NEW YORK – The fight wasn’t nearly as easy as advertised for THE RING middleweight champ.
Still, the result was the same for Sergio Martinez, who stopped game challenger Matthew Macklin in the 11th round to make his fourth consecutive defense of the lineal championship he won from Kelly Pavlik in April of 2010.
Martinez (49-2-2, 28 knockouts), who engaged in a very competitive bout and was seemingly in danger of losing his title after the first half of the fight, came on in the late rounds to defeat Macklin after scoring two devastating knockdowns in the 11th round before a sell-out crowd of 4,671 fans at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Macklin (28-4, 19 KOs), a British fighter of Irish descent, put on a spirited fight before his Irish fans on St. Patrick’s Day in his adopted hometown of New York, but couldn’t close the show as fatigue and Martinez’s mettle proved to be too much down the stretch.
Macklin scored a knockdown in round seven, but Martinez never whittled, fighting in his usual style, hands held low.
The 37-year-old Argentine badly rocked Macklin in the 10th several times and it seemed like the fight was coming to an end. In the 11th, Martinez ended matters, dropping Macklin hard twice with blistering combinations. Macklin beat the count both times, but his trainer Buddy McGirt stopped the bout following round 11.
The scores at the time of the stoppage were 103-103, 105-101 and 105-101, the two latter scores favoring Martinez.
“It was difficult, it was a complicated fight,” said Martinez, THE RING’s No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter. “He’s a tough rival. He didn’t come out and attack like I expected and he wasn’t open on defense. It’s a 12-round fight and I won.
“I knew it was a matter of time, it’s just like cutting a tree, little by little, but I knew by the final bell he was gonna fall.”
The 29-year-old challenger knows he fought a great fight but faded down the stretch.
“I executed the game plan to a degree over 6, 7 rounds,” said Macklin, THE RING’s No. 3-rated middleweight. “I knew the fight was close, maybe I started reaching a little bit. I think he’s the best fighter in the world, a much better fighter than Felix Sturm in my opinion. I started falling asleep a little bit, stopped moving my head. I was a little heavy on my feet. I wanted to continue but Buddy said ‘I’m stopping it’ and I said ‘OK’.”
Macklin pressed the fight from the onset while Martinez seemed content to throw punches here and there. Macklin targeted the midsection of Martinez, while the champ sought to land lead-lefts.
Macklin was buckled badly by a sneaky Martinez left in the second round, which pushed him to the ropes, but he acquitted himself nicely, holding on to gain his senses.
Macklin returned the favor in the waning moments of round two, landing a nice combination that stunned Martinez.
Macklin, who fights out of a crouch at times, continued his pursuit of Martinez’s body, rushing in and landing shots on his abdomen. Martinez again stunned Macklin in round four, this time with a left uppercut, but again Macklin sustained.
Macklin landed several hard shots in the fifth, picking up the pace. They exchanged furiously in the waning seconds of the round, as the crowd roared.
The speed difference was evident, though, as the rounds churned on, and Martinez continuously caught Macklin with counter shots out of his laid-back stance.
In the seventh, a big left hand caused Martinez’s glove to touch canvas, technically making it a knockdown, though replays showed it may have been a push.
The knockdown may have been just what Martinez needed to awaken him from his doldrums, as “Maravilla” began to fight with renewed urgency. From round eight on, Martinez landed power shots at will, blasting through Macklin’s guard.
Macklin began to fade badly down the stretch, abandoning all head movement, as his face swelled up with gashes around his eyes.
When Martinez landed a left-right combination down the pike that blasted Macklin to the seat of his pants in the 11th, it was evident that the fight would soon be over, and it was.
So with another notch on his middleweight title belt, Martinez turns his thoughts to the big fights that have eluded him. Every diehard fan knows the matchups that Martinez dreams of – a showdown with a bona-fide star, such as the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto winner, or a popular young ticket seller, such as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
He’s confident that the matchups will eventually happen, and even though he’s pushing 40, he believes time is on his side.
“I’ll keep waiting because I’m a young man,” said Martinez. “I’m not as old as they think.”