John Murray on Mitchell fight
By Terence Dooley
John Murray turned professional on the undercard of a John Sheppard-promoted Ringside bill in Huddersfield on September 6 2003. 2003 ABA featherweight champion Kevin Mitchell made his way into the paid ranks two months earlier with a knockout on the underside of David Barnes’s controversial point’s win over Jimmy Vincent.
Mitchell operated in and around the super-feather division during his early days, as did Murray, and the two worked their way through the 130lb ranks before deciding to step up to lightweight before the battle against the scales became too much. ‘The Hammer’, though, has had a relatively settled paid career, turning over under Frank Warren who produced fights with Breidis Prescott and WBO interim title holder Michael Katsidis once Kevin moved up to 135lbs.
Murray started out with Manchester boxing figure Steve Wood, moved to Mick Hennessy, who guided him to English, British and EBU titles, and then opted to join forces with Warren to ensure that the long discussed confrontation with Mitchell could finally take place.
The two men will settle domestic and European business at Liverpool’s ECHO Arena this Saturday night. Sure, Murray left behind the EBU belt after decisioning Spain’s Karim El Ouazghari at the York Hall on April 2nd yet the two British rivals are considered Europe’s elite 135lbers.
There has been no trash talk, histrionics were left at the door when the deal was signed with both maintaining a respectful air after the fight was pushed back a week due to a viral infection that shaved a few days from Mitchell’s training camp.
Indeed, their demeanor is in stark contrast to the verbals between James DeGale and George Groves or the simmering tension that characterized Wladimir Klitschko’s heavyweight showdown with David Haye. DeGale-Groves and Klitschko-Haye failed to catch fire despite of the pre-fight intensity yet there is every indication that Murray and Mitchell will remain on good terms right until the first bell before producing a barnstormer.
“Kevin was sound, we just got on with it,” said Murray as he recalled their joint appearance on Sky’s Ringside show. “I was gutted last week but I’ve got over it now. I’m alright with the delay and ready for the fight. I spoke to Kevin the other day and he said he’s looking forward to it as well. He looked good, skinny and on weight.”
Murray, 31-0 (18), and Mitchell, 31-1 (23), set the seal on the fight with a bout of half-hearted posturing during a lull in May’s O2 Arena show, both men laughing as they made their way to the ring before announcing that the deal had been done.
Kevin’s last engagement in a boxing ring left him staring vacantly into the Upton Park stands after Katsidis’s third round assault. ‘Mighty’ has cut a slightly nervous figure since that night but thankfully appears to have discovered a bit of the old devil ahead of what could be his last chance to nail down a world title shot.
“I think he seemed a bit more confident in himself this time,” admitted Murray. “He seemed OK, not nervous around me. I put a few home truths to him, little demons in his head by pointing out that Breidis Prescott hasn’t done that much since he lost to him.
“Then he took on Michal Katsidis and got knocked out in only his third proper fight at lightweight. Not just that, he’s had wars at super-feather against people like Carl Johanneson [for the British and Commonwealth belts] where he looked close to getting stopped – I’ve never had moments like that.
“Kevin doesn’t think my last couple of performances are up to scratch, that there’s loads of chinks in my armor, but I knew I was going to win my last fight so couldn’t get out of second gear. When my back’s up against the wall I produce the goods. I’ll do this against Kevin.”
He added: “It is good to tick that little box but I always knew I could do twelve rounds anyway. I was never worried about it to be honest but it was good to get it under my belt.”
The news of the ExCel show’s postponement was announced exclusively on this site exactly a week before the planned date of July 9th. Leaving Murray kicking his heels for a few days to avoid over-exerting himself.
“I just eased off a bit over the weekend and then came back on the Monday like normal, it was just an extra week of training. I feel good going in, really confident and am really up for it. I’m look forward to it more than any other fight and can’t wait to go,” he stressed.
“We’ve come close to fighting a couple of times, it is on now and is the last bit of business I’ve got to take care of before going for a world title against a big name. If I put on a good show then Frank will know he can put me in with the world champions and that I’ll be a real danger on the world scene.”
