By Terence Dooley
John Murray hit the gym as soon as he received word of his WBO Inter-Continental lightweight title assignment against Kevin Mitchell on a Frank Warren Promotions show at London’s EXCEL Arena on July 9th. The 31-0 (18) contender got back on the grind in order to start the arduous weight making process and hone his tools ahead of the make-or-break bout.
Joe Gallagher, Murray’s trainer, cranked up the pressure recently by sitting his charge down and taking him through Mitchell’s finest performances. Fire lit, the 26-year-old put in some brisk sparring with younger brother Joe; the 10-0 (5) featherweight prospect used his spearing shots and movement to remind John of what Mitchell will bring come first bell.
John was grateful for the extra impetus, telling me that; “Joe did some good work there to help harden me up for the Mitchell fight. As you get older, you have to put in that bit extra because it isn’t the same as when you’re in your early twenties. I have to make sure that I’m still a machine in all of my fights.”
Watching Mitchell on the gym’s TV screen reminded the WBO number four contender of his opponent’s merits. Murray was particularly impressed by the Londoner’s work in the early rounds of the third-round TKO loss to Michael Katsidis at Upton Park last May. Explaining that the post-fight ballyhoo over Kevin’s private life had obscured an effective first two rounds.
“I’m excited about this because it is a massive test for myself,” said Murray as he cast his eye over Mitchell. “I was watching his fight with Michael Katsidis earlier and he was doing well until he got caught with a silly shot so I’m expecting him to be at his best against me. I know he’s training hard already. I’m expecting a tough test and an exciting fight.
“If he had won the Katsidis fight he’d have been given a big push by Frank Warren into British superstardom. When he lost the fight he gave all that away and has had to take time to reflect on his loss. He’s come back for this big fight so I know he must be switched on and expecting to produce his best. Knowing that Kevin is working hard pushes me on in my training.
“Kevin is going to turn up for this one. If I don’t turn up on the night or work in the gym then I know I’ll have a hard night. But I believe that me at my best beats Kevin at his very best. It makes for an exciting fight but one that I know I will win.”
Mitchell’s biggest win came when he out-pointed Columbian danger man Breidis Prescott in December 2009 to win the WBO Inter-Continental strap. Prescott, though, has a boxing IQ that stretches back into minus figures, his swings are easy to read. Murray believes that the wide decision win flattered Mitchell.
“Prescott is a fighter where you can see the shots coming before they land. I think I’m a lot more educated in my pressure and with the way I put my shots together. I am sharper on my feet and in my punching as well. Even if Kevin puts in that type of performance he’s getting beat because this win will propel me towards a world title,” he insisted.
“I am the type of fighter who won’t avoid anyone. If you want to be a true champion then you have to take on all-comers. Domestically, Kevin is the only rival left to possibly say he’s better than me. When I beat Kevin I’ll prove I am the best in Britain. I’ll go onto the world scene having taken care of domestic business.”
Murray set up his part of the clash by successfully defending his EBU belt against Spain’s Karim El Ouazghari at the York Hall, Bethnal Green on April 2nd. Although a clear point’s winner, Murray looked ponderous at times, blaming the failure to fire on “A bad day at the office.”
“It wasn’t my best performance,” admitted the 26-year-old. “Throughout my career, I’ve not looked at my best against people I’m supposed to beat. A classic example is the Youssef Al Hamidi fight [May 2008]. People thought that would be an easy night’s work for me after [rival lightweight contender] John Fewkes had pulled out of our English title fight but on the night I went in there and rather than using my boxing brain I just tried to walk through and blast Hamidi out.
“When there is a threat to me or it is a fifty-fifty fight then you see the best of me. I have always been different class going into the bigger fights. Against Lee Meager [in July 2008], I was seen as the underdog but took him out and the [Jon] Thaxton fight [October 2009] was seen as fifty-fifty and I dominated him. This fight is seen as a close one so I’ll be switched on to show people that I deserve a world title crack.”
Mitchell has used boxing and banging skills to compile a 31-1 (23 early) record, his lateral movement and shot selection ruled the roost against Prescott. However, a British and Commonwealth title war with Carl Johanneson down at super-featherweight in 2008 saw both men give and take shots before the Yorkshireman succumbed at 2:29 of the ninth. Murray is prepared for both sides of Mitchell’s game.
