THE difference between a good fight and a great fight might be this: with good fights you remember the details of the fight, whereas with great fights you remember where you were when watching them and how you felt as greatness unfolded before your eyes.
In the case of the 2006 British light-middleweight title fight between Jamie Moore and Matthew Macklin, one of the greatest to ever take place in a British ring, recollections come to me quicker than they normally would when casting my mind back to British title fights.
As if the fight happened yesterday, I can recall standing on a plastic chair in order to see the television my parents had for some reason decided to position high on top of our fridge. I can then recall, with my eyes inches from the screen and the fight barely underway, shutting the kitchen door in the hope that none of my six family members would interrupt what I was experiencing.
These details, innocuous and forgettable any other time, only linger by virtue of their association with the fight playing on screen. The action. The drama. The conclusion. In other words, what Jamie Moore and Matthew Macklin produced together on September 29, 2006 in Manchester was so special it gave unexpected significance to the mundane and made an ordinary Friday night somehow extraordinary.
Now, 16 years on, Moore and Macklin offer their own recollections of that night in Manchester, knowing it is, for them, impossible to forget something that all who experienced it, either at the time or since, will forever remember and want to discuss.
The Calm Before the Storm
Matthew Macklin: I got made mandatory to fight Jamie Moore for the British title but the fight was put back two or three times due to Jamie’s injury. It dragged out a bit and I thought Jamie was looking to move on. Why would he really want to fight someone like me when he’d already won a Lonsdale belt outright? But I was impatient, sometimes to my detriment, and the reality was, although I had nothing against Jamie personally, I wanted to be the man who beat the man. I didn’t want to win a vacant title. I knew Jamie was well thought of and respected and I really fancied the fight.
Jamie Moore: I had shoulder problems throughout the second part of my career. The fight got cancelled originally because I had an injury to my left shoulder. I actually had the operation to get it fixed on the Tuesday after the fight. If I’d lost that fight, at that point in my career I’d have probably thought, Well, training didn’t go that great and I had a bad shoulder, and maybe used all that as an excuse.
It just shows you that you rarely go into a fight without problems and those problems only sort of come out if the fight doesn’t go the way you want. I had a great camp in terms of my fitness and conditioning because I knew how intense that fight was going to be. I was telling people in interviews before that I thought this would be ‘Fight of the Year’. I knew Matt, I knew how he trained, I knew Billy Graham (Macklin’s trainer), and I knew the tactics they’d come with.
Macklin: There was never any needle between us but when you hear someone talking about how they are going to beat you, it gets on your nerves, doesn’t it? So, even though there was no animosity, there was definitely a rivalry. He trained in Salford and I was training in Manchester with Billy Graham, who is from Salford. It was hotly talked about. We both had come-forward, aggressive styles and threw a lot of punches. This wasn’t going to be a chess match.
Moore: I remember standing with Oliver (Harrison, trainer), 12 weeks before the fight, and saying, “How do you think we go about this fight?” He said, “What do you think?” I said, “Well, he’s a big, strong f**ker, so I think we box him.” He said, “What do you mean box him?” I said, “Box him similar to how I boxed Delroy Mellis –” who was a strong kid, a bit of a journeyman, but probably hit me harder than anyone. Oliver said, “If you box Macklin like that, you’ll get run over.” I went, “Right, okay, f**king hell. So what do you think? Surely we can’t stand and fight with him.” He said, “If you go at him and try to have a fight with him, you’ll get run over as well.” At that point I’m thinking, What the f**k are we doing? He then explained to me, “You’ve got to be like James Toney. You’ve got to sit in front of him and make him miss and when he stops punching, then you punch.”
The first few times we practised this I was thinking, He’s lost the plot. He’s f**king nuts. I’d never really been a defensive fighter in that way – although, when I started training with Oliver full-time after the Scott Dixon fight, the first thing he did was tell me, “The reason you lost that fight was because you couldn’t defend yourself on the ropes.” From then on, he had me technical sparring, where I couldn’t throw any punches and just had to defend myself. I had to work on my timing and my slipping and he spoke a lot about reading your opponent’s rhythm and anticipating the shots coming. Never expect the shot coming to be the last shot. Your head should always be moving. We drilled it and drilled it but I never really got into a situation where I had to use it until the Delroy Mellis fight. Then the next time I used it was when Michael Jones had dropped me twice and I was nearly out in the third fight. They were the only times in my pro career I’d used my defence properly. I was thinking, F**k, I’m about to go into the biggest fight of my career using a style I’ve only used in tiny patches.