A contingent of Mitchell’s fans came to the York Hall to see Murray in action against Ouazghari. One or two of them made their feelings clear, telling me that, “Murray won’t know how to deal with Kevin”, as they made their way from the venue. The switch from the capital to the ‘2008 City of Culture’ has robbed Kevin of home advantage; John feels that his followers will make themselves heard on the night.
“I will have a good few fans with me. Going down to London, I would have been up against it because it is Kevin’s crowd but there’ll be a lot of Murray fans up here and it will be reflected on the night in the atmosphere,” his prediction.
Kevin had the world at his feet after defusing Prescott in December 2009. The Columbian danger man was bewildered by Mitchell’s speed and boxing ability after he tried and failed to draw the Londoner into a brawl. It was the finest boxing performance of Kevin’s career although Murray believes that it has little currency nearly two years on.
“Kevin has dined out on that win and performance for too long. Prescott hasn’t done anything. He’s not a world champion. He is rated on that KO over Khan. Amir’s chinny – he got hit on the chin and knocked out. Prescott hasn’t done anything since, he’s living on that win,” insisted the 26-year-old.
Mitchell’s world fell apart when falling to Katsidis last May, he has since admitted that his life was in turmoil before and after the fight, arguing that his performance, or lack or it, was directly related to his personal struggles. Murray has a different take, informing me that bad preparation shows itself during the middle rounds, an early reverse is an indication that you have bitten off more than you can chew.
“Kevin can put up all the excuses he wants, he went out for his toughest test against Katsidis and got blew away. If he weren’t up for it then he’d have got found out down the stretch and not just blasted out.
“Kevin will try to box, nick rounds like he did against Prescott, but I’m a different animal from Prescott and will give him something than Breidis did. I know Kevin will stand and trade with me, when he does he’ll get taken out.”
Murray has often had to come through periods of inactivity, cranking himself into gear during bouts to produce late finishes yet he has never sat on the bench for anything like Mitchell’s fourteen months out. The reality of this inactivity will not hit Dagenham’s finest until he makes his way to the ring, the way he deals with it will define their encounter.
“Possibly, yeah”, answers Murray when asked if the layoff will be a factor, “because it is a long time out the ring so it will have played a factor during his preparation. No matter how hard you train it is tough to come back after so long in the ring. I needed to shake the rust last time out and am glad of the twelve rounds going into this one.
“This is not a grudge match or anything like that, it is just a great domestic tussle between two guys with a lot of respect for each other. We’re the best two lightweights in Britain and Europe and have a great professional rivalry. I always looked out for Kevin’s results because our careers are very similar. I’ve always kept an eye on him, always felt I could beat him and will do on Saturday.
“Every time I fight the opponents are coming in to take titles or my WBC number two ranking from me. If Kevin hasn’t got an incentive now then he’ll never have one. Wanting to take your ranking gives kids that edge they need to present you with top-class opposition.
“Kevin lost last time, he’s got a big chance to get back up there and will come with everything he’s got. I’m focused on Kevin. I will see what Frank lines up for me afterwards and just do my job on Saturday night.”
The Murray-Mitchell vacant WBO Inter-Continental tussle is joined by Ricky Burns’s WBO super-featherweight title defence against former titlist Nicky Cook plus Tony Bellew’s Commonwealth 175lb strap rematch with Ovill McKenzie as well as the grudge encounter between WBO Inter-Continental welterweight incumbent ‘Funtime’ Frankie Gavin and Curtis Woodhouse on a big night of boxing.
“I think Ricky Burns will be a good scrap. The Bellew fight will be exciting. Frankie and Curtis have the real grudge factor but Frankie is too good for Curtis at the moment. Every one of my fights is exciting so it will be a good night all round. I’ll do what I always do and go about the business in an exciting way to do what I do best,” he declared before offering a final prediction on his meeting with Mitchell.
“I think I’m going to knock him out. I don’t know when it will come but know it is going to happen.”
John’s younger brother, Joe, recently brought home the IBF Youth featherweight title; the Murrays sparred during John’s early days of training. Joe used body shots and movement to prepare his older sibling for Mitchell, much to the delight of John.
“Boxing is a lonely sport so knowing your brother is going through it all as well makes it that little bit less lonely. Especially with the team spirit we have in our gym,” mused Murray.
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