By Nick Halling
Former British and European lightweight champion John Murray appears to have straightened out his sometimes chaotic lifestyle ahead of his vital all-Manchester clash with Anthony Crolla in the pair’s home city next month.
Murray is older and wiser these days, and admits that he has spent much of his early career burning the candle at both ends. He could get away with it in younger years, but after a two-year absence, when a brain scan abnormality threatened his entire future, reality has set in. Murray knows he has to live the life if he wants to achieve a second crack at a world title.
Proof that the one-time hellraiser really has changed his ways is the news that he went on his brother Joe’s stag night earlier this month – and had nothing stronger than a soft drink. Anyone familiar with the John Murray of yesteryear will find this almost impossible to believe.
Murray is also putting some miles on his car, travelling across the Pennines to Rothwell in Yorkshire, where he trains with his manager, Mike Marsden, up to four times a week. He and Marsden have been together for a number of years, including the defeats to Kevin Mitchell and Brandon Rios, the brain scan scare, and the acrimonious split with trainer Joe Gallagher – who just happens to look after Crolla.
Further proof that Murray is serious about his business these days is that addition to his team of master strength and diet specialist Kerry Kayes. Kayes, who recently started working with cruiserweight Tony Bellew, doesn’t waste time on boxers who lack dedication. He is a man whose services are highly in demand.
Murray is also developing a career as a trainer, looking after his brother Joe (whose failure to impress as a professional despite medalling as an Olympian is one of the great mysteries of British boxing), and a couple of young prospects. With a daughter less than a year old to keep him on his toes, Murray no longer has unlimited spare time in which to stray into mischief.
In two fights since coming back from a two year absence following the Rios loss and the medical scare, the Manchester puncher has had two comfortable wins, including a clinical demolition of tough Scot John Simpson (who admittedly was out of his natural weight division), and looks close to being back to his best.
Marsden is not thought to be making any significant changes to his style, other than a few refinements aimed at improving his already considerable power.
The stakes are high in his next fight. Unlike his opponent, Murray does not have the support structure of a major promotional deal behind him. If he loses, it could be the end of the line. But in the white-hot domestic lightweight division, big things could be on the horizon if he defeats Crolla. Old rival Mitchell, and former WBO boss Ricky Burns might pop up on his radar.
Anyone looking for an omen as to how next month’s fight will go might consider what’s happening the Premier League. Murray is a passionate fan of title-chasers Manchester City, while Crolla is equally loyal to fast-fading Manchester United. Earlier this week, City battered their local rivals 3-0. Murray confidently expects a similarly one-sided affair when they meet in the ring on 19 April.
Exciting times ahead for Barry Awad, better known in boxing circles as Kid Galahad, who is threatening to confirm himself as the next world-class fighter to come off the Sheffield-based Ingle gym’s conveyor belt.
The 24-year-old improved to 16-0 at the weekend (with eight stoppages), following an utterly dominant performance over the capable Spaniard Sergio Prado. That victory earned him the European super bantamweight belt, which can now be added to the British title he won in his previous fight against Jazza Dickens.
Both victories were televised on Channel 5 in the UK, giving Galahad important exposure. He didn’t disappoint, and looks comfortable under the glare of the TV cameras.
Despite boxing on Saturday night, serious grafter Galahad was back in the gym on Monday to continue his strength work. Such dedication comes as no surprise to his connections. When he first turned up at the Ingle gym, he spent the first month sweeping floors and putting himself through the tedium of footwork as the Ingles tested his dedication. He stuck at it without complaint, and they sensed they might have another rough diamond worth polishing.
The problem now, however, is where to take him next. Logic points to the