By Richard Hubbard – 21.12.15
“How could I say no to stepping in the ring with Roy Jones?”
BACK IN 2009 before suffering a third round stoppage against the Russian Denis Lebedev in a challenge for the vacant WBO cruiserweight world crown, the already well-seasoned Enzo Maccarinelli spoke about the contest in terms of it being his ‘last chance saloon’.
Well, over six years and 15 fights later, the Welshman continues serving up sweetly timed jabs, hooks and uppercuts and is very much still open for business.
Maccarinelli ably demonstrated that he is remains trading with his devastatingly executed slaying of former four-weight world champion Roy Jones Jnr last weekend, clocking up his 41st career victory against one of the most celebrated scalps in the sport.
It is a victory he reflects on with fondness rather than any great barometer of his own standing in the cruiserweight division, taking it for what it was, a career and life experience he was not going to turn down – a gift horse he was more than ready to punch in the mouth.
“I went out there after training very hard to fight a legend,” said the former WBO world cruiserweight king. “Don’t get me wrong, he is nowhere near what he used to be, but he is still very fast, hits very hard and is more than capable. But again, he is nowhere near what he used to be.”
Maccarinelli’s Moscow mission was one of those couldn’t make it up experiences. He could not have imagined at any point in his career that, at the age of 35, he would be nominated to take on ring legend Roy Jones Jnr, a new Russian citizen in his capital city. Not that it was his first taste of being gloved up in Russia.
“No, not at all,” he laughed of his duel at the Ice Palace. “It is still quite surreal now the way it came about out of the blue. I was training for a European light-heavyweight title fight when I had the call. How could I say no to stepping in the ring with Roy Jones?
“I boxed in St Petersburg back in 2010 so I felt what the atmosphere would be like back then, what the crowd would be like – no-one cheered me when I got in the ring and no-one actually booed me either!
“It was surreal, after the fight the crowd went totally silent – both in Moscow and St Petersburg – it was a massive experience,” added the Swansea man who, after a clinical display, felt Jones was indeed there for the taking in the fourth.
“Pretty much, I think the idea in them picking me was because I’d been a light-heavyweight for the last five years, I don’t think they realised how hard I actually hit and how fast I actually am. I have a pretty decent boxing brain when I use it!
“The actual performance was something I worked on with Gary, who has straightened me out a little bit, while not taking out my ‘messy side’, so to speak. He has tweaked me and calmed me down a little bit.
“I’ve always been a finisher and always used the uppercut. I think with me everyone gets worried about the left hook and forget that I can hit just as hard with both hands.”
True to previous form, Maccarinelli showed his class after the knockout triumph, taking himself off to the neutral corner and displaying no hint of celebratory emotion until his opponent had suitably recovered. Old school protocol from a model sportsman.
“Some people have made out that I did it because it was Roy Jones,” he revealed with a little indignation. “No I didn’t. I would have done the same if it was anyone else. I am a sportsman. With what I do in the ring I could be portrayed as a violent sort of character but, ultimately, I don’t want to put any sort of lasting damage onto anyone.
“I remember being 16 and knocking someone out in the amateurs and my first thought was just to get to the corner and make sure he was okay before anything else.
“People don’t realise that most boxers are decent people who have so much respect for the other person in the ring. I look on Twitter and I don’t get too much, but some fighters get a lot of abuse off certain people and it is clear these boys have never set foot in a boxing ring. If they had they would have the utmost respect, regardless of what they thought of them.”
So with Jones now added to the CV and the fires clearly still burning – for the time being at least – the ‘last chance’ scenario he painted back in 2009 now looks somewhat out of date.
“I was going through a troubled time back then with a lot of things going on and my head was all over the place,” he recalled. “I’ve learned over the years that boxing is just as much mental as it is physical. Understandably I know there is not a lot left for me to do, but I am probably fitter now than I was at 25 with my diet and all that.
“But there will come a time, sooner or later, that I will have to get out, but I still have a couple of things I want to achieve – then I will he happy.”
With the training and dietary advances made across all sports in recent years Maccarinelli admits if he knew then what he knows now, his career path might well have avoided a number of U-turns. But then again, for him, this is show business and with lust to entertain the paying public, pitfalls are always likely to be encountered on the toughest stage of all.
“Yes, but at the end of the day I have got no excuses for my losses, I wear my heart on my sleeve and people call me chinny. I can take all that but, if you look at the punches that have put me over, they would knock out any heavyweight in the world. It was just me being me, being reckless looking for finishes. My pet hate would be for the crowd to start booing me for lack of action – that for me would be worse than anything.
“I am a sportsman in the boxing game and I’m in it to win but, ultimately, the public pay to see fights and it is an entertainment business and I like to entertain.”
And for Maccarinelli the show must go on and another crack at a world title is top of the wish list. For retaining such ambition he thanks his trainer Gary Lockett, who he has worked in tandem with for his last eight fights, restoring mind and body to full working order.
“Yeah it is and a couple of people commented on how fresh I looked and as fast as I’ve looked in years. That is a big thank you to Gary as well for refilling me with confidence.
“He is an impressive character. He does not come in and tell you to do this or do that, he tries little things and it is up to you to say if you feel comfortable with it. For the second (Ovill) McKenzie fight, there was a plan to get on my toes, start moving and boxing. I said to him about two weeks into camp ‘Ga, that’s not me, I want to meet him head on’, but he felt he would be too strong for that. I said ‘he won’t be too strong, trust me’, so he came up with a gameplan in the way I wanted to fight.
“He takes no messing in the gym and what he tells you to do, you do, but we have a good laugh and, while you don’t see him smile a lot, he is actually quite a funny guy.”
Maccarinelli has adopted Lockett’s play to your strengths mantra in his own coaching of juniors, refusing to concede to the one-size-fits-all approach of the training manual.
“I do that myself because I coach in an amateur club with the boys. You see a lot of boys from clubs fighting and they all box pretty much the same way. With my boys I’ve got ones that box with their hands down, boys that box with their hands up, I’ve got come forward fighters, back foot fighters – you do what’s good for them.”
So with Moscow now a memory, Maccarinelli remains keen to banish a painful one from April last year when a gruesome swelling around his right eye forced him out of world title contention against Juergen Braehmer in Rostock. The fact the Braehmer camp were not prepared to do it again he suspects speaks volumes.
“I want to win another world title. Last year in Germany with Braehmer I do believe I could have been a two-time, two-weight world champion and, by me not having a rematch, I feel they know that as well.
“Ultimately, if I get a a chance, I will jump at it. People know with me that whatever I get I will not back down, that is me. If I get an opportunity I will give it everything I’ve got, he added, before pretty much ruling out a suggested contest with European champion Tony Bellew and expressing a willingness to do a best-of-three with McKenzie.
“That would be pretty hard because I’m quite friendly with Tony, in fact I class him as a really good friend – so that would be difficult to do.
“Ovill would interest me and would be a good fight for the public. I have a funny feeling that is the one they will try and do and I have got no problem with that at all.
“I will wait and see if I get an offer and then see how it goes. I’m back in the gym already, nice and fit, so we’ll see.”
The bell has yet to sound calling last orders at Maccarinelli’s saloon.