Murray-Mitchell takes accolades from ECHO Arena bill
By Terence Dooley
When Kevin Mitchell looked out into the Upton Park stands last May the 2003 ABA featherweight title winner must have feared that he could glimpse his top-level career disappearing over the horizon. There was no shame in the result that night, a third round reverse to WBO Interim lightweight titlist Michael Katsidis, yet there were huge question marks surrounding the Dagenham-based boxer due to the revelation that he had taken his eye off the ball in the lead up to the contest. Personal problems had dampened his resolve, impacting massively on his ability to deliver.
Throw in a well-publicised bout of binge boozing, a long layoff and the controversy caused when police arrested him on suspicion of possessing cocaine and cultivating marijuana, and it seemed to the outsider that Mitchell had blown his chances of winning a world title. Kevin, however, snatched himself a second bite at the cherry with a thrilling eighth round stoppage over the previously undefeated John Murray at Liverpool’s ECHO Arena on Saturday night.
Indeed, Mitchell’s decision to postpone the fight by a week due to a viral infection triggered fears that the two pugilists would not make it into the squared circle, that Kevin’s preparation had been thrown into disarray. The shroud of secrecy hanging over the Londoner’s camp further added to the worries only for Mitchell to reveal that the win, pretty much an away day conquest, was inspired by home comforts.
“I trained for twelve weeks this time,” said Mitchell, referring to the Katsidis wipe out. “I’ve been living at my mum’s. I went back home about two months after the world title fight. Everything’s been going really well. I asked Frank and Francis [Warren] for the John Murray fight, Frank’s the best promoter in the world so, boom, I got the fight straightaway.
“People said I needed a warm up before I fought but I don’t need that. As for John Murray, what a brilliant fella, he has a world title fight waiting for him and decides to fight me. Jimmy said at the start of camp that if he saw anything slightly out then he had an agreement with Frank that the fight was off. Thanks also to Johnny Eames at the TKO Gym, he looked it up for me every day and kept the fighters out for this long camp when I was training. I trained hard, sparred hard and this is the result. I’d like to thank Jimmy, Mark and Frank for letting me prove that I am ready to challenge for titles.”
Mitchell (134½lb) moved freely and well during the early going, Murray (134lb) has been bamboozled by lateral movement in the past but tends to wear his opponent down over the championship distance.
Kevin, though, stood with Murray at key times, especially during a torrid second round assault, to show the former English, British and EBU boss that he could brawl as well as box. With Mitchell’s little left uppercuts to the body and head, not to mention roundhouse rights to the ribs, containing more pep than Murray’s agricultural, often sluggish blows.
Kevin’s game plan was built on maximising the damage dished out whilst avoiding a prolonged toe-to-toe exchange, a plan that was constructed by top London trainer Jimmy Tibbs. “I told him to knuckle down and do the job because this kid Murray’s a very good fighter, a strong fighter,” explained the former fighter.
“As you saw tonight, he had to put that three shot combination in to hold him and shake him up. When he shook him up he went out the next round, did the same again early and caught him,” Jimmy’s take on the left hand induced eighth stanza stoppage.
Murray’s engine, a huge part of his previous ten championship victories, started to splutter around the midway point, he had landed some hefty rights in the second and third sessions yet Mitchell often took a bit of meat from the blows by moving his head as they came in, taking them on the cheeks and ear rather than directly on the chin. The ultra-determined Mitchell that had taken Carl Johanneson’s best shots and then his heart in a thrilling meeting had replaced the vacuous figure from the Katsidis fight.
“I wasn’t there (for Katsidis). You’ve seen me go late in the Johanneson win or other fights before when Frank was bringing me along – I was always stable. For that one I was sat in the dressing room with my head down. My little brother [Vinnie] hit me around the head and asked me what I was doing. I was relaxed, moving and going with the game plan even when I got caught with some shots.
“I got a few shots on the [left] ear hole [which was badly swollen] but he [Murray] was never a concussive puncher. The hardest I’ve been hit my whole life was in the third round against Carl Johanneson where he hit me with a little uppercut and I felt my jaw crack. If I come through that then I can come through anything.”
After a night of mixed performances from some of Britain’s brightest hopes, Mitchell’s strategy and Murray’s desire produced fireworks aplenty and a decisive finish. Justifying Tibbs’s faith in his charge and the trainer’s decision to welcome Mitchell back into the fold after the Katsidis debacle.
“Kevin came back, we had a chat and sat down, he told me what had happened in his personal life and I told him it could never happen again if he was going to train with us so he went back to him mum and she was part of the camp, she did her job,” revealed Tibbs.
“We had a good camp, he knuckled down, no secrets and no messing about, his personal life is sorted out and he lived the life of a fighter. When you prepare you don’t think about nothing when you walk to that ring because you know it is right.
“When he fought Katsidis he didn’t do it right. I didn’t know how serious things were in the gym but he didn’t look as good as he had preparing for Prescott. I’ll hold my hand up, we underestimated Katsidis a little bit and it got worse as it went along. Kevin didn’t look outrageously bad in the gym, but when you get to this level it is more of a mental thing.