“If Kevin runs then he runs,” he declared. “We’re preparing for whatever he’s got. If he decides to move then isn’t a problem because I’m a come forward, pressure fighter who is used to people going on the run. I always get them and wear them down.
“If he decides to stand toe-to-toe then so be it, we’ll do it like that. Lots of people have said what they’re going to do to me in a fight but so far no one has found the key to beating me. I expect the same again.
“Kevin will have the best intentions and game plan to win the fight but once he’s in there he will be the same as everyone else and realize that I’ve got a boxing brain and can use it to get to you and hurt you. I have my own style of boxing intelligence.”
North and South, Manchester City versus West Ham, the battle lends itself easily to ‘grudge match’ status. However, amidst the public face offs, press missives and fist shaking lurks a barely hidden truth – the two men have always been on friendly terms. Indeed, there were worries that they would fail to keep a straight face during their recent O2 Arena face-to-face showdown.
“I think anyone who has had a fight in a packed out stadium, losing the way he did before having a long time out and coming back against the best in the country would have second thoughts but fair play to him,” stated Murray, revealing the amount of mutual respect the two share.
“I have to take my hat off to him because it is a big step up. Kevin is going to be nervous, that is only natural, but we’re both cut from the same cloth. We’re both men. It says a lot that he’s taken the challenge to give the fans what they want.
“Kevin got slated for the loss to Katsidis but he wasn’t boxing badly. I didn’t see it like that. He just got caught, his preparation wasn’t right and maybe he crashed the weight a bit because his shot resistance wasn’t what it used to be. Kevin admitted things weren’t right – I expect him to be a lot better in this one.
“Losing to Katsidis has robbed him of his feeling of invincibility so he’ll be working in the gym with his trainer [Jimmy Tibbs] to make sure he doesn’t get caught with the shots that can take him out. It will make him a better fighter in the long run so I’m expecting a better Kevin than the one we saw in his previous fights.
“We get on outside the ring. We’ve had a beer together in the past but come fight night that goes out the window. I will do the business because the winner goes onto make more money and go for titles so come fight night we’ll be looking to take each other’s head off. The loser is left in no man’s land contemplating his career.”
Murray travels to London for the second successive contest. Ironically, the idea of having to head away from home to meet Mitchell has added a little extra pep to Murray’s prep, although he feels that the result of a Murray-Mitchell meeting transcends location.
Saying, “It is always a nice feeling to box in front of your own fans and hear them chant your name. I have boxed away from home in the past so it doesn’t bother me. I will do what I have to do and in Manchester or London the result is always the same, a Murray win.
“It is a fight that I could have avoided and tried to wait on a world title fight but I will fight anyone and would have preferred to challenge for a world title and then defend against Kevin but it is a massive fight anyway and the reason I got involved in the sport. It is going to sell out the EXCEL Arena so there will be twelve thousand people there screaming us on. It is going to be a massive night of boxing.”
Mitchell wore his heart on his sleeve in the aftermath of his loss to Katsidis. Facing the press, his trainer, promoter and opponent during a brutally honest post-fight press conference. Murray feels that Kevin’s temperament will turn on itself come fight night, that the occasion will force ‘The Hammer’ to trade the moment he is tagged with a big shot.
“I think that is the nature of him,” said Murray as talk turned to Kevin’s fighting spirit. “It is in him to stand trade when he gets caught. Even when he gets hurt, he can still hurt his opponents so you have to be switched on even if you think you’ve got him. My own defence has to be tight.
“This is a fight that had to happen or people would have questioned me. Get this fight out the way, beat Kevin and get out as soon as possible again to get the world title that I’ve always craved.”
World title talk has been pushed a little way down the horizon. Mitchell is the immediate quarry. Murray, though, feels that he has seen enough in Katsidis to suggest that there would be only one winner should the Antipodean be tempted to these shores to meet the winner of Murray-Mitchell.
“I would fight Katsidis and think I’d definitely win. Michael beat Kevin by drawing him into his kind of fight but I think styles make for fights and my style is better for beating Katsidis than Kevin’s was. I also think I can do a better job on Mitchell,” predicted Murray.
“I’ve been watching [WBC titlist Humberto] Soto. There’s no standout star coming through to replace Juan Manuel Marquez, the division is wide open so I think if you throw me out where the titles are then I’ll bring one back home.”
Tickets for North 'n South are available now, priced at £40, £50, £75, £100, £150 and £200, from 0844 844 0444 or www.ticketmaster.co.uk
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