Matthew Macklin speaks to Damian Dolan about retirement and stepping into the world of boxing management
While Matthew Macklin has no regrets when he looks back on his boxing career, there are a few things he admits he’d do differently if he had his time again.
The former European, British and Irish champion, who three times challenged for the world middleweight title, hung up his gloves last year after a distinguished 15-year career as a professional.
He’s now using every ounce of that vast experience to help shape the futures of the 120 fighters he and his team now manage, including Top Rank’s bight young star Michael Conlan and double Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes.
For Macklin, it’s been a seamless transition from the ring to boxing’s business world, as he’d always taken a very hands-on approach to managing his own career, and it’s a role he’s thoroughly enjoying.
“I’ve no regrets…..but I do look back and think ‘God, I wish I had someone like me guiding my career’. But if I can now guide other fighters in their careers and help them fulfil their potential I’ll be happy,” said Macklin.
“I understand the business side of boxing just as much as I do the training side of it. Although I had a manager, in many ways I managed myself. I was a control freak – I didn’t trust anyone else.
“I wish I hadn’t been that way and just let go and had trust, but I probably wanted it so much that I wanted to be on top of everything.”
He concedes he probably turned pro too young (in 2001 aged 19), when he had been targeting the 2004 Athens Olympics. He turned pro “almost by accident” after receiving a good offer.
“The next thing I knew I was boxing in eight weeks and I didn’t even know who I was going to train with,” he said.
An experience he was determined London 2012 Bronze medallist and former Amateur world and European champion Conlan wasn’t going to repeat, when the Belfast fighter quit the amateur game after the Rio Games.
American based promotor Top Rank, with whom Conlan has a six fight deal, had been keen to parade their new star fighter on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s return to the ring in Las Vegas in November last year. Macklin, however, favoured another way.
Rather than rushing Conlan into a pro fight career, for Macklin the priorities were to find the right trainer in Los Angeles, a place for Conlan and his family to live, and for his fighter to have a much needed break from boxing.
“I knew how important it was for him to go over there and meet his trainer, and make sure that he was happy,” said Macklin.
“It’s all about the marriage [between boxer and trainer], as much as it is whether someone is a good trainer, and whether you click.”
So rather than debuting in Vegas, Macklin and Conlan travelled to LA for ten days to meet with trainers and get accommodation sorted, so that when Conlan moved back to LA in January with his family he could hit the ground running.
They decided on Mexican trainer Manny Robles, who has WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez and junior featherweight champion Jessie Magdaleno among a strong stable of fighters.
“I sparred with Jason Quigley at Manny’s gym [The Rock Gym] in LA before my last fight out there, and I just felt he had a great set up. It was the best place for Michael to start his apprenticeship,” said Macklin, for whom the decision for Conlan to move lock stock and barrel to LA was imperative.
It’s something Macklin never did, but the need for a fighter to commit to living where they train is one that he now advocates wholeheartedly to his boxers.
Training away from your family and home for weeks, or months, on end can be a lonely business, as Macklin knows only too well.
“It’s lonely; when you’re only in the gym two hours a day and the rest of the time you’re on your own with an eight hour time difference, you start to not enjoy it and then you start to not perform,” he said.
“Find the best trainer where you live, or if you want to train with a certain trainer then move there.
“I don’t believe any other manager could give that advice, because they haven’t been there and done it, whereas I have been there. I know what it’s like.”
The decision to delay Conlan’s pro debut certainly proved to be a good one, with his first fight instead taking place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day against Tim Ibarra.
Conlan won courtesy of a TKO, just as Macklin did on his pro debut back in November 2001 in Glasgow against Ram Singh. It’s a fight he remembers well.
“It was my first fight without a head guard and I remember being quite nervous. It was new territory, but I remember telling myself ‘you’ve been sparring with top professionals for the last couple of years and this guy’s terrible. You’ll destroy him’. I got my jab going and got him out of there in the first round,” he recalled.
Macklin would go on to rack up 35 wins (22 by KO) over a long and distinguished career. He finally brought the curtain down in May 2016, and looks back fondly on his years in the ring.
“It’s important to look at life glass half full. When I was a kid I remember thinking ‘if I could only win an ABA title’. But if someone had told me then I’d go on and do what I did I’d have bitten their arm off, never mind their hand,” he said.
“With the ability and talent I had I probably could have achieved more than I did, but I did ok. I don’t want to live life glass half empty. I’m grateful for what I did achieve, rather than regretful over what I didn’t.
“You’re always going to think you could have done things differently or better, but youth is wasted on the young, isn’t it? You can’t put an old head on young shoulders!”
After a brutal super-welterweight British title fight with Jamie Moore in 2006, which brought him to wider recognition, Macklin challenged Felix Sturm for the WBA Super World middleweight title in 2011, only to lose on a controversial split decision.
The following year he lost to Sergio Martinez, WBC diamond and Ring Magazine middleweight champion, at Madison Square Garden, with Macklin’s corner withdrawing him in the 11th round.
He challenged for a third and final time in 2013 when he fought Gennady Golovkin for the IBO and WBA World middleweight titles, only to be knocked out in round three.
“I definitely thought I won the Sturm fight. It was a good fight and Sturm played his part, but I thought there was only one winner, and that was me,” said Macklin.
“The Martinez fight is one I look back on that I should have won. Fair play to him he worked me out in the end, but I’d bruised my rib three weeks out and had to stop sparring and then we used a body pad that we hadn’t used before and I was driving left hooks into it, and when I took my glove off I’d cut three of my knuckles to the bone.
“Two weeks out from the fight I couldn’t punch – I was just shadow boxing. Even on the night of the fight I couldn’t warm up on the pads. “It didn’t bother me during the fight, with the adrenalin pumping through you, but if I’d got those weeks extra weeks training I’d have beaten Martinez that night.”
Macklin came close to calling it a day after defeat to Jorge Sebastian Heiland at Dublin’s 3Arena in 2015, but lured by the prospect of “one more go” when Eddie Hearn dangled the carrot of a world title shot against Danny Jacobs, Macklin carried on into 2016.
“In my heart I’d retired, but then Eddie called me up and I thought ‘go on, why not?’. My form wasn’t what it was, but Jacobs was a fight I could definitely win if I caught him, and I could go out on a world title fight,” said Macklin.
The prospect had reignited something within Macklin, who set about racking up some wins to put himself in line to challenge Jacobs.
But after a few fights he knew it was time to call it a day during what proved to be his final fight, against Rose at London’s O2 Arena.
“I knew during the fight that I wasn’t going to box again. I remember clashing heads in the first round and my eye came up closed, and from rounds four to ten I was just thinking ‘I’m going to tell Seamus [Matthew’s brother] to pull me out’. I didn’t really want to be there,” he said.
“But after round ten Seamus said to me ‘these are probably going to be the last two rounds of your career – go out and win them’. And I did, and won the fight.
“I probably didn’t have the same appetite for boxing after the Martinez fight, and definitely from the Gennady Golovkin fight. I started to get injured every single fight and I just got fed up with it.
“I’d achieved a lot out of the sport and done well financially, so the hunger wasn’t the same. As you get older you want different things in life.”
Although a world title ultimately alluded Macklin, he could indeed look back on a long and very distinguished and successful career, and now he’s using all of that experience to help the next generation of boxing’s champions.