“[On Saturday] it was all mental, he was under pressure, he sat down and listened, it paid off. When his mind’s right he can throw left uppercut, jab, anything, there ain’t nothing he can’t do.”
It was the left uppercut that signalled the end of the fight as a contest, a sizzling shot to the chin of Murray caused the Mancunian pressure fighter to stagger to his side late in the seventh. The 26-year-old looked hurt for the first time in his paid career, Joe Gallagher, John’s trainer, asking his man to respond to questions.
John did come out for more. Despite a spirited fight back, he was hit with a left hook when coming forward in round eight and floored for the first time in his life. Murray beat the count only for Mitchell’s trusty left uppercut to force the intervention of star referee Richie Davies at 1:46 of the session.
“I told him in the corner (early in the fight) that he was throwing one shot and Murray was still walking towards him. I said, ‘Three shots, only three shots’, because that rocked and stunned him, he then caught him the next round and it was over, and I say that with respect to John Murray – I hope he comes back again,” remarked Tibbs as he wound down his analysis of the finish.
“I caught him through the middle and felt him break. I could feel it in the fifth or sixth round. I could see it in the corner – he was blowing. It is all about preparation,” chimed Mitchell, who had winked at Tibbs whenever Murray landed heavily.
‘The Hammer’ will now ask Warren for bigger things. After losing to Katsidis the fallen warrior hit the boozers hard in an attempt to socialise the pain away, blowing a reported £100,000 on the high life. Kevin baulked when asked if he will have to rein in this excessive approach in order to reign.
“There’s nothing to curb now. The stresses I was having in life were leading me into the pub Monday through to Sunday. I’ve not been in my local boozer in Dagenham for a year, everyone of the people in that pub came tonight, uncles and people I hadn’t seen for a year turned up,” insisted the 26-year-old stylist.
“My mum came in the pub one day with my dad. They’ve not been together since I was four so to have them come in the pub and go, ‘Get the fuck out and get back on track’, hit me. Imagine sitting there with a beer in your hand and your dad comes in to ask what’s happening.
“My mum has been driving me to the gym. I’m sitting there with my mum and Vinnie, she said, ‘It feels like back when you was a twelve-year-old’. I look round at Vinnie in the back and it was like being a kid again.”
During Mitchell’s bleakest periods there were moments when the 32-1 (24) contender thought he could come back to the sport and produce some crucial winning performances. The former British and Commonwealth super-featherweight champion openly admits that he took inspiration from Ricky Burns’s WBO 130lb title win over Roman Martinez in September as well as other recent examples of things coming good for defeated fighters as long as they put the graft in.
Saying, “Ricky Burns has been the example for me, he got beat twice and came back the hard way. British fighters can get beat and come back for titles. Nothing is better than coming back from the corner after five rounds, feeling all fresh, seeing he’s getting beaten up and being told to stick to the plan. If you know everything is going well you dig in, keep to the plan and it pays off.
“It also shows something about all that hatred and chitter chatter crap, the last two fights that have had all that didn’t produce in the ring. Me and John are mates, we’ve had a drink with each other in Manchester, we shake hands every time we saw each other and even had a few laughs together but tonight we got in there and did the job. That is what being a gladiator is all about. What a lovely bloke John is.”
It was left to Tibbs to provide their final words on the win, the trainer insisting that people need not worry about Mitchell’s commitment ahead of future opportunities. “Kevin’s had the win tonight and doesn’t want to go out on the booze because he sees a future in front of him,” mused Tibbs.
“He knows his boxing. Kevin told me he wanted to open a scrap yard. I told him to stick to what he knows, open a boxing club up. John put a lot of pressure on him and he didn’t get hit a lot, he got banged up when John was desperate but he made him miss, left him open and fatigue overtook John so he got hurt quicker.”
As for Murray, his long unbeaten streak has been snapped in the type of tear up that the 31-1 (18), current WBC number six had long craved. The ‘Machine’ has already been written off. Francis Warren feels that both lightweights can be moved on.
“We want the Katsidis fight to show that last year was a blip,” admitted Warren as he mulled over Kevin’s options. “We promised the winner a big prize and Kevin has no reason to be anything but positive. There are fights out there for John – I’d like to see him fight [EBU holder] Gavin Rees. John got beat by a fantastic fighter tonight, he’s a true fighter and over the next couple of weeks I’m sure he’ll regroup. There’s a big future for John Murray.”
One ringside wag remarked that, “Joe Gallagher’s losing run continues”, after the result. Gallagher’s run soared to a remarkable 49-0 but has now suffered two consecutive big fight reverses. Joe has seen the loss of the ‘0’ of the fighter he describes as ‘his stamp’, he is no doubt determined to crank the results machine back into gear.
Murray has assured people that he will be back, that he won’t dwell on the contest and is already looking forward to his next contest. Throw in the fact that Mitchell has assured him a rematch if he nets a bigger title and we could see more fireworks from the two down the line.
John knows that boxing is the toughest sport, once confiding in me that it is all or nothing for him when it comes to success, that he knows little else but boxing so is determined to will himself to the top. The long climb will have to begin anew for the uncompromising pressure fighter. Murray, like Mitchell before him, is backed into a corner and knows only one way to get himself out of it, by fighting.
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