Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day, but it wasn’t technically St. Paddy’s night when it came to the main event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Still Matthew “Mack the Knife” Macklin was sharp, came to fight and he kept middleweight champion Sergio “Marivella” Martinez off his game for six or seven rounds before Martinez knocked him out. And Macklin got a major assist from that raucous crowd attired largely in green that howled its approbation whenever Macklin’s glove reached Martinez, which, to be fair, was pretty damned much in the early going.
How about the eight-deep undercard? The audience wasn’t the only verdant group in the Garden. A fare share of fighters filling out the keel of the evening seemed pretty green, too.
A big surprise was the number of Argentines in the audience. There were a lot of them. I’d expected Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) to be roundly booed when he entered, but there were a solid round of cheers as he came in, and a sudden billow of blue and white banners.
Well, the currency about Martinez is that he’s “incredibly athletic,” a term that seems redundant when we’re talking about someone – anyone — who can go 12 rounds. But when you see him beside someone like Macklin you kind of get where that’s coming from: The guy looks like he could do 12 rounds and then throw discus for the Fighting Irish.
Anyway, the bout was bifurcated: It was essentially a two-panel affair with rounds 1 through 6, followed by a comletely different 7 through 11. In the first six Martinez circled like a mako shark, doing pretty damned little, while Macklin was the effective puncher. And the fact that this went on for seven or so rounds surprised and delighted Macklin fans, and left Martinez fans shouting “Come ON Sergio,” (and the Spanish-language equivalent) even though Martinez did serious damage when he actually bothered to connect. During these rounds Martinez circumambulated with his trademark hands down quasi-Roy Jones style, complete with the Jonesean shuffle that makes him (and Roy in his day) look almost like he needs a hip replacement.
In Round 3, Martinez began to connect more though Macklin remained the busier fighter, keeping Martinez circling, while Martinez seemed to be waiting for some act of God to present a counterpunching opportunity. Clearly Macklin was way too good to give away that kind of present. Martinez did, actually, get a present from beyond, more on that later.
It looked as if Macklin had taken the early rounds by dint of activity. Once only in the 3rd did Martinez get Macklin on the ropes, but though Macklin’s punches were unimpressive, Martinez only seemed to try one shot at a time, mostly an awkward probing jab — that is until Macklin walked into a Martinez left that nearly dropped him, a portentious moment, given the fight’s outcome.
The 4th round, again was Macklin’s, as Martinez seems unable to figure out how to counter against him and land aggressively. In the 5th, all hell broke loose and both Macklin and Martinez ended the round as if it were the end of the 12th, swinging at eachother like a pair of enraged civets.
At the 6th, started the round with odd lunging jabs at Macklin. My press row seatmates were now wondering if Martinez had eaten bad sushi. Nobody had expected this to go beyond six.
At the 7th, however, that present from Yahweh happened: Macklin connected with what looked like a body shot that caught Martinez off balance, sending him back, and his glove to the canvas. He got a standing eight, meaning Martinez pretty much would have to knock Macklin out to win, and when Martinez resumed he fought, throwing and landing punches in bunches for the first time in the fight.
From that point on Martinez became, shall we say, inflamed with some sense of urgency that had been entirely missing till then. Toward the end of the 9th, in fact, Martinez got Macklin on the ropes, caught him with a hard punch coming in and for a second it looked as if Macklin were in trouble. I believe it was at that point that Macklin first stumbled into the ropes head first from a shot that I did not see.
At some point between the 9th and 11th rounds it became clear that Martinez was in the process of winning by knockout, as he was connecting now with hard punches, not that one could tell they were hard, viscerally, “one” meaning me, since they’d put me in the balcony, and I could only see (and I need glasses) that Macklin’s face was becoming as red as a boiled lobster, and it was also clear now that Martinez had never been in the slightest trouble during the fight, and might very well have known from the beginning that the fight was his, and that perhaps his corner had perhaps even been telling him he’d better step it up. And he had thought, “no, I’ll take my time, because I’ve felt his punches and they don’t matter.”
