Excitement can be had with any sport, really; I like watching boxing because it’s my preferred way of working out. There’s a heavy bag in my building’s gym and I bought my own double-end bag a few weeks ago to spice up the routine*.
Another nice aspect of boxing is that it happens year-round, every weekend. Surprised? Don’t worry, you haven’t been missing much lately.
But I just caught one I enjoyed enough to report back on.
Last night Sergio Martinez defended his Middleweight Championship (and by that I mean that nobody in his weight class can touch him: belts in boxing mean about as much as they do in professional wrestling) against a little-known challenger in Matthew Macklin. Read the (excellent) BLH and ESPN reviews.
It was a bit confusing at first. Macklin, the 10-1 underdog, was comfortably making Martinez look uncomfortable. Now, calling a fighter awkward or saying he makes another uncomfortable is extremely high praise in a sport dependent on rhythm. Macklin was doing just that, to the consensus #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Impressive as it was to me, the crowd booed its restlessness over this odd chess match as each fighter looked for… something, I guess. Exchanges were infrequent and most commentators had it even through 7 rounds. Very surprising. But there’s drama in a champ’s struggles, too. Might he lose? Might this be it?
Suddenly, late in the 7th, Macklin scored a cheap, legal knockdown as Martinez tripped after taking a shot.
And the sleeping giant awoke.
What ensued was no crass telephone booth war, mind you. Martinez went from landing tentative shots, mostly jabs, to hammering home straight crosses and hooks at every opening, which were suddenly abundant. Even those same jabs were finding the mark with real, thudding force. His footwork and ring movement are something to behold, better even than Pacquiao’s, who’s slowed a bit.
Macklin’s face started looking like he was getting hit. And he was. Two or three knockdowns later and he’d had enough, not answering the bell for the 12th. TKO.
The story of the first few rounds became clearer in retrospect. In camp, Martinez studied a very different opponent than the one facing him in the ring: Macklin came up with a game plan very different than his normal aggressive style and stuck with it. The plan was no surprise, he stole it from the last guy that Sergio fought. Same tentative first few rounds, same lack of engagement.
Same late-round knockout.
Spare a moment for Macklin, though. Changing your style effectively is impressive stuff: think leopards changing their spots. Macklin was an aggressive attacker and, to his credit, realized this was not going to work against Sergio. No wonder Martinez was confused.
Martinez wasn’t waiting. He wasn’t scared or losing his skills. He was thinking. Often we criticize athletes for thinking too much and freezing. Or thinking too little and not adjusting. Sergio thinks exactly enough. He’s probably the smartest boxer I’ve ever seen.
What he figured out was Macklin’s timing. He started calibrating his punches to an astonishing precision. Macklin’s head slipped slightly to his left when throwing his bigger shots, which helped him avoid the counters. For 7 rounds, anyway.
It’s wonderful to watch the best be awesome at what they do. Martinez is an outstanding boxer and athlete. Can’t wait to see him again.
*I do 3 minute rounds with 30 second breaks. Two warm-up rounds of shadow boxing (usually nobody around to make me feel as stupid as I doubtless look), three rounds on the double-end bag, four rounds on the heavy bag and one more round of shadow boxing. I’m usually completely exhausted by this point. Then I putter around the gym a bit doing some physio exercises for whatever injury’s bugging me at the moment and head back to the apartment. Total time is never more than 45 minutes. Three times a week.