By Richard Fletcher
With your Irish roots, how does it feel to be fighting Sergio Martinez for the world title on St Patrick's Day at one of the most famous boxing venues in the world?
The scene is set. It's Madison Square Garden, St Patrick's Day. You couldn't make it any better. There's a bit of an omen. My first-ever amateur boxing match at the Grand Hotel, in Birmingham [England], was on St Patrick's Day in 1994. So it will be 18 years to the day.
Do you see this as your chance to gatecrash the big time?
I think so. I've said before that I feel I'm a fighter who performs best on the big stage, against a tough opponent. That's what brings the best out in me. I've had fights where I've been a big favorite, when I've won, but I've under-performed. But when I've gone into fights where they [the media] have thought I'm up against it, or they think it's gonna be a 50-50 fight, that's when I shine.
What did you learn from the Felix Sturm fight – which was lost on a highly debatable split decision -- that could help you in this bout?
I think I probably started a bit too quick. In terms of what's going to help me from a tactical point of view, it's not so great because the styles are so different. I think it's the confidence. Going into the Sturm fight, I had a 12-month period where nothing had really happened. I hadn't felt great. But I really enjoyed training for the Sturm fight and, on the night, I performed. I didn't get the decision, but I performed, I proved myself. I always believed in myself. I believed I was gonna win the Sturm fight, but I don't think anyone else did. As much as I'm the underdog in this fight, I was a bigger underdog in the Sturm fight because of current form. As a result of the Sturm fight, I'm considered among the top three or four middleweights in the world, so it's not such a [bad thing].
Has fellow Brit Darren Barker, who lost in 11 rounds to Martinez in October, given you any advice about the fight?
No. Me and Darren are rivals. There's no grudge thing, but we wouldn't be in touch about the fight. Darren's different to me, he's got different attributes, strengths and weaknesses. I'm not necessarily gonna fight him the way Barker did, even though I thought Barker did well. Styles make fights, of course, but I do feel I'm a better fighter than Darren Barker and can give [Martinez] a lot of problems.
What sort of fight are you expecting from Martinez?
He is not the most versatile of fighters. What he does is fairly constant. You know what you're gonna get. I don't think he's gonna come out, jump on me and start going to war. That's not how he does business. He'll come out with lots of lateral movement, move both ways, paw with the right jab, try and counter-punch me and bring me on to the back hand. I know what to expect. I think the fight will be tricky early on, but as it goes on it will become my territory.
Only a handful of Brits have won world titles in America. Can you join them?
To win a world title over here in America, especially on St Patrick's Day, I really can't wait. It has been done. Lloyd Honeyghan came over here and beat a pound-for-pound great in Don Curry [in 1986]. Upsets happen in boxing. Although I'm an underdog, I think I'm a fairly live underdog.