By Daniel Cann
Great to see Birmingham based Irish middleweight Matthew Macklin put up such a bold and defiant effort in the lions den of Cologne at the weekend. He was facing local fighter and the WBA world champion Felix Sturm. As the media were quick to point out before the contest Sturm boasted a career that included narrowly and controversially losing on points to Oscar De La Hoya in 2004, winning versions of the world middleweight title three times and having no less than fifteen world title fights on his CV. The only blemishes on Sturm’s impressive 38-fight record were the loss to De La Hoya, a stoppage loss to Javier Castillejo (which Sturm later avenged to regain the WBA title) and a draw with Randy Griffin.
It was widely expected that Sturm would win (some pundits believing quite handily) and that Macklin would really be under pressure fighting in front of Sturm’s partisan home crowd. In the event the former British and European (EBU) champion acquitted himself extremely well, giving Sturm a real shock in the early rounds and pushing the favoured champion all the way in losing a close split twelve round decision.
Two judges scored it for Sturm 116 – 112 and the other had it for Macklin 115 – 113. It all depended on whether you favoured Macklin’s early aggression and workrate in the first half of the contest or Sturm’s better work in the second half when the Birmingham boxer seemed to fade. Macklin was briefly stunned in the tenth and badly shaken in the last round. Did you go for the body punching and all out aggression of the challenger or the stiff jab and hurtful uppercuts of the champion?
It was very close and both men felt they had done enough to claim victory. Afterwards Macklin said ‘I should be champion. I believe I was the better fighter,’ before sportingly adding ‘but it is not Felix’s fault he wasn’t a judge.’
Sturm said ‘It was not a wrong decision,’ but conceded ‘it was close.’
The decision has divided opinion and depending on which fighter you supported you either felt hard done by or vindicated by the scoring. The good news for Macklin is that Sturm immediately said ‘We will definitely have another fight, we have already agreed it.’
If that is the case then that is the best Macklin could have hoped for. Sturm obviously feels he needs to clear things up by winning convincingly in a rematch. At least next time Macklin will know exactly what he is up against and what to expect. So too will the exceptional champion Sturm, but at least a rematch can settle all arguments whilst providing Macklin with a second chance at world glory.
Providing the rematch is held on neutral ground then Macklin stands a great chance at reversing this loss. If he hadn’t faded in the last half of the fight there would have been no arguments. The crowd and the atmosphere in Cologne was fantastic yet you feel that no matter how impartial or neutral the official, noise must effect the perception of a contest. For example a crowd can roar wildly even for a missed punch by a home fighter but when the visiting fighter provides decent work this can be met with muted silence. Obviously judges have eyes! But watch a boxing match on television with the sound off and you can often see a different fight to the one you are watching with the commentary on and the crowd cheering.
Anyway, it is no point dwelling on the what if’s. Should Sturm honour his promise of a rematch then Macklin’s dream of a world title is still alive. In fact should domestic rival Darren Barker cause an upset and win the WBC version of the world title when he challenges Argentina’s Sergio Martinez in October, then we could still see an all British world title fight next year (even a unification).
The main thing is that world middleweight boxing is exciting again and with champions like Sturm and Martinez and challengers like Macklin and Barker we can expect plenty of fireworks to come.