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John Murray, Joe Gallagher Focussed on El Ouazghari Test

By Terence Dooley

Frankie Randall went into his 1987 Las Vegas match against tough but unheralded Mexican Primo Ramos with the world at his feet.  'The Surgeon' was vying for the NABF lightweight title, he was rated number one by the WBC and held a 31-1-1 record, his only previous defeat was a points reverse to former world champion Edwin Rosario.  Strangely, the Rosario fight took place at York Hall, Bethnal Green – Randall was 23-0 at the time, the loss triggered Frankie's nine fight unbeaten run going into the Ramos tool sharpener.

Ramos flipped the script, and Frankie's senses, by landing a big left hook to KO the contender at 2:30 of the second stanza.  Between York Hall and Las Vegas, Randall had done everything right only slip up against a determined opponent.

Karim El Ouazghari is no Ramos, but he does come to York Hall on Saturday night with nothing to lose as he bids to rip away John Murray's EBU lightweight belt, unbeaten record and world ranking.  Murray believes that he is a few fights away from a world tilt yet is aware that boxing's history is littered with stories such as the Randall-Ramos one.

“I've trained very hard,” said Murray as he outlined his commitment to this second European defence.  “I can't take any chances so have done everything I can in training.  We haven't had any tapes of him but I watched him on Youtube knocking out Jesus Garcia Simon with a left hook so that has kept me on my toes because I can't afford to slip up in this one.

“Not knowing what I'm up against has made me train that little bit harder because we don't know how good he might be on the night.  We've worked on the scenarios and what he might bring so I'm happy with that.

“It is not just about winning, it is about looking good winning.  I signed with Frank Warren to get big fights, he's brought me this one to shed some rust and defend my title, and he's done a great job publicising it so I've got to do my job now.  It is all down to me now, no matter how good the promoter is the fighter needs to be good enough to keep on winning.”

Murray’s name has been ubiquitous across the online boxing world this week, he feels that his thirty fight unbeaten run (eighteen stoppages) is now starting to spawn the much-needed oxygen of publicity.

He said, “Frank [Warren] has done all this publicity on the fight but it that won't mean anything if I don't do what I have to do.  I'm a product and need to look my best every time no matter who I fight so that Frank can justify that world title shot.  I've won thirty fights and got British and European titles.  Many people have reached that point in their career and earned enough to retire but I need to do more and have to keep on winning.  This job needs to get done or there will be no world title chance for me.

“I'm still on my world title journey, still training hard and without a world title that journey will never be complete.  Karim is a potential banana skin on that road.  I don't want to make any mistakes.  I will be bang on and take care of this guy.”

Karim is 11-1-2 (4) going into the biggest fight of his four year career, the Spain-based boxer has everything to gain and nothing to lose – it would be a diabolical setback if ‘El Diablo’ were to rip Murray’s world apart.  Despite Murray’s warnings, British fans have written Ouazghari off and are already looking ahead to a potential fight between John and Kevin Mitchell.

Murray, though, insists that Mitchell blew his opportunity when signing on for a fight in February only to withdraw due to disagreements over his purse.  “I am disappointed with Kevin,” sighed Murray at the mention of a potential Mitchell showcase.

“I signed for the fight without even having to think about it.  It was a great chance for me to start my new promotional deal well, a great chance for Kevin to come back.  Kevin was coming off a devastating loss to Michael Katsidis but he was getting an opportunity to fight someone who holds titles and is world ranked.  I think it is gone now because I want to move on after this fight.  I don't want to wait around for Kevin.  I've done what I wanted to do domestically.  I want to get in there with world ranked guys next – Kevin's not got that recognition any more.”

“It is similar to the [Jon] Thaxton fight in some ways.  Me and Thaxton should have met earlier because by the time I fought Jon he'd lost a few and was written off before we even fought so I didn't get the recognition for the result.  Kevin's win over Breidis Prescott was a while ago now, he's coming off a big stoppage loss, he's been inactive and I'll have racked up three European title wins since so people would make excuses before we fought and once I'd beaten him.  He's got more to gain from me so of course he wants it,” was his final summation on the Mitchell situation.

Murray is, instead, treating Karim as a potential blip on his journey to the top, he intends to do a number on the visitor and hopes to secure a place on Warren’s May 21st, O2 Arena PPV show.

“I’d love that,” admitted the Mancunian when asked if he intends to stay busy.  “I'm always an exciting fighter.  People like watching me on telly but say my fights are much more brutal when you're at ringside, that you can really feel the impact on my shots up close so I'm glad that Frank will be ringside to see what I can do at last.  It will give Frank the feel for seeing me in action.

“I've not boxed for seven months.  It is great to get out there again.  I'd love to get out again in May because the busier I am the better I perform.  You see probably seventy-five or eighty percent when I'm shaking off the cobwebs but I'm absolutely immaculate when I jump straight into fights one after another.”