Anyway, we drilled slipping a right hand, rolling under a left hook, and stepping out of range and dropping low. My head had to be off-centre and a constant moving target, so it would be hard for Macklin to catch me clean. It didn’t make sense until we started doing it in sparring but those patterns that I’d been working on for a couple of months meant that as soon as someone threw a right hand and left hook I’d instinctively slip and roll out. It was then I thought, F**king hell, Oliver’s Mr Miyagi. Without me understanding what I was doing, he had taught me how to do it before anyone had even thrown a punch at me.
Macklin: People were split down the middle. I think I had the promise and the amateur pedigree. I’d had a lot of hype and then I had the loss (against Andrew Facey in 2003) and rebuilt again and was back firing on all cylinders. Jamie, on the other hand, had had his losses but had been in a couple of ‘Fight of the Year’ candidates, was the British champion, and was tried and tested over 12 rounds. It was a perfect storm really.
Moore: It was then all about getting me conditioned to cope with the onslaught. If you watch the fight back, you can hear Oliver early on say, as soon as Macklin starts punching, ‘Now! Now! Now!’ He wouldn’t let me leave him alone because he didn’t want him to recover. I remember saying to Ol, “F**king hell, Ol, if this goes the way you’re planning, it’s going to be some fight, this.” He said, “Well, with the tools you’ve got, it’s the only way it can be.” It worked, of course, but only f**king just.
Macklin: They wanted to do the fight at the G-Mex, which holds about 5,000 people and would have sold out. But because the Labour Party conference was on that week there, and because Sky had already put this thing back a few times, people just wanted to get it done. The only venue available at the time which matched the date that Sky had was the George Carnall Leisure Centre, which held about 1,500 people. I remember they gave me 49 tickets. That’s all they would give me.
Moore: A fighter’s mindset is crucial, especially in fights like that one. There’s a big difference between knowing you’re going to go into a fight like that – a war – and thinking that that could happen. When you’re not sure, the unknown is the scary part. Fighters overthink a lot and the best fighters are the ones who can throw those thoughts outside. I knew how difficult that fight was going to be, so I had three months to prepare for it and I wasn’t wondering if it was going to be tough. I knew it was going to be tough.
I can’t tell you how relaxed I was and how good my mind was because of that. I wasn’t questioning myself anymore. There was no unknown. I knew what was going to happen. I knew I was fit enough to do it and I knew I was tough enough to get through it. I knew how the fight was going to go. I just hoped I would come out the other end of it.
The Perfect Storm
Macklin: I remember sitting down at the end of the third round and feeling water on my head and thinking, F**k, I’ve never been this tired in my whole life and it’s only the end of the third round. What the f**k am I going to do? How am I going to get through this? It’s amazing, though, how you can go much further than you think you can when you need to.
I don’t know if I ever had it in me to dig as deep again. After that, I always had the experience to pull back a little bit. If you imagine a car going off the cliff with no brakes, after that I had brakes. Against Jamie, I just let myself go off the edge of the cliff and didn’t have the ability to stop even if I wanted to.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try. There were moments where I stood off him and tried to box a bit. But Jamie knew he was a full-sized light-middle and that I was much bigger than him. If it hurt him to make 11 stone, he must have known it had absolutely killed me.
Their tactics were: if he wants to step off and rest, don’t let him. It wasn’t just a case of what I didn’t do right, it was also a case of what Jamie did well. As much as I set off at a mental pace, like a lunatic, in the spots where I did pull back and try to box Jamie adjusted well. He jumped on me when I tried to do that and didn’t let me get a breather. He was experienced. He knew not to let me rest.
Moore: I think it was after the sixth round when I walked back to the corner and Matt was on top towards the end of the round and I sat on the stool and was shaking my head. Me and Ol could have a conversation without speaking, so he must have understood that I was panicking a little and thinking Macklin was maybe getting on top. He just slapped me on the cheek and said, “Close your eyes. Relax.” I said, “I can’t, I can’t.” He said, “You can. Relax. Breathe.”
Because my conditioning was so good, I was getting to 20 or 30 seconds and recovering. Before I’d even got off the stool, I’d recovered and my mind was in a better place. I never looked back then. I could see that Matt was falling apart a little bit because the fatigue was kicking in. I still had structure and was recovering between rounds whereas Matt wasn’t recovering between rounds. That was the big difference.
