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"It's A Sickener": Matt Macklin's Sympathy For Michael Conlan Comes From Personal Heartbreak

"It's A Sickener": Matt Macklin's Sympathy For Michael Conlan Comes From Personal Heartbreak
By Gavan Casey

When the final bell sounded in the Lanx-ess Arena, Cologne, on the 25th of June 2011, Tipperary and Ireland had a new world champion.

Matthew Macklin shot at world honours had been a long time coming; 31 fights into a compelling career which had seen the Brummie-born middleweight pick up Irish, British and European titles, the 29-year-old had gotten the monkey off his back at the first time of asking.

That was, at least, to the eyes of those watching both in the stadium and on Sky Sport's delayed broadcast the following morning. The judges, inexplicably, saw a different fight unfold than the relentless, body-assaulting masterclass which had kept Felix Sturm largely at bay for 11 of the 12 rounds. 115-113. 112-116. 112-116. "AND STILL!"

"There was no doubt Conlan won that fight," says the now-retired Macklin of Irish boxing's latest injustice, a full five years removed from his own.

I don't even think the Russian boxer thought he won! It's the worst decision in recent times - that I've seen anyway. It's up there with the Roy Jones one. It was just shocking, to be honest.

You're going to the Olympics, you've trained your ass off for all those years. I don't think it's too much to expect to have a level playing field, is it?

You want a fair crack of the whip. If you're beaten by a better man, that's the way it goes, that's sport. And that's heartbreaking enough on its own. But if you go in, and you do execute your gameplan and clearly win a fight...to then be cheated out of it... What do you say to someone then?

Macklin has been there. Indeed, despite both controversial decisions arriving five years apart in different strains of the sweet science, there are parallels; the sense of build-up and destiny, halted by a moment of ineptitude or something more brazen, more sinister. The monumental work put in to perfect a performance on the world stage, only to see it rewarded with an almost defiant ignorance.

Obviously you're rooting for him - he's boxing for Ireland and you're almost throwing the punches with him. I really thought he'd go on and win the gold, in fact I thought he was destined for it. I was sick as a dog for him, because you know he's going through. It's a sickener, and your heart would break for him.

Macklin has a fair idea of what his younger compatriot might be experiencing after his Olympic dreams turned to nightmares with the push of a button. But he also knows that solace can be taken from the universal outpouring of outrage, both from within Irish boxing circles and beyond.

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Five years on, having long-since made peace with his own in-ring controversy, he can recall the entire ordeal almost analytically, and the accompanying emotions which ranged from sheer disgust to personal satisfaction:

Ah look, I suppose when you see the kind of universal vilification of it, and the outrage, it does make you feel a bit better about it personally because you're thinking, 'well I thought I won the fight, but so did everyone else. Everyone knows I won that fight. The whole world knows I won that fight'. And I think when that sinks in, it does make you feel a bit better.

The history books will say I never won a world title. I know I did. But, I still 'didn't', if you know what I mean. I don't have the belt on my mantelpiece, and Conlan won't have the gold medal on his. It does leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but I'm very much a believer in just controlling the controllables and there's no point crying over spilt milk. It's still a bit raw to be talking like that, but in time... Look, he'll be angry now. But I suppose he has to look forward to his professional career, and I think he'll go on and win a world title and make millions for himself and then he'll look back and think, 'ah, that's just the way it went'.

It was none other than Lennox Lewis who took to social media to describe Macklin's split decision defeat to Germany's Felix Sturm as one of the worst decisions he'd ever seen in a boxing ring. 'Mack The Knife' recalls the moment he heard the former heavyweight champion had publicly lambasted the judges, and how the words of Lewis and other boxing figures made it easier to battle through the disappointment in the immediate aftermath of that fateful Cologne night.

His opponent that night, too, seemed about as convinced by his own 'victory' as the general boxing public:

I remember in press conference after the fight, Felix Sturm didn't say a word. The press conference went on for about an hour and he said nothing. And Brian Peters read out about 12 tweets from Lennox Lewis, Andre Ward, Al Bernstein - all these top people in boxing. So it did make me feel better, and I was thinking 'everyone knows who won this fight'.

And I look across at Felix, and he wasn't even addressing the crowd, his eyes were looking down. He looked very, very sheepish. He was embarrassed. You could tell he just wanted to get out of there.

I took something from that. Of course the history books don't say it, but I think anyone who was there would know that, on that night, it was one of the worst decisions in recent times. And yeah, I'm retired now, I don't have a world title, but I think you have to be satisfied in yourself - you can't be waiting for anyone else to be satisfied for you, or tell you you've done well. At the end of the day, you're the person in the ring, you know the game and the way it goes. Sturm knew himself.

The MGM man is convinced Michael Conlan won't dwell on his Olympic exit, but rather use it as a spurring factor as he pivots into the pro ranks. He also revealed that he would be more than delighted to welcome the World amateur champion into his ever-growing boxing stable, where 'Mick' would prospectively fight under the same banner as his older brother Jamie Conlan:

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We're managing a lot of fighters at MGM now and as you can imagine, Michael would be right up the top of the list of guys we'd like to be involved with, definitely. I think he'll go the whole way as a professional and win world titles and dominate. He'll be a big name.

The only guarantee is that Macklin will face staunch competition to secure the younger Conlan's services, with Matchroom reportedly prepared to offer big bucks and tap back into the Belfast boxing market where the two-time Olympian would likely flourish alongside red-hot prospect Ryan Burnett.

Regardless of where Conlan signs, however, you can bet Matt Macklin will be throwing every punch with his dear friend as he flies the tricolour into the professional ranks.

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