The 135lb division is pretty top-heavy at the moment.  Juan Manuel Marquez is the consensus number one; Brandon Rios holds the WBA belt; Michael Katsidis hopes to use next week’s fight against Robert Guerrero to prove that he is more than a gatekeeper; Humberto Soto and Urbano Antillon fight a WBC rematch in May, a Soto win could be followed by abdication to light-welterweight.

“Marquez, Soto and Rios are the top guys so I'd take any of them.  I have proven myself to be a world-class fighter; it is just a case of me being given an opportunity.  If I'm given that chance then I won't let anyone down,” mused Murray as he considered his long-term future.

York Hall has long been regarded as the spiritual home of British boxing, what it lacks in capacity it more than makes up for in history.  Murray has also fought there once before, stopping Billy Smith in six rounds back in 2006.

“Yeah, I stopped Billy Smith there in 2006 and considered that to be one of my best performances because Billy doesn't get stopped often.  I picked my shots well, broke him down and hope to do the same to Ouazghari,” he concluded.

Joe Gallagher, Murray’s trainer, told me that Murray looked good when sparring Karl Place in preparation for this latest test, he also revealed the extent of their commitment to this defence.

“This is like John turning professional again,” declared Gallagher.  “We're both very nervous and that is good.  We always wanted certain things, a profile and a stage, and we're now in place to get these things.  John had a good career with Mick Hennessy but Mick hasn't got a deal with Sky at the moment so it is one of those things.

“This guy is a man, he's been given a huge chance out of the blue and he's coming in with a good boxing background.  Just because you haven't seen much of someone doesn't mean they're no good.  This guy won't be fazed, he's got a chance of hitting the jackpot, taking a belt and a ranking by beating a world rated fighter in a historic venue, he's going to raise his game for this fight.”

Gallagher, like Murray, is eying the world scene yet is aware that Murray’s recent staccato schedule will have to be addressed if he is to go into a world title fight at his optimum level.

“A fight in May would produce the best of John Murray, his body would be in trim, he'll be sharp and he's always ready to fight.  I am assuming that a world title could come between October and November because we're a few wins away from it.”

The trainer also shares his charge’s views on British rival Mitchell.  “Not Kevin Mitchell, no,” he responded to the question of whether Kevin could be next.  “Kevin's not beaten a British lightweight, people talk about John’s record but Kevin hasn't even made his way the British rankings by going from journeymen to the contenders.”

Still, the points win over Breidis Prescott in 2009 was a huge scalp for the Dagenham-based fighter.  Gallagher, however, feels that the victory over the big punching Columbian has lost its lustre.

He said, “Yes, Prescott was a big win but that was in 2009.  After that he fought Ignacio Mendoza, who John beat in 2005, and then got knocked out by Katsidis.  You don't just come off a loss and go straight in for the EBU title – they won't allow it.  Kevin was in a great position last year but he wasn't calling for John, he wanted to wait until he'd won a world title. 

“Kevin had his opportunity, this is John's time now.  We've worked hard for years to get John into the number 2 WBC spot and The Ring Rankings.  What does Kevin bring to the table?  He's got no belts, no world ranking and he's not shown anything lately other than a big mouth.

“People talk about John's record but he wanted Thaxton earlier, asked for Prescott, told Khan to come and get him only for Amir to go for McCloskey and already signed to fight Kevin earlier this year.  Frank said, 'Do you want to fight Mitchell?'  We signed on, started training for it and John was ready to jump on a train on the Monday for a press conference only for Kevin to pull out.  We're not wasting any more of our time waiting for Kevin.”

Fans argue that a scrap with Mitchell would present Murray with the ideal chance to compete with a fighter who has mixed it with Katsidis.  Gallagher insists that it would be a regressive step.

“John's looking forward, not backwards.  People at the top of the division know who John is.  Frank will make the right fight for him.  Imagine John versus someone like Brandon Rios.  Frank's brought big names over before so imagine Rios versus John somewhere like the MEN?  It would be great,” he enthused.

Nicky Cook has announced that he will make his return on May 21st, rumour has it that the former WBO super-featherweight title holder is going to test the lightweight waters.  Could a Murray-Cook fight be made?

“I like Nicky, he's a former world champion and is on his way back, but we'll have to weigh up the options and it is down to Frank,” said Gallagher, closing the book on talk of Murray’s next opponent and focussing on the task in hand.

“We won't overlook Saturday.  This guy will have chapter and verse on John – that makes me nervous.  Get past this and a few more and I think John is the next PPV fighter in Britain.  His style is great, people in boxing watching him and he wouldn't look out of place in a big arena fight.  People are taking notice of John, Richard Maynard supplied an iconic poster to publicise this fight and John’s name is out there now so he needs to do his job on the night to keep it that way.”

Sky Sports 1 and HD1 televise from 9.30pm Saturday night.

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