By Terence Dooley
John Murray meets Greenock’s John Simpson on an Eddie Hearn-promoted bill at Glasgow's Scottish Exhibition Centre on Saturday night as he continues to shake off the ring rust left over from a forced 23-month sabbatical. The Mancunian hopes that a win will lead to a local showdown with WBO Inter-continental title holder Anthony Crolla at Manchester Phones 4U Arena on April 19 and further title opportunities.
Burns defends his WBO lightweight title against American challenger Terence Crawford on Saturday’s Sky-televised show. Quigg is the main attraction in April. Murray believes that the two undercard slots will serve the dual purpose of sharpening his tools and letting people know that he is still a viable contender in the lightweight division.
“I trained yesterday, ticked over today and now I’m just waiting for the fight,” said Murray when speaking to BoxingScene. The 32-2 (19) fighter revealed that he wanted the contest to be set for 135lbs only to have to settle for catchweight.
“We’re fighting at nine stone six or 11 over 10 rounds. I wanted it at nine stone nine, but he doesn’t. I wouldn’t mind making lightweight again—it has been a while since I weighed bang on the division limit. I’m just looking forward to getting back into it. I was going to fight in Hull last weekend anyway, so when this came I adjusted my training to account for the extra week. I was training anyway and wanted this type of chance.”
Murray has a bit of previous with the show’s bill topper, he once told Burns that he would “Break him in two” should they ever meet. They went in different directions, although Murray has made no bones about the fact that he wants to beat Simpson, take on Crolla then gun for Burns, should he retain his WBO title.
The Scottish fans in attendance will root for Simpson, that’s only natural, yet Murray hopes that he will silence the crowd early and is unfazed by the prospect of being booed to the ring by the partisan home contingent.
“I’m going into the lion’s den up there in Scotland, but I’ve done that a few times in my career—boxing away from Manchester in England and America,” he said. “I boxed four times in America, so I’m happy to go and fight before a hostile crowd.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for John, he’s a great fighter, a tough man and talented, but I’m going over there to beat him, not make new friends. We’ll have a good fight, then maybe have a chat afterwards to make up.”
The 29-year-old is in control of his own destiny and hopes to make a compelling case for future slots on Hearn’s shows. He said: “I’m free agent, yeah. I’ve got this fight then one in Manchester. We’ll see what happens after those two.”
A potential meeting with Anthony Crolla would catch fire in Manchester. It is an intriguing fight in prospect as they used to train together when guided by Joe Gallagher and both boxers have a lot of support in their home city. It is a fight that will temporarily pit two friends against each other, an occasional occupational hazard in this business.
Murray is fired up for it, he believes that his English, British and European lightweight run has been overlooked in the rush to write the fight off and that he more than deserves a crack at “Million Dollar”, who posted wins over Gavin Rees (W MD 12) and Stephen Foster Junior (W RTD 6). “I’ve been up at the higher levels,” he argued.
“People forget that I was undefeated for a long time, never lost the British or European titles in the ring, and my last loss was to a world champion who was in good form. I’ve trained with them. They know what I can do and have seen that I’m on it again. Joe’s said I have to earn the fight, which doesn’t sound confident—I wonder what Anthony makes of him saying he doesn’t want me and is not going to make the fight.
“It’s business. If we have to fight then we have to fight. Joe might have a bit of doubt in his mind by the sound of it—he used to see the sparring between me and Crolla. Maybe he’s worried that Crolla can’t beat someone who was out for almost two years. I’m up for that fight—it’s on from my side of things. If it doesn’t happen, then I’ll look for something else. I want to fight for titles.
“It would be great for us both. When you turn pro, you dream of nights like that. We’re from the same town, used to be in the same gym, so if he took the fight it’d be a smashing night for the fans. It’s also a great fight for us both as the winner will go on to something else.”
He added: “But I have to go out and beat John Simpson first, I don’t intend to slip up so am concentrated on that. I put in all those years then lost a few times and my licence was taken away from me (after he was diagnosed with a swollen pituitary gland in 2012), so I’m making up for that time. I have no time to waste. I want to be the best I can be, starting on Saturday night.”
“I think so,” he said when asked if he will be able to get a few rounds under his belt against Simpson, 25-10 (11). “If I catch him I catch him, but John’s usually in there throughout and will never give up.”
Derry Mathews is another option, for the fans and pundits at least; Murray, however, believes that a meeting with the popular Liverpudlian warrior is a nonstarter despite Mathews’s recent title wins and a series of exciting fights.
“It’s not really something I’ve considered, no,” was his take on a Manchester versus Liverpool showdown with the former British and Commonwealth champion. “We offered him the fight when I was British champion, he turned it down and I went on to fight for European and world honours.
“I’m getting back into the swing of things. I had one fight to warm up [a fourth-round win over Michael Escober in November] and there’s this on Saturday followed by a big fight. Then I want a world title fight. Plus he’s coming off a loss as well, and to a novice pro—Stephen Ormond has only had 16 fights and he beat Derry (W10 in December). I don’t think I’m down at that level.
“I’ve been up at that higher level. There was no disgrace when I lost to Rios (11th-round TKO in December 2011). He was over a stone heavier than me on the night, but I still stood toe-to-toe with him and felt it shouldn’t have been ended. I put on a good show of myself, he hit me but I didn’t go down—I saw enough to believe I can go back to that level if I sharpen my tools.
“There’s kids saying stuff about me—everyone’s offering me out at the minute. I stop and look at the level I’ve been at then look at who they’ve won and lost to and think: ‘You’re not at my level, mate’. So, yeah, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder now over a few things.”
There are fears that Murray will never be able to recapture the form that saw him dubbed “The Murray Machine”, that the losses to Kevin Mitchell, an eight-round TKO in 2011, and Rios have taken too much of a toll. Murray, though, believes that he can return to form during 2014.
“The break gave me a chance to work with [current trainer] Mike [Marsden] more and try different things,” he said. “The break’s actually been good for me. I have settled down with my family, I train lads myself, so have that side of things as well, and there is less pressure now.
“I was worn out at the end of my other career. I’d had a lot of hard fights, a lot of hard camps and covered a lot of ground, I felt worn out for those last two fights with Joe, but feel fresher now. I want to use this comeback to show just how good I can be.”
Murray and Gallagher have disagreed over the reasons for the loss to Mitchell ever since it happened. The one thing they can agree on is that the meeting with the Londoner was a worthy fight-of-the-year winner—a rematch would capture the attention of British boxing fans.
“There’s no reason it can’t happen,” said Murray. “I’m sure Eddie and Mitchell will want it, I’d take it if it was offered. I’m also sure it would be fight of the year again for Sky.”
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