And indeed, in the 10th round Martinez began to put punches together. From where I sat they didn’t look like big punches, which is a phenomenon that is not uncommon vis a vis fighters whose fists God has given a little something extra (remember Ali’s little love pat on Liston). And, indeed, Martinez had Macklin in trouble by the end of the 10th. A lot of trouble.
In the 11th second of the 11th round Martinez finished it, dropping Macklin hard, then dropping him again at round’s end. After the fight ended Martinez told Larry Merchant that it had taken him a while to figure Macklin out. And it did. Macklin was aggressive, with good defense and fast hands. But it wasn’t his St. Paddy’s night.
The penultimate fight was a super middleweight affair between Edwin Rodriguez, Worcester, MA, (20-0 14 KOs) and Don George of Chicago (22-1 19 KOs). This was a classic case of a good straight-ahead fighter with power who moves forward trying to find his way inside a superlative boxer with excellent hand speed and movement who manages the keep the less scintillating guy off of him with flurries. It’s the kind of fight where you think of the faster guy, “man, he’d be deadly if he only had power.”
The fight started briskly with both fighters throwing down, but Rodriguez was the busier and more effective boxer, especially with jabs. It was pretty much the pattern of the fight, with George having good moments with big punches that backed up Rodriguez.
Which was no problem for the latter, because he knew how to stop, plant, and throw five or six punches to keep the other guy at bay and then move away to the side.
In the 3rd, Rodriguez got busy again, moving forward, hammering George to the body effectively, and looking to throw uppercuts. But George began to use jabs, connecting occasionally and still moving forward. Rodriquez mostly counterpunched effectively to the body and head. Again and again George missed and Rodriguez connected to the body and head. George connected with overhand rights — once, twice — but Rodriguez puncutated the round.
In the 4th round George seemed to have found a way to parachute punches over Rodriguez’ defense. But Rodriguez got him in the corner and nearly had him in trouble. Yet, at the end of the 4th round, George again found a sweet spot for his overhand right that maked it over the top.
Throughout the 5th round, George came forward but had a hard time connecting versus Rodriguez, whose movement, counters and simple physical attributes makes him a hard target. Finally George connected with two body shots. And even a couple of jabs. But Rodriguez hit him hard and got him in the ropes, connecting with solid shots to the body and head.
In the 6th Rodriguez punched very effectively again, though George was still aggressor. Rodriguez connected with long straight punches and hooks to the body. George came forward and had his best combination of the fight with a left /right to the head. But Rodriguez returned the favor.
In the 9th George came out to win, and connected well, realizing no doubt that he would have to knock Rodriguez out. And he took the round. In the final round Rodriguez didn’t have the starch to hurt George but was fast enough to keep him at bay. And in the final round they went toe to toe in the best final round I’ve seen in a while, with George walking forward taking punches, and then landing big overhand jolts, while Rodriguez rained punches George would walk through to plant something of meaning on Rodriguez’ head. In the end, Rodriguez took a unanimous decision victory.
In a junior welterweight fight between Danny McDermott (9-3-2, 4 KO’s) and Carl McNickles (7-3 6 KO’s) McDermott came forward, with McNickles showing better speed. In the very beginning of the 3rd round McNickles dropped him hard and nearly dropped him again. While McDermott had the aggression, McNickles was clearly the faster boxer, and, thus, did much better in the center.
In the 5th McNickles connected with right hooks, but McDermott was fresher and stronger, and the end of the round left McNickles walking disconsolately back to his corner. I was sure McDermott would mug him in the 6th. And, indeed, McDermott began connecting on McNickles, who was tired. McDermott ended stronger, and connected more in the last, during which McNickles held on. One judge had it even, which is as I saw it, but two gave Chicago-based McNickles the nod.
The most compelling fight among the undercards — if compelling is the right world after one has quaffed several overpriced beers and a boilermaker — a junior middleweight bout, pitted Charlie Ota, who is originally from Harlem but now fights out of Tokyo (13-1-1 13 KO’s) against one Gundrick King, from Tuscaloosa (16-7 11 KO’s).
Ota has speed, arm length and not much power, but what he does have is a hell of a lot of endurance, and he showed how effective that can be against a guy who punches harder and moves less. Ota threw nary a punch in the 1st round, and I expected the usual cat calls accompanying a chess match. In round 2, King, a straight-ahead fighter, demonstrated, if only for a moments, that speed and dancing don’t mean nothing if you can’t plant and hit. King seemed to be connecting with the hard shots to the body. You could hear his land, not Ota’s.
