By Terence Dooley
Manchester’s John Murray has his back against the wall going into his December 8 make-or-break showdown with Gavin Rees at London’s Olympia venue. Widely dismissed after back-to-back defeats to Kevin Mitchell and Brandon Rios in 2011, the 27-year-old knows that many within the British trade think he has seen better days and will suffer a third straight defeat at the hands of the Welshman. Now stuck between a rock and a hard place, Murray believes that he has to win impressively to avoid a stint in the British boxing wilderness.
Murray, 31-2 (18), heads into the encounter with Rees without long-time coach Joe Gallagher by his side. Ironically, they parted company last year only for Murray to rejoin Gallagher’s Gym to prepare for last December’s world title challenge to Rios yet this time the split is for good. Murray feels that the time was right to shake up his training set-up and is currently working with Mike Marsden in Leeds.
“I’ve just been working with Mike and doing nutritional stuff with Kerry [Kayes], so I’m cracking on, am in good nick and looking forward to it — I can’t wait,” said Murray when explaining the change of circumstances during a phone call with BoxingScene. “Mike, Kerry and probably [cutsman] Mick Williamson will be in my corner on the night.
“At first I thought fighting Gavin would be a horrible, awkward fight for me because in his last few fights there’s been a lot of accidental head clashes — I’m in the pocket all the time so will have to watch out for that.”
Murray’s fight with Rios saw him out-weighed on the night after the WBA titlist failed to make the 135lb division limit. True to his marauding form, the former British and European title-holder elected to go toe-to-toe with the bigger, strong man and ended up on the wrong end of an 11th-round defeat, although he still protested the stoppage.
“If the ref was going to stop it then do it a few rounds earlier instead of just before the final round,” said Murray. “The damage was done, there wasn’t going to be any more harm done so why not let me see the final bell. Even though I lost my last one to Rios, I think it was a positive performance because he’s done well since that win.
“It would have been nice to have a few warm-up fights before this one, but then again I’m an experienced pro who has had 33 (fights) and knows how to prepare for a fight. This fight means that I can put everything behind me and get back up there into world title contention.
“I’m very confident on getting the win then moving on. I’ve got to win it, then who knows, I could get another world title shot because Ricky Burns is with Frank Warren and that fight could get made.”
Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn is promoting the December show; he no doubt respects Murray’s attributes, but will expect Rees to notch a win en route to his own WBA title shot. Murray, though, insists that the reports of his demise will be proven to be wide of the mark come the first bell.
“I lost a bit of steam last year because I was 26-years-old, coming off a run of 31 fights and had had a busy career — I was always ticking over in the gym even when fights weren’t on the table — so I think it became a grueling drag on my body. I wasn’t enjoying the training anymore. I was going into fights just looking to get them out the way so I could have a break. Now I feel like I’m sharper in training, I enjoy it again and get up in the morning looking forward to going to the gym, which is something that had gone missing.
“I always knew I’d be back strong. It was my intention to have a break then get back into it. I didn’t want to be told I was coming back, I wanted to come back when I was ready and when it felt right for me. I wanted to miss boxing because you have to want to do it to be in it properly — it is a tough sport. I’ve got to the point where I miss being in the ring, where I want to get back up there and to prove a few points. People have written me off after those defeats, so I am itching to prove people wrong.
“Everyone thinks I’m here for the beating. I didn’t have a good camp for the Mitchell fight. Everyone knows the stories — I was on the piss weeks before that fight and all that type of stuff because I thought he was out there doing the same. I had a great camp for Rios, I was in great shape, but we did no technique work, it was just a case of getting me into condition then letting me go. That is what happened in the fight, so I’ve gone back to basics for this one and have brought that into the gym. I’m doing stuff that I haven’t done for a long time and it feels great.
“I feel like I’ve got the bit between my teeth for this one. I’ve got a statement to make. If this fight were made a year ago then people would probably have had me as the favourite. Now I’m coming off two losses so people think I’m the underdog.”
Murray is one of British boxing’s liveliest characters, he admitted that he spent a few months living like a “rock star” after his topsy-turvy 2012 and makes no apology for this, telling me that he needed to put some distances between himself and the sport in order to prove to himself that boxing was something he loved rather than something he felt forced to do. During his British and EBU run, and to mangle a quote, the fighter was like: ‘A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die’, and he argued that his love of fighting is back with a vengeance.
“When I boxed Mitchell, I kept hearing rumours that he wasn’t on it in training, so I went a bit off it myself, but I’ve knuckled down and have got my head on it for this fight,” he said. “I’m really fit for this one. My head popped a bit after those few defeats. I spent a few months living life and then came back to the gym when I felt good about it again.
“Now I have worked on a few basic things again because this is an important time in my career. Look at Arturo Gatti, he refined things in his career and look at how much longer that gave him, I want to do the same.”
Rees, 37-1-1 (18), stands between Murray and a chance at redemption. The 32-year-old former WBA light-welterweight champion knows he cannot afford to slip up. Everything points to a meeting between an irreversible force and an immovable object in yet another compelling domestic lightweight clash.
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