John Murray hits New York ahead of Rios test
By Terence Dooley
Manchester’s John Murray has already touched down in New York City ahead of the toughest test of his 32-fight career, 31-1 (18). Murray tackles WBA lightweight champion Brandon Rios, 28-0-1 (21), this Saturday night in the chief support bout to Antonio Margarito’s rematch with WBA ‘Super’ light-middleweight titlist Miguel Angel Cotto.
The Manchester-based former English, British and European lightweight champion is a massive underdog, especially after losing his ‘0’ in his last contest, an eight round reverse to Kevin Mitchell in July. Indeed, only Mitchell’s recent brushes with the law prevented him from taking the Rios assignment leaving Murray facing the fight of his life.
Murray, though, has approached the bout with the right attitude; the 26-year-old is not a boxing ‘geek’. He does not slavishly follow the sport, mythical pound-for-pound rakings mean nothing to him, and he has not whipped Rios up into an unstoppable monster in his mind’s eye.
Although Murray respects Rios, he believes that there is no such thing as an unbeatable fighter and expects to bring home the WBA belt. “I’m feeling good – I’m hungry and where I need to be a week before the fight,” said Murray during his final pre-fight conversation with Boxingscene.
Adding: “I’m feeling sharp. This is a massive opportunity and I intend to take it.”
There were fears that the entire bill could be moved away from New York during days of deliberating over the state of Margarito’s right eye, the NYSAC finally giving the go-ahead last Wednesday after farcical scenes in the Big Apple.
“I just kept my head down and carried on training,” Murray’s take on the NYSAC/Margarito saga. “I didn’t want to get distracted by thinking about whether the fight would be moved or not. I let everyone else take care of it.”
The defeat to Mitchell led a to a split between Murray and long-time trainer Joe Gallagher before the magnitude of the upcoming test prompted the two men to sit down and smooth things over. Ever the perfectionist, Gallagher probably had a dossier on Rios in place months before the ink was dry on the deal. Joe and John dug out Brandon’s fights upon Murray’s return to Gallagher’s Gym.
“I’ve watched tapes, Joe’s watched tapes, we know what he is good at but see where his flaws are as well, he tends to neglect his defence a little bit – I’ll exploit that,” pledged Murray. “I can see where I can win the fight, the shots I can land and it has made me feel a bit more at ease. I want to do the business.
“It helped that I lost to Kevin last time. I got a bit complacent – was maybe cutting corners a bit in training – and this was exposed by Kevin because I took him a bit lightly. I went away from boxing after that loss, had a long, hard look at myself and decided that if I was going to do it then I’d have to give a hundred percent – I can’t be half-arsed anymore. I need to do it right or not do it at all.
“I was already back in the gym for three weeks thinking like that when I got the call through. I wanted to bounce straight back, they asked me if I was interested in Rios and I said ‘absolutely’. I had no hesitation about taking the job. I know I’m a world class fighter and have got every confidence in my ability to pull this victory off.”
Murray’s best form came during his British title wins over Lee McAllister, Scott Lawton, Jon Thaxton and when netting the vacant EBU belt against Gary Buckland. The pressure fighter rolled to the side to deliver body shots in those ones, blocking shots with his gloves before returning fire.
In recent EBU fights against Andriy Kudryavtsev and Karim El Ouazghari, the former WBC Youth super-featherweight champion came forward in straight lines and was caught too often and too cleanly.
Away wins over Johnny Walker and Tyrone Wiggins in 2005 showcased fine body punching and shot selection, Murray aims to pull together his best form after ironing out recent bad habits during sparring sessions with stablemate Liam Smith, a solid welterweight prospect.
“In my last three maybe four performances I’ve got into the routine of fighting a certain way, I’m coming forward behind the high guard, taking shots on the gloves and just tiring my opponents out before letting my shots go,” Murray’s take on his last few fights.
“I’ve been trying to out-strength and out-last people. In sparring for this fight I’ve gone back to using my boxing brain. I am thinking about the shots my opponents are throwing, working out my tactics during the rounds to get my shots in.
“Brandon is going to be very strong, he’s a big lightweight so being in with stronger guys like Liam has benefitted me. I’m very strong myself. I’m not going to bounce around the ring, trying to change my style altogether. I’m just trying to be a bit cuter, a bit more educated with the shots I throw.”
Despite his blasé attitude to last week’s fears over the location of the fight, the contender’s eyes twinkle when reminded that he is taking on a respected title holder in the ‘Mecca’ of boxing.
“I’m a fighter, that is it, there’s no hesitation with me – I’ll fight anyone, anytime,” he vowed. “But I was chuffed when I found out it definitely would be at Madison Square Garden and am glad it hasn’t been moved because everyone wants their name up in lights in New York. It is great for my family and friends; it has cost a lot of money for them to come out and support me. What a place to beat Rios.
“He’s probably looking at my performance against Mitchell last time and thinking he can beat me based on that. That doesn’t bother me – I’m getting myself into the shape I need to be in to do a number on him.”
A return with Mitchell as well as a showdown with WBO interim incumbent Ricky Burns would beckon should the challenger spring the upset. Britain’s got serious talent at 135lbs: Burns, Mitchell, Murray, Anthony Crolla and Gavin Rees are leading the domestic pack.
“Ricky boxed really well against Michael Katsidis, his tactics were perfect and he bossed the fight from start to finish,” his take on Ricky’s ascension. “Our lightweight division is the strongest at the moment. We’re in an era now where the best fight the best. Me and Kevin did it last time out and think the other lightweights are up for it.”
First things first, Rios is a huge favourite amongst the bookies but Murray believes that he can shock the Californian. Saying, “We’re no nonsense, we come to fight, we’ll have it out and it will be one hell of a war.”
Motivated, settled, philosophical but still maniacal after all these years – Murray will pull this one off.
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