In the 3rd, King closed the distance, trapped Ota on the ropes and threw the harder punches, though Ota was flashier. Suddenly midway through the 3rd, Ota threw three or four fast punches to the head with little consequence and King returned punches on Ota forcing him against the ropes. I predicted that King would emerge the victor simply because his punches counted for something and Ota, with long, fast hands on the outside, seemed unable to connected with meaning.
In the 4th round, King and Ota began throwing a lot, with Ota scoring better at a distance and King close. Ota threw three or four punches to King’s, but King’s resounded.
Then things turned around In the 5th round because King began to tire, while Ota — God knows what he’s drinking in Japan — seemed fresher than he had in the 1st round and punched harder without having lost a whit of wind. And he seemed to have decided to step it up, perhaps thinking King was running on fumes. Ota walked right up to King as if he were hailing a cab and started throwing down on him, putting King on the ropes for the first time. It was all Ota in the 7th, with King dazed and confused as Ota came with more angles than a painting by M.C. Escher. The ref waved it off before Ota became an unlicensed anesthesiologist.
I knew it was time for the real fights in the fourth set of the evening because the house was turning green, with T-shirts and probably green bagels. Irish thing definitely hetted up, with the light heavyweight battle between “Irish” Seanie Monaghan, from “the Irish Riviera” Long Beach, New York (12-0 8 KOs) versus Eric Watkins, who has the unfortunate moniker “The One-Armed Bandit”, from Morgantown, WV (6-1 2 KOs) .
For Monaghan, the fight was something of a demonstration of his high knockout stat. While it didn’t end that way, Monaghan showed his accuracy, indomitable spirit and armored HumVee boxing strategy in a workmanlike victory over Watkins, taking a unanimous decision instead of a KO, largely because Watkins has a chin, and good hand speed.
Monaghan connected with well-timed blows and counters to Watkins’ haymakers. The fight actually started with Watkins firing on all silos perhaps out of a sense that he would sure as hell need to gain Monaghan’s respect early on. Nonetheless, Monaghan counter punched too effectively to allow Watkins’ to continue a wide-armed assault. And soon the fight settled into a trademark Monaghan stalk-and-stuff.
Watkins got hit hard in all the wrong places as he ended up going backward doing the earmuffs, which was utterly ineffective against a fighter who is as effective with uppercuts and straight-through-the-peekaboo assaults as his with the rest of the arsenal.
Still, while it seemed like Watkins would go by by in the 3rd round, given his’ willingness to mix it up, Watkins proved his chin.
In the 3rd round Watkins got thrown into the ropes, Monaghan connected with a hard right and a body shot, and things got worse for Watkins in the 4th, with Monaghan hammered him like a penny nail from corner to corner. In the 5th, Monaghan actually did back up as Watkins came back somewhat and had some of his best moments in the early portion of the round until Monaghan caught him several times with accurate straight rights. He punches with the methodical power and accuracy of an elephant gun.
In the 6th and final round, though, Watkins got props for not only going the distance in a unanimous loss, but for actually coming on well in the closing seconds of the fight.
When two undefeated heavyweights, one of whom only has knockouts, fight like characters from “Hard Times” you know the division is in crappy shape. Magomed Abdusalamov, Oxnard, CA, (13-0 13 KOs) versus Jason Pettaway from Huntington, WV, (11-0 8 KO’s) involved a lot of awkward slapping. Pettaway punched a lot, but man, his punches were weak. The guy with the complicated last name finally started chasing him, but Pettaway punched like his white gloves were actually made of Charmin. In the 2nd round Abdussalamov took control and made it clear the fight would last as long as a Golden Gloves bout. Pettaway, having run his roll down to cardboard, began to receive heavy bombardment. Well, Pettaway survived that round.
In the 4th round Abdusalamov finally closed the show in brutal fashion, slamming Pettaway hither and yon, putting him in queersville, knocking his mouthpiece out, knocking him down, and TKO-ing him because of a merciful ref, who ended it not a moment too soon.