going with the boxing after that.
You feel you made the right choice, then?
In the back of my mind I always wanted to make a career out of boxing but my parents always instilled into me how important it was to get an education so I went to start a law degree at Coventry University. I was practically a full-time amateur boxer at the same time so it made combining both very difficult. Inevitably my studies started to suffer so after the first year I met with my tutor and she could see how driven I was about my boxing career. She told me that the door would always be open to come back and resume the law degree at any time if I wanted to pursue the boxing on a full time basis. I have no regrets there in terms of my studies but from time to time I do wonder if I'd kept at the hurling instead of the boxing how far I could have gone. I would love to have played for Tipperary at senior level, to play at Semple Stadium on Munster Final day or Croke Park on All Ireland day would have been the ultimate.
Where do you train in New York?
I train at the Trinity Boxing Gym which is on Greenwich Street in the Financial District and I do strength and conditioning training at the Peak Performance gym in Midtown.
Who is your coach?
My trainer is Buddy McGirt. Buddy is a native New Yorker and was a terrific fighter. He won world titles in two weight divisions in the 80's and 90's. He was a very smart, slick fighter and he brings all that experience and knowledge to bear as a trainer.
How has your experience been of New York so far?
Even before I lived here I always loved visiting New York and living here hasn't done anything to change my view of the city. It's just an incredibly diverse place and it's been great to actually have the opportunity to live here. I already had friends and relations living here and I love going out of places like The Bronx, Yonkers and Queens to catch up with them.
All the girls are asking: Are you single or looking for a relationship?
(Laughs) I'm single right now. Being a professional boxer means that I lead a pretty nomadic existence. I've traveled the world with boxing and a lot of the time I’m away in training camp so it's a lifestyle that's not really suited to settling down. It's definitely something I want to do because it can be a lonely life but to succeed in boxing you have to be willing to put your career first above everything else. For example being single meant that uprooting and relocating to New York was not really an issue for me, I know other boxers from back home who wouldn't have been able to do that because of family commitments.
How is the training going for the big fight?
It's gone great, at this point all the hard work is done and it's just a case of tapering down. Then the last week is all about monitoring your weight and fine tuning the strategy. It's a middleweight fight so I can't be any more than 160 pounds for the weigh-in on the day before. I'm pretty much on the weight already so that's not a concern for me.
Run us through a regular day for you at the moment?
I try to vary the sessions a bit to keep things interesting, for example I will change the type of runs I do on a daily basis, in the gym I will spar on certain days and then other days I work the pads with Buddy, so I always try to keep it as varied as possible so that I don't get stale. Also for a fight of this magnitude there is a lot of media interest especially as the fight gets closer so there are a lot of interviews, photo shoots and stuff like that.
What skills are you bringing to the ring that Martinez doesn’t have?
We're both very different fighters. Martinez is a very fast, slick southpaw. He's very hard to pin down and he fights in an unorthodox style so his punches come from strange angles and he depends on his reflexes for defense. When you are fighting somebody like that it's vital that you don't fight their fight and use your own strengths and skills. I'm a much bigger, naturally stronger guy and people who have sparred both myself and Sergio have said that I hit much harder. I have a great engine so I can set a very hard pace from the first bell and maintain it for all 12 rounds if needed and I have a good boxing brain as well so I'm able to think on my feet in there.
Do you consider this the biggest fight of your career?
Undoubtedly, outside of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez is considered one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound so winning this fight would be life-changing for me. I've won the Irish title, the British title, the European title twice but it's really only in my last fight against Sturm in Germany that I proved to people once and for all that I'm one of the best middleweights in the world.
What’s been the most memorable fight of your career to date?
There have been a few: winning the Irish title back in Dublin in 2005, knocking out Wayne Elcock, a local rival from Birmingham in 2009 and then winning the European title with a first round knockout over Amin Asikainen in 2009. Strangely enough even though I got robbed against Sturm that fight was memorable as well because despite the judges’ decision it has led to this opportunity with Sergio Martinez.
How are you feeling about the fight?
The best word to sum it up would be “excited”, really. An Irish guy fighting one of the best fighters in the world for the world title on St. Patrick's Day in Madison Square Garden – how could I not be excited about that?
What would you like to say to your Irish fans?
Thanks for all the huge support to date. I really appreciate it. There are so many people spending their hard earned money to cross the Atlantic to support me. I even have Irish friends living in Australia who are coming over for the fight. Of course I've had huge support from the Irish community in New York, too, and people have made me feel so welcome.
Where and how can people purchase tickets?
The only problem at this point is that I believe the fight is almost sold out but people can check with Ticketmaster.com and the MSG box office to try and get hold of the last few remaining tickets. If people can't be there then the fight is live on HBO and on Sky Sports back home. I'm sure the atmosphere in the pubs around New York showing the fight will be great as well.