By Terence Dooley
News of Amir Khan's April 16 WBA light-welterweight title defence against Paul McCloskey coupled with John Murray's link-up with Khan's former promoter Frank Warren has underlined the fact that a Khan-Murray derby has now disappeared over the horizon. Richard Schaefer had told BoxingScene that “John Murray has been mentioned. We just have to work it a little bit more and see where we end up” when speaking about Khan's potential opponents last month only for McCloskey to get the nod over Amir's Lancashire rival.
McCloskey is the EBU 140lb boss, former British title-holder and holds an unblemished 22-0 (12) slate. Murray holds the longest current undefeated run in British boxing, 30-0 (18), he is the EBU lightweight boss, a name in the North West and is riding a six-fight stoppage streak. Indeed, Murray told me that it was “Now or never” in regards to a clash with Amir when speaking about his local rival a week ago. John has now signed a promotional deal with Warren, citing the promoter's clout and ability to create champions as instrumental in his decision.
Ironically, Warren was Khan's promoter the last time there was serious talk of a Khan-Murray battle. Warren was rumoured to have offered Mick Hennessy, Murray's then-promoter, a serious amount of money for a 2008 clash. Shah Khan, who manages Amir, later claimed that Murray's people twice turned down potential fights due to excessive monetary demands.
Khan had been keen on a 2008 meeting with Murray, once telling Stuart Brennan of the MEN that he was willing to take on the winner of Murray's July 2008 British title fight against Lee Meager. For one reason or another, the fight never came off.
Mick Hennessy argued his corner by pointing out that he had faxed Khan a £400,000 offer to fight his other EBU lightweight champion, Jon Thaxton, in January of the same year. Khan did not respond to the offer, moving onto a fight against an undefeated Colombian puncher called Breidis Prescott that September, the rest is history. Amir lost in a single stanza, moved up to 140 and has attained and maintained at the world-title level.
Murray always insisted that he was willing to step up to 140lb for a fight with Amir but did not see his future up at light-welterweight. Indeed, the 24-year-old reiterated his desire for a one-off light-welterweight bow against Khan when explaining why he had decided not to make a permanent move to 140 to take on Victor Ortiz late last year.
Now, though, the Khan fight looks a distant dream. British fans had hoped for a Khan-Murray-Thaxton round-robin, there had been a small window of opportunity in early-to-mid 2008 but the Khan side of the equation had never been a viable possibility beyond that point due to Amir's progression through the 140lb world title ranks. Certainly, many felt Murray was the logical choice for Amir's return to the UK, Joe Gallagher amongst them; the trainer is happy to have joined forces with Warren whilst maintaining that his man never swerved a chance to fight Khan, stating that Murray was always willing and ready for a one-fight deal up at 140lb from 2008 onwards.
“Definitely, John is European champion at his weight and 30-0, Amir held the Commonwealth lightweight title a few years ago and we felt that there was unfinished domestic business there,” mused Gallagher when asked if he rues the fact that a Khan-Murray fight never took place.
“It wasn't a case of money or John being priced out off it. Khan obviously wanted someone at his own weight. McCloskey is European champion up there so they probably see McCloskey as the option for them. We're in the John Murray business and we wish Amir all the best on the night. Amir Khan will be in Manchester for one night only, Murray is going to be here for many more nights to come.”
Fans will argue that Murray never had a chance of defeating Khan; the Bolton slickster has looked impressive since the Prescott slip-up. Gallagher, though, feels that the onus was on Amir to take care of local business when the two fighters were down at 135lbs.
“It wasn't about the weight”, he insisted, “and it wasn't about money. Everyone can make their own minds up about who was ducking who because we weren't dodging anyone. Khan approached McCloskey instead of Murray. People might say John's this and John's that and they don't rate John's chances against Amir but if that is the case why didn't they come to John with the fight to show the world that he has the beating of him?”
'Dudey' is a live underdog with nothing to lose. However, he is taking a big step up in class against a fighter who has improved immeasurably since his sole career defeat. Gallagher feels that the Northern Irishman will have to take the 24-year-old titleist by surprise in order to pull off an upset win at Manchester's MEN Arena.
“McCloskey turns in shots around the side and they are the type of shots that might trouble Amir. Malignaggi and Maidana brought the shots through the middle and Amir could read them but it might not be as easy for him to read McCloskey so it could be interesting for a couple of rounds,” he predicted.
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