Macklin: It was a war but it was high quality s**t. If you look at some of the slipping and sliding that Jamie did, it was great to watch. Even with me, when I was under fire I was taking shots on the shoulders and showing good defence by rolling and coming up underneath. To keep that quality when the intensity is that hot you know then that it’s quality s**t.
Moore: Oliver Harrison believed in me long before I believed in myself. I didn’t really understand what he was teaching me and what I was doing until I look back now as a coach. People who don’t understand boxing will look at the Macklin fight and go, “What a war that was.” But the stuff I was doing defensively on the ropes to get out of those sticky situations, all stuff Oliver had drilled into me for months, I appreciate a lot more now. I can look back and analyse it differently now. At the time you’re like a programmed robot. You just do what your coach is telling you. You don’t ask why. You just do it. Looking back, Oliver got that particular fight spot on.
Macklin: Jamie needed the will but he also needed the skill. My will was unbreakable – no one’s will was broken in that fight – but he had the skill and the experience. His experience and savvy got him through it. He knew when to rest and when to fight and his defence was good throughout. I was too honest. There was no cuteness from me. I fought every second of every round whereas Jamie knew how to pace it. He knew when to take a rest and when to let me punch myself out. He was smarter. My heart completely overruled my head. A lot of times in my career I was too much of an emotional fighter, which was probably why I was exciting, and sometimes that gets you in trouble.
Moore: When it ended, I was scared to death because I thought he was hurt bad. That’s why I was telling everyone not to celebrate. Everyone was going mad and all I was thinking was that Matt could be seriously hurt. It wasn’t until he came round and we spoke a little bit that I relaxed. He had an oxygen mask on and I was saying, “F**king hell, what a fight. I’ll come and see you in a bit.” They then carried him off and it was at that point I thought, He’ll be okay now, he’s on the way to the hospital.
Macklin: I remember waking up in hospital, seeing everyone there, and sensing it wasn’t really all doom and gloom. Kerry Kayes (Macklin’s strength and conditioning coach) was like, “Wait until you see the fight. It was f**king unbelievable.” They kept me in overnight for exhaustion and dehydration and the next morning I saw Jamie again. He’d been up peeing blood and didn’t feel too good. It was a brutal fight, wasn’t it? Brian Peters (Macklin’s manager) came in that same morning to see me and we were talking about the fight and the future and I remember I couldn’t really see Brian because both my eyes were closed.
Moore: I went straight to the hospital to see Matt and Kerry Kayes was there, Ricky (Hatton) was there, and Billy Graham was there. The next morning, we took our son to the hospital because he had an ear infection. When I was walking in, Matt and his mum and others were walking out, so I saw him again the next morning. We hugged and were laughing about what we’d done to each other. The day after that I went to the (Manchester) United game and was in the pub when one of my mates came up behind me and grabbed me by the ribs. My ribs were so sore. I’d never been in pain like it after a fight.
Macklin: I returned to Birmingham on the Sunday and went to this local pub where there was a party for me. It felt like I’d won even though I’d lost. But, also, here’s the reality: I was 24 years old and hadn’t even won a British title. In fact, I’d lost twice and ended up in hospital after my last fight. People were talking about my guts and courage but there was also the question of, Where does he go now? With a fight like that, you might not box again. If you do, the likelihood is you’ll never be the same.
Moore: I watched the fight at least 10 times over the next month or so, then didn’t watch it for a long time. Every time it was on TV I’d catch a glimpse of it but I saw more of it when I got on social media around 2012. Sometimes I’d watch the highlights, usually a 10-minute compilation that made it look horrendous, and I’d sit there and think, Wow. How on earth did we even do that? It was just hectic.
Macklin: It was a stupid fight for Jamie because I was high-risk, low-reward, and, from my point of view, I should have just let Jamie go. I should have been a bit more patient, let him vacate, and fought for the vacant title. But my ambition and pride wouldn’t let me do that. I wanted to take his scalp and Jamie, even though the fight didn’t make sense, was too proud to shy away once he realised I wanted to fight him. You had two proud men who were gladiators really. Neither of us were going to back down.
Moore: In terms of achievements, me winning the British title the first time, then getting it back a third time against Michael Jones, and then winning the European title are the top three wins for me. But without a shadow of a doubt the Macklin fight is my signature fight. When people talk about my career, it gets mentioned every time. With it, I’ve left this little mark on British boxing I never in a million years imagined I would. To be involved in a fight like that, which people are still talking about 16 years later, is f**king insane.