Perhaps best well known in boxing circles for his legendary 2006 light middle weight fight against Jamie Moore, Matthew Macklin’s stature on Birmingham’s fight scene weighs in alongside all of our Role of Honour members.
Macklin comes from an Irish background which he carried into the ring with him walking in to the Irish Rover on many an occasion. Macklin was a gifted Hurling player, representing the Irish club Tipperary up until the age of 16. Possessing all of the attributes of a natural sportsmen - a will to win, determination and an eye for the ball - Macklin found himself turning his gaze from the Sliotar to the boxing ring. His obsession with being a champion began at the age of 6 after watching the Bruno/Tyson fight, on which Macklin commented to us about for the first time becoming caught up in the hysteria of a pre-fight build up. Even at this tiny age the contagious buzz of the boxing world instantly mainlined into Macklin’s built in obsession with being the best, testing your metal and winning against all odds. Comparing his sporting mentality to Roy Keane his tenacity and determination found itself lacing up at Small Heath boxing club at the age of 10.
Macklin retired in 2016 and had his first fight on St Patrick’s day 1994 at the age of 11. He won the senior ABAs in 2001 and later that year turned professional at the age of 18. His love of the sport has remained with him, through victory and defeat, his Keano like all or nothing mentality serving him tremendously well throughout a decorated career in the ring.
We asked Matthew what had changed the most in light of the time he had spent in the world of boxing. ‘Not much’ was his answer aside from one notable exception, that being the facilities and equipment now available. Whilst Mrs O’Dell is still furiously trying to realise basic improvements across the board for female boxers, the availability of female changing rooms and sized equipment for young girls and women still not available in some gyms, in general the days of ‘a ring and six bags, a cold dirty unhygienic gym where people sparred with no gloves or gum shields’ are now long gone. That being said ‘Learning from your mistakes’ is the rule of thumb for most fighters, a rule which brings home the truth of the sport. Regardless of how new and improved your gum shield is boxing does in fact involve fighting, getting badly hurt, being punched continuously across your body, being dropped to the floor by a shot below your ribs where no padding of any kind can be found to ease the blow.
Matthew felt that this spit and saw dust style which lives and breathes inside every new jump rope and under every new boxing glove plays a pivotal role in developing the granite mentality required to enter into a boxing ring. The question is open to debate, but if you can’t take a punch you should be wary of training to throw them. Jamie Moore will attest to Macklin’s chin and Macklin no doubt to the physical and mental pain which can be found in the ring. There is little point romanticising a situation where boxers trained under dangerous conditions, yearning for a return to blood stained floors and ringing wet gloves but when Macklin described coming up in the game with the words ‘the bottom line is you learn anyway, it is what it is, its two people fighting each other, you learn anyway’ you get the feeling that you learn anyway because you don’t have a choice.
Macklin was eager to praise both Small Heath and Pat Benson’s gym for the trainers he encountered and the staff who now worked there. Pat Benson, Pat Cowdell, The Lynch brothers, Fazley Street gym and his amateur trainer Mickey Harkin.
On Birmingham Matthew echoed a common sentiment that whilst London, Manchester, Liverpool seem to get a group of fighters and fans coming together at once Birmingham has often had individuals making a name on their own and forging a somewhat lonely path. This sentiment is a common ‘criticism’ of Birmingham’s fight scene, that there is and has not been a Ricky Hatton MEN type community of fans who seem to follow local boxers as loyally as they do their local football clubs. Why this is it is difficult to say. Matthew commented that after the recession alongside Frank Warren and Frank Maloney’s experiences with Sky the satellite company became exclusive in its choices, wanting to only air championship title fights. During Macklin’s time Wayne Elcock was the only other Birmingham fighter to raise a televised local derby. After coming back from Moore with numerous consecutive wins Macklin beat Moore in what he described as ‘perhaps the sweetest night’ of his boxing life.
Matthew moved to train with Freddie Roach and Hatton promotions in 2010, seeing his future in America. After breaking his nose in training he bought his way out of his contract with Hatton promotions. Looking to Del La Hoy’s Golden Boy and seeking to fight big names such as Winky Wright and Sergio Mora Macklin faced the same problem in boxing that all upcoming contenders face – American champions are unwilling to risk a defence of their title against European ‘unknowns’. At this point (2010) Macklin was British and European champion, placed in the world top 5 but was desperately seeking to fight a big name and win that elusive world title. After warring through Jomardashvili and Varon Macklin got his world title shot against Felix Sturm, a decision Matthew felt was made in light of how hard these fights had been on him. Perceiving an opponent to be vulnerable and only then choosing to fight him is a tactic often used by title holders and unfortunately for Macklin it paid off for Sturm. MM described these moments in his career as suitably ironic being as his laboured performances are what led to a world title fight against Sturm and his loss to Sturm leading to a deal at Maddison Square Garden against Sergio Martinez. MM’s loss against Sturm is more or less universally denounced by British and European boxing fans, hall of fame commentator Al Bernstein it as ‘an absolute hosing down’ of Macklin by the judges. His bout against Martinez saw the tactical counter punching Argentinian stop Macklin in the 11th round, a tricky boxing fight where both men adjusted themselves to truly box one another.
MM went on to fight 9 more times professionally losing twice, first in a world title fight against Gennady Golovkin where Macklin encountered GG’s unquestionably world class body shots and then to Jorge Heiland unfortunately for Macklin in non other than Dublin Ireland.
Matthew Mack the Knife Macklin’s full interview with FFOH and further introspection on his career and the world of professional and amateur boxing can be found here on our recorded audio interview.