By Terence Dooley
Martin Murray has plenty of options at 160lbs after raising his game, not to mention his profile, when taking WBA titlist Felix Sturm to a twelve round draw in Germany on December 2nd. Murray entered Mannheim’s SAP Arena as the underdog, however his muscular and intelligent performance underlined the 29-year-old’s place on the world stage.
The six-footer believes the defending champion received the shock of his life, telling me that ‘Leonidas’ raised his performance level after earning a split-decision over Matthew Macklin earlier in the year.
“I’ve only watched it once but have thought about it since,” stated Murray during a recent phone call. “The fight was close. Me and [his trainer] Oliver [Harrison] said that if we had fought the Sturm who turned up for Macklin we’d have stopped him because he never trained properly for Macklin but he trained properly for me.
“Sturm said it was his best training camp for ten years, that he was coming back to make an impression, and I think he thought he was just going to smash me. If the guy from the Macklin fight had turned up it wouldn’t have been close.
“I always said that if you are in the champion’s backyard you’ve got to stop him. The rounds were very, very close and the different scores reflected that. The draw has opened doors for me – I can get big fights now.”
Scores of 113-115, 116-112 and 114-114 were a fair reflection of the nip-and-tuck nature of the fight, Murray opting to use his boxing skills rather than tearing into the title holder. Indeed, Murray’s patient approach in the opening rounds may have cost him yet the St. Helens man feels that an early surge could have been counterproductive.
“You never know how you’re going to feel,” said Murray when asked if he regrets not taking it to Sturm from the first bell. “If I could have done that I would have done it but it was my first time on that stage and at that level, plus only my second twelve rounder, so I didn’t want to burn myself out and more importantly fall flat on my face because a lot of people were behind me and I didn’t want to walk onto a shot. I am always a cautious fighter anyway so approached those couple of rounds with caution. If I could have done anything differently I’d have done it there and then on the night.
“I knew it was going to be that type of fight because we’ve both got similar styles and it was cagey at times. Sturm was surprised because he was letting go with big shots and they didn’t faze me at all on the odd time they did get through – I think this is the reason why he won’t give me a rematch.”
Sturm tried to push Macklin into a return earlier in the year; even going as far as issuing a statement indicating that the rematch had been signed. This time, though, the 32-year-old has talked a return down by claiming that the draw flattered his challenger.
“It is funny how he gave Macklin and Griffin a rematch but didn’t offer me one,” blasted Murray, 23-0-1 (10). “It is because he knows that if we did fight again I’d beat him. My manager Neil spoke to him afterwards when we were getting tests and Sturm said, ‘I don’t want the rematch’. Then we had the press conference, he shook my hand and said, ‘Your time will come’, so I don’t know if that means he will take me on again or thinks I’ll get there anyway.
“You can look at it both ways. We should have put it in the contract that a draw means an automatic rematch but the ball was in his court – I was just happy to get the chance. Maybe he should give me another one because it (a rematch clause) was in the contract on his side. He’s on his way down, there aren’t many fights left in him, he could be holding out for a big payday but if he gets a big fight his opponent will want big money themselves so I reckon things would even themselves out if he fought me as I wouldn’t ask for huge money.”
German fight fans do not bay for blood or boo and hiss visiting fighters yet the size of the stadium, event and crowd could have prompted a few first night nerves in Murray. The opposite proved to be the case, with the visitor shedding pre-fight tensions as soon as he arrived at the stadium.
“I felt great,” he recalled. “I trained with confidence and was thinking about Sturm constantly so didn’t feel it in the ring. I was nervous a day before the fight but didn’t want to burn nervous energy on the night so once I got in the dressing room I started shadow boxing and felt comfortable. I felt my time had come.
“You don’t know how you’re going to react or feel until you get to that level. Then it came, I just went in there and if the fight comes again, which I don’t think will be the case because I saw it in his eyes that he was shocked, then I’d take it.
“All credit to Oliver, I just turn up at the gym and do what he tells me. I never go out there doing my own thing. Oliver comes up with the tactics and I box to orders. We fought a better Sturm than Macklin did, we knew he would be better and as the fight went on and got to the parts where Macklin faded I got stronger. I learned loads.”
When it comes to the big names on domestic scene, Murray was knocking on the door earlier this year, he kicked it down in Mannheim and now feels that he is rubbing elbows with both Macklin and Darren Barker as the joint British number one.
“You only have to look at my British title win in June,” his response to my question of whether he is on a par with his domestic rivals. “Macklin and Barker were both in the (Sky TV) studio talking about me and saying that they were a level above me because all people went on about was them two – I slipped under the radar. All I needed was a chance; I was never going to get it with them two. I got that chance against Sturm, proved myself and am being linked with big names.
“There’s (Andy) Lee and Darren linked with me, but I think it is right that there should be a belt on the line for me and Darren if we fight, and I’m chasing Sturm. Lou DiBella put an offer in for Lee but it wasn’t good enough so we rejected it.
“It would be great if we could get the round robin going and face off. I would fight either of them two (Macklin and Barker). It would be great if there was a world title involved and I think that is all we’re missing. To be honest with you, if Macklin won a world title then he wouldn’t be bothered with us but if Barker or me won it we would make the fight. It could happen if the price is right.”
Macklin takes on Sergio Martinez on March, a win for ‘Mack The Knife’ would set up the possibility of an all-British middleweight title showdown. Murray, however, thinks that Macklin’s style will be meat and drink to Martinez despite Sergio struggling against Barker in October.
Saying, “I think Martinez will win the fight. I don’t think Macklin will push him like he did Sturm because Martinez won’t let him. Martinez won’t just stand there. Macklin will leave himself wide open. Then again, Martinez is getting on now; he’s 36 so he may not have a lot left. Barker approached Martinez defensively and it was no good for Martinez but Macklin likes a good tear up so I can see Martinez doing him a lot earlier than Barker.”
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