As a cruiserweight, former world titleholder Enzo Maccarinelli was an all-or-nothing guy. Typically, he either scored a huge knockout or got drilled.
His knockouts weren't just garden-variety stoppages either. He had the power to knock somebody out cold. But when he was knocked out himself, they were usually the scary, separated-from-his-senses kind of stoppages, such as in losses to David Haye, Ola Afolabi and Alexander Frenkel, who knocked Maccarinelli out so severely in a 2010 European title fight that many thought his career was over.
After that harrowing seventh-round knockout loss to Frenkel, Maccarinelli took 14 months off. When he returned, it was as a slimmed-down light heavyweight. He had held a cruiserweight title from 2006 to 2008 before losing to Haye by second-round knockout in a unification fight, but Maccarinelli was able to comfortably make the weight at light heavyweight to face smaller men (and, therefore, lesser punchers).
It seems to have been a sound decision. Since Maccarinelli's division switch, he has gone 6-1, with five wins coming by knockout and the lone loss coming via an incredibly controversial second-round stoppage to Ovill McKenzie in 2012 in which referee Ian John-Lewis inexplicably waved off the fight even though nothing of consequence had transpired to cause a stoppage. Maccarinelli avenged the defeat by 11th-round knockout in a rematch last August.
A pro for 15 years, Maccarinelli (38-6, 30 KOs), of Wales, has a name that is known to European boxing fans, and his recent solid run in a new division has set him up for a shot at a world title, which will come against German southpaw Juergen Braehmer on Saturday at the Stadthalle in Rostock, Germany.
"I was making the cruiserweight limit [of 200 pounds] easy for world title fights and just felt that I could go down to light heavyweight [175 pounds] and still retain my power, which has been the case," said the 33-year-old Maccarinelli. "I am faster and stronger now."
The drop down in weight is only part of Maccarinelli's recent success. He also gives credit to trainer Gary Lockett, the former middleweight who retired in 2008 following a third-round knockout loss vs. then-world champion Kelly Pavlik.
"I used to be about the big left hooks and right hands, coming forward swinging, but under Gary I have learned to use my boxing brain, and it is now a controlled all-out attack," Maccarinelli said. "[Lockett is] a top young trainer. I have paid for some of the best sparring around and will have had an eight-week camp by fight night. Gary and I have come up with a game plan to adjust to Braehmer's style. I have sparred thousands of rounds [several years ago] with the best southpaw of recent years, [2014 Hall of Fame inductee] Joe Calzaghe."
Braehmer, however, said he is not convinced that the drop in weight will be helpful to Maccarinelli.
"Maccarinelli is a former cruiserweight, who has had to come down 25 pounds in weight. I do not see him as a natural light heavyweight, and I am known for being a pretty good body puncher, so I believe I am going to wear him down," Braehmer said.
Few doubt Maccarinelli's power, but Lockett said he is trying to get Maccarinelli to take his time and not press for the knockout.
"Enzo and I have both been knocking people out since we were 13-year-old kids," Lockett said. "During our careers, we could both just connect with arm punches and the fight would be over. When you have that knowledge and confidence inside of you, there's a temptation to rush, force the knockout rather than just allow it to happen naturally.
"I constantly drum into him the need to be patient. Sometimes on the pads, Enzo really loads up his jab, rams it in, exhales a loud noise as he's doing it. But I can prepare to take the impact. The shots which really shudder my shoulders are the ones when he's relaxed and popping them sharply. He's such a naturally heavy-handed puncher. I still don't think he really realizes."
Braehmer (42-2, 31 KOs), 35, will be making the first defense of his second title reign. He claimed a vacant belt in December with a unanimous decision against American Marcus Oliveira.
"It is an honor to get the chance fighting again for a world championship. I respect Braehmer, but he won his last fights because his opponents were afraid to press the action against him," Maccarinelli said. "I am different. I have the mentality of a world champion. Do not blink as soon as the first bell rings."
The very experienced Braehmer, however, probably won't see anything from Maccarinelli he hasn't seen plenty of times before.
"Maccarinelli can let his fists fly as much as he wants," Braehmer said. "I will be the one landing the decisive punches and that is all that matters. The title will not change hands, but my hand will be raised on Saturday."
Said Karsten Roewer, Braehmer's trainer, "I do not think that this fight is going the distance. Juergen, at 35, still showed progression during preparation. We chose to use the gloves with the most cushioning for Saturday as Juergen does not want to hurt Maccarinelli too much."
For Lockett, just the fact that Maccarinelli is in position to claim another title is significant after the kind of hard losses he has suffered.
He believes Maccarinelli will win because of "his attitude, his dedication and his application in the gym, after all these years and so many damaging defeats. He's still prepared to listen. Lately, his defense has improved and I've got him to think more. I don't think that Juergen Braehmer likes to be backed up, so we need to force him into a fight. Enzo has got a wonderful jab himself and must apply steady pressure, forcing Braehmer to do work when he doesn't want to.
"Obviously, my view is biased, but Enzo is a very, very talented fighter. It's taken him time to settle with me, and he's not yet the finished article that I think he can become. But he's still, and always will be, a monstrous puncher. Look, win or lose, he's already proven everyone wrong by navigating his way back to a world title challenge when everybody said he was completely washed up and needed to retire before he got seriously hurt. But I'd not be at all surprised if he pulls this off."