When Nigel Wright failed his medical and had to withdraw from a British light welterweight title shot against Paddington’s Ashley Theophane, promoter Frank Maloney had the difficult task of finding a suitable opponent at short notice.
Highly respected trainer Johnny Eames explained to me at the TRAD TKO gym in Canning Town what happened next.
“I got a phone call last night from Michael Grant [saying he’d been offered the fight]. I keep saying to Michael, ‘Stay in the gym’ - he’s not a ticket seller, he’s not with any big promoters but he’s got as much ability as anybody out there. So the plan was with Michael to keep him in the gym, something like this to happen and then go and take the opportunity.”
“He’s not been in the gym.” Johnny shakes his head a fraction and looks away, frustrated.
“So [Maloney] phoned me and I suggested Peter McDonagh. So they then obviously tried Peter after that but he probably told them he couldn’t make the weight.” I spoke to McDonagh in the gym after he’d finished an entertaining spar with Nathan Wiese and he confirmed that he was offered the fight but couldn’t get down to the 10st limit in time.
Johnny Eames continued. “They came to me again. I said ‘he’s not my fighter - I only train him - but what about Ben Murphy?’”
“This is at light-welter (Murphy is a lightweight) but Ben is a strong boy. He’s been down to super-featherweight - I don’t know how to be honest with you!” Murphy is 5’3” of pure muscle with arms that look like they belong on a weight-lifter not a lightweight boxer!
“He wasn’t with me then,” Johnny admitted. “Listen, he walks around at 10st4lbs/10st5lbs so doing 10st isn’t a problem. He’s fit because he only boxed a week ago (against Tony Owen on 25th November). He was ready for a ten rounder but he only did four (stopping Owen in four brutally one sided rounds) so it didn’t take a lot out of him. He’s a liver. He doesn’t get on the booze or anything else like that so it was a no-lose situation really.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about taking your opportunities when they’re offered to you,” Eames explained. “Murphy’s not a big ticket seller. I went back to Frank [Maloney] and said ‘I’ll have a chat with Ben.’ I picked up the phone and said to Ben, ‘Ben, do you want to fight for the British light-welterweight title on Saturday?’”
“And he went ‘Yeah’. He didn’t even ask who it was against, how much he was getting or nothing!” At that, everyone in the gym’s office began to chuckle and Johnny smiled widely. “That’s the type of kid he is. Too many fighters want to know what the other boy has had for breakfast! Unfortunately you can’t tell them all that. I’m pleased with his attitude, the way he said ‘Yes’ to it.”
Johnny turned serious again. “He’s getting decent money. A lot better money than his own manager paid him on Saturday [against Owen]. Hell of a lot better money. That was disgusting what he got paid for a ten round fight. I wouldn’t put a six round boy in for that money. But then, he’s not on the right side of the fence. He doesn’t sell tickets, so he’s got to take what he gets unfortunately. It’s a big payday for him before Christmas.”
“It’s a no lose situation,” Johnny told me earnestly. “If he loses, it doesn’t effect him, it’s not the end of the world - but listen. He ain’t going there to lose. You know Ben.” Murphy is as strong, tough and as game they come. Everyone who has sparred him talks about his relentlessness, his unbreakable spirit and his underrated ability. He’ll be coming to fight - and more importantly - coming to win. He could be a more dangerous opponent for Theophane than Nigel Wright was. Wright is a classy boxer - and one who I rate highly - but probably more suited to Theophane’s style than Murphy will be."
“Murphy can beat Theophane. I had Ashley up here for three years," Johnny said. “I know Ashley inside out. He’s a good fighter but he’s been in with the tough people [on his record] at the right time. Listen, I know Ashley. Ashley has directed his own career very well. And Ashley has got somewhere where I always said to him, ‘You won’t get there.’”
“Coincidentally, [Theophane] was fighting Nigel Wright officially for this one. I could have had that fight for him two years ago, Ashley turned it down. He said ‘why do I need to fight Nigel Wright?’”
“‘Why do I need to fight for a British Title?’ was [Theophane’s] last words to me.” Johnny leaned forward as if to emphasise the point. “He just wanted to go from here straight to a world Title - and that doesn’t happen. Not in the real world anyway.”
I started to ask how Ben was going to approach the fight but Johnny cut me off. It’s a stock question but one I needn’t have asked. “It’s not rocket science how Ben’s going to fight. In an ideal world I’d like to have had three or four weeks to prepare him ‘cos I know Ashley. I know what I’d have to do with Ben to prepare him to beat Ashley. But now, Ben has just got to go into it and do what he does. I’d like to think that it is enough. I don’t like putting fighters in who I think are going to lose.”
Johnny paused for a moment and then looked me in the eyes. “I certainly don’t put fighters in who I think are going to lose. If I thought it was a total mismatch I wouldn’t have even bothered ringing Ben. I don’t do that to my fighters.”
I said I thought it’d be a hard fight for both men and Johnny agreed. “It’s a British title. You don’t get an easy fight for a British title. Ben’s a great lad. He’s physically hard Ben, he’s got a good chin himself - and to have the aggressiveness and the stamina that he’s got - and having a good chin as well - it isn’t often you get that. He just needs to be taught how to box. Work his way in instead of just jumping in. A bit wild, too many long punches for a short guy.”
It was hard to find any negatives in the frightening demolition of Tony Owen but if one had to find any it was that Murphy was a bit too wide with his hooks and seemed to load up with every punch rather than varying his punching power. A clever boxer like Theophane could exploit that and time and counter Murphy.
“Graham Earl, I had for six years,” continued the grizzled British great. “Graham Earl, his arms are certainly no longer than Ben’s. I think they’re both an inch away from being a midget the pair of ’em. Graham Earl had the best jab I have ever worked with - and it was just through the timing, the accuracy and the speed of it. Ben could do the same. In this game you need a jab. You need a jab to open the door for everything else. And Ben ain’t got a jab. It works up to a level but it might not work at this level. If it don’t, I’m sure Ashley will know he’s been in a fight afterwards.”
Win or lose, the future is bright and wide-open for Murphy according to Eames. “Ben actually came to me about five years ago when I first opened the gym up. For some reason he didn’t carry on. He went back to Brighton and back with Brian Lawrence and so on and so forth. But there is still time in Ben’s career I think, if not this time, to win a British title. I mean I certainly wouldn’t have fear of putting him in with Anthony Crolla. He’s a lovely kid, Crolla, but I watched Crolla and Limond the other night and I think Ben would walk through both of them. Without a shadow of a doubt. He’d probably get beat up for four or five rounds but I don’t think he’d get beat up for much more after that. He’s a good kid Anthony, I love him but I just don’t think he’d be man enough to handle Ben.
Whether Theophane will be or not, it remains to be seen this coming Saturday in Sunderland.
Tags: Ashley Theophane