NEW YORK -- Sergio Martinez was in a serious struggle through the first half of Saturday's fight, just like had happened in his most recent fight, in October against Darren Barker. But he ended that fight in style by scoring an 11th-round highlight-reel knockout.
It happened again Saturday night for Martinez, who once again was in a very tough struggle, this time against Matthew Macklin. Macklin had landed several clean right hands and was credited with a seventh-round knockdown when Martinez touched his glove to the canvas.
But Martinez righted the ship. He found another gear, and the thoroughbred pound-for-pound top-three fighter powered his way to another impressive 11th-round knockout to retain the lineal middleweight world championship.
"He has a way that he turns it up a notch to that superhuman level," promoter Lou DiBella said. "He just does it when he is in trouble or in a tough fight. He turns it up a notch and just takes over. I saw that in the eighth round. I said, 'Here it comes,' and it came."
The soldout crowd of 4,671 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden was cheering hard for Macklin on St. Patrick's Day. It was mostly an Irish crowd, and Macklin, although born in England, is a proud Irishman. And early on, it looked like Macklin might deliver an upset. He was boxing well and landing clean shots against a slow-starting Martinez.
But Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs), making his fourth defense -- winning each by knockout -- said he was never worried. Based on his history, Martinez shouldn't have been.
"Based on my experience, I knew I would knock him out," Martinez, of Argentina, said through a translator. "It was a close fight, but I guaranteed a knockout. He fought a totally different fight than I thought he would. I thought he would come to attack me, but he didn't do that and I was waiting for him to make a mistake."
Reminded that he had predicted a knockout inside the 10th round, Martinez broke into a broad smile and said, "I lost the bet, yes, yes. But I knew it was a matter of time. I knew before the last bell he would fall."
After the early struggle, he won the fight impressively.
Macklin was landing clean right hands and, with the crowd behind him, was gaining momentum. Late in the seventh round, Macklin landed a right hand that forced Martinez to touch his glove to the mat for a knockdown.
Martinez shook it off, saying, "I was off-balance."
But just when it looked like Macklin might be in business, Martinez slammed the door. He began landing thudding straight left hands and rocking Macklin in the eighth round.
The left-hand party continued in the ninth round, Martinez had a huge 10th round and he finally ended it in the 11th round when he scored two clean knockdowns on left hands.
The first one sent a tiring Macklin (28-4, 19 KOs), 29, into the ropes and down. He got up quickly, but he was in bad shape. His face was marked up, and he was bleeding from a cut over his left eye.
"I wasn't particularly hurt. He was landing sharp punches but not concussive blows," Macklin said. "I got straight up, but he's a very sharp puncher, and he has speed and accuracy."
Martinez attacked again and quickly deposited Macklin to the canvas a tick before the round ended. He beat the count and went slowly to his corner, where trainer Buddy McGirt, working with Macklin for the first time, decided to throw in the towel. Referee Eddie Cotton called it off.
"I wanted to continue. I said I was OK," Macklin said. "He said, 'Listen, I'm stopping it. You're a few points down and you need a knockout, and you're not going to get a knockout the way he is fighting.'"
Despite losing, Macklin certainly showed he can compete with the best middleweights in the world. He had earned the shot against Martinez after a highly controversial split decision loss to Felix Sturm in Sturm's native Germany in June.
"I thought that Macklin executed an excellent game plan," said DiBella, who signed Macklin after the Sturm fight. "He boxed very well for eight rounds, and I thought it was a very close fight. But the superior athlete and his speed caught up to him. This guy [Martinez] is a Roy Jones-in-his-prime kind of talent. I think what Matthew showed is he is probably the second-best or third-best middleweight in the world."
Although Macklin's performance should earn him another big opportunity -- he would like a rematch with Sturm -- Martinez yearns for a megafight that has eluded him.
"I thought it was a terrific performance and I hope he gets the big fight he deserves," DiBella said, "and that is my job to get it for him."
That could be tough. Martinez, who lives in Oxnard, Calif., wants Floyd Mayweather Jr. and is willing to go down in weight to fight him if Mayweather beats Miguel Cotto on May 5. But Mayweather has shown no interest and has a jail sentence awaiting. DiBella said that for that fight, the Martinez side would give Mayweather 80 percent of the money.
Martinez also wants Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a tremendous attraction who holds the belt that was stripped from Martinez. Even though he is the No. 1 middleweight and lineal champion, Martinez wants his belt back. He is the mandatory challenger, but the WBC hasn't forced the issue and is poised to again allow Chavez an optional defense in June.
"I'll keep waiting for those fights," said Martinez, who is 37. "I'm still a young man. I am No. 1, but I want that belt back. I won it inside the ring, and they took it from me."
Said DiBella: "He won it in the ring and they took it away from him, and he wants what they promised -- a shot at the guy who is not really champion. He wants his belt back. And, of course, he wants Mayweather."
Top Rank president Todd duBoef, Chavez's promoter, said the fight with Chavez is possible.
"Let him win, and we'll talk about doing something in the fall," he said earlier Saturday. "We'll have a conversation with Lou for a fight in the fall. We are open to anything and to having that discussion."
Martinez, who would be a huge favorite against Chavez, earned an endorsement from Macklin.
"I think he's the best fighter in the world," he said.