By Terence Dooley
By December 2012, Manchesterís John Murray was at a crossroads, literally, his boxing license had been revoked due to a failed brain scan on the eve of his aborted comeback fight against Gavin Rees and he had to join a pipe digging crew to make ends meet.† Adrift from the sport that had defined him, the money he secured in his WBA world title fight with Brandon Rios sunk into a house that he no longer lived in, he had gone from forging his own road in the sport to creating space for gas pipes.
Previously, Murray would have found solace in one of his legendary nights out, but the thrill of youth had passed, partying was out of his system just when he could no longer funnel his energy into the sport he had once loved yet had grown to hate.
The Manchester-based fighter had often told me about his deepest fear, the possibility that he could walk away from boxing in his 30s with: ďMy head bashed in and nothing to show for itĒ.† During that tough December, the thoughtful fighterís darkest prophecies came close to the brink of becoming his daily reality.
Roll on a few years and the man dubbed ďThe MachineĒ due to his joyful, stoical stoniness whilst beating people up is about to tackle former gym mate Anthony Crolla, 27-4-1 (10), at the cityís Phones 4U Arena.
The failed brain scan was the result of a swollen pituitary gland.† Murray was deemed fit to fight last year and returned to action with a fourth-round TKO over Michael Escobar in Manchester in November before blasting out John Simpson in two in Glasgow in March to set up the Crolla fight.
Now the grateful recipient of a second chance, Murray is relishing every moment of the Eddie Hearn-promoted occasion, he knows just how quickly things can change in this sport.† ďI enjoyed that,Ē said Murray when speaking to BoxingScene about Thursdayís final press conference.
ďI wonít be happy with a points win on Saturday, I want to knock him out.† Iím hungrier than Iíve been in my career.† Iím vicious, Iím violent and I canít wait.† I spent some time away from boxing and have realised how much I enjoy stuff like this.† Iím going to enjoy the fight on Saturday.† I canít wait.† This is the best shape Iíve ever been in.† I had a reputation for being a party boy.† Every rumour youíve heard is probably true.† Iíd be partying up to two weeks before a fight then weigh in and knuckle down to win.
ďIt became too easy for me.† I kept on doing it then, later on in my career, I lost to [Kevin] Mitchell [L TKO 8 in July 2011] then went for a world title.† Although I trained hard for it, you canít undo all that good living in a few months.† Now I feel good.† After Rios [L TKO 11 on Decmber 3 2011 at Madison Square Garden], I went on a six-month bender, got it all out my system, got bored of it then got myself into cracking condition for the fight with [Gavin] Rees.† I had a long training camp, so I was gutted when that fell through and was taken away from me.
ďI thought I wouldnít box again, so I am thankful for this second chance.† I couldnít go on living the way I was.† Iím not a kid any more, Iím 29 and feel Iíve benefited from my time out the game.Ē
He added: ďIt ate away at me.† I know the mistakes I made in both those training camps and am confident I can make the most of this chance Iíve been given.† I feel better than ever, my body is better than ever and Iím better all-round: better in the gym and at home, living cleaner and healthier.Ē
Murray has reunited with nutritionist Kerry Kayes; he bounced straight into the gym after the win over Simpson and cooks for the fighters he is training to impress on them the benefits of clean living.† The irony of this turnaround is not lost on him.
ďNutrition plays a big part of it,Ē he said.† ďI canít believe I had the career I did living the way I did.† Iíd eat clean from Monday to Friday, but eating once a day or something, then weekend would come so Iíd grab a curry or a kebab.† The fight would come and Iíd win easy or by knock out.† I canít understand how I did it, it was sheer hardness and bottle, which Iíve still got in the bank, but Iíve got another string to my bow now by living clean and eating right.
ďIíve found that Iíve got a lot more energy in training.† I am making weight but am not starving.† I am near the weight.† I ate four times yesterday, had breakfast today and am still only a few pounds awayóI could make the weight in an hour if I needed to.† Itís made a huge, huge difference.† Iím passing this on to the lads that Iím training.
ďI canít regret anything thatís happened, itís helped make me who I am today.† I like who I am.† I like where I am up to.† I can get to a world title with a win over Anthony on Saturday and am confident I can get there.Ē
Murrayís epic partying reached a number of peaks both at home and abroad before petering out.† Now living with his partner, Jodie, and their baby daughter, the 33-2 (20) fighter isnít burning the candle at every possible end these days.
ďIt ran its course,Ē he said.† ďIíve been pro 11 years come September.† I was a young man who didnít want to miss out on being a youngster.† All my mateís were at unií and partying, so why wouldnít I want to?
ďPeople can say what they want, but I kept winning and had a youth as well.† I wonít retire from boxing then go on a bender for three or four years like some fighters do because they feel they missed out on their youth.† Iíve got it out my system.† Iíve had a good life and am very happy.† I am happy with every choice Iíve made because itís put me where I am now.Ē
Murray had to lose everything to appreciate what he had.† It quickly dawned on him that the next time he hit someone he could wind up in prison rather than Madison Square Garden.† When the truth crowded in on him, he steadied himself before building a life beyond boxing.† Recent events have been the icing on the cake.
ďNo, Iíd lost everything as a boxer then,Ē he said when asked if he ever thought heíd fight again.† ďI am a thoughtful person, so I was thinking about my next move and where Iíd go.† In those two years out, I did a lot of thinking.† I got into personal training then set up my own pro stable to pass on my knowledge, so Iím proud of myself because I didnít have to come back to boxing.† I was glad to get the all clear, but I was comfortable in life and am just glad for this second opportunity.
ďI was boxing just for a living before.† I used to think: ĎI just want to get this fight out of the way and go on the piss with my matesí.† It was torture, but Iím just focused on boxing now.† Iím loving boxing again.† I go backstage and just enjoy being around.† Things like this just used to be a ballache, but now I enjoy it all.† Iím as hungry as Iíve ever been and want to take it all in.Ē
ďIt was a hard time in my life,Ē he said, his mind turning back to his days on the roads.† ďI sank all my world title money into a house.† Then I lost the house as well when the girl I was with kicked me out off it and took it away from me when we split up.† Then I failed my brain scan.† It was a low, low point in my lifeósome people wouldnít have recovered.† I proved my strength.† I picked myself up, dusted myself off, wiped my mouth and said: ĎNo, get upíóif I win this I can put myself right back into contention for a world title.
ďIt would have been easy to throw in the towel.† I wasnít happy.† I couldnít let it stay as it was and just have had that (first) career.† A lot of people slag me off.† At the end of the day I was very successful and they donít like it.† They might think: ĎHow can he be as successful as he is when heís out on the piss?í† They didnít like it and they donít like me, but I donít careóIím a good fighter who is living cleaner and is happier than he was at any part of his career.
ďIím just looking out for me now.† If you donít like me you donít like me.† If you do you do.† It doesnít bother me.† When I came back six-months ago, who thought Iíd be here now?† A good win against Anthony on Saturday puts me right back into contention.Ē
Crolla and Murray have worked one anotherís corner in the past.† Old habits die hard, letís hope they donít impart advice to each other during the clinches.† Murray laughed then said: ďI donít think Iíll slip into: ĎAnthony, come on.† Pick it up.† Pick it up!í.† Nah, Iíll just be focused.
ďWeíve shared each otherís corners.† We are close, good mates, but it will be different on the night.† Iím a programmed machine when I go in there.† Anthonyís my enemy and Iím confident of winning.Ē
Murray has cut a bullish figure throughout the build-up.† The former WBC Youth, English, British and European lightweight champion hails from Ardwick.† Anyone who has walked those streets knows that, from Ardwick to Ancoats, the people who live along them are suppose to be grist to the mill, support staff at best, but some of them refuse to bow down.† They fight and sometimes destroy themselves in that fight, and will continue to do so.† Two of the town's best fighters will fight for your attention and entertainment on Saturday night, bashing away at each in the process before shaking on it.†
Win, lose or draw, Murray will come out of the fight knowing who he is, where he is at and where he is going in life, and that heís in a better place for this self-awareness.† He has already weathered the biggest storm he could ever faceóeverything else will be smooth sailing in comparison.
On Saturday night, the challenger will go out and do what he loves to do, and he loves to fight.† At one point he had lost that love, the recent perma-smile on his face suggests that it feels good to be back.† Always an authentic type of a character, he is content in himself first and foremost, which means that he no longer cares about what other people think.
ďIím just answering the questions that Iím asked,Ē he declared, aware that the answers are not to everyoneís taste.† ďI just try to be the best I can be, and me at my best beats Anthony at his best.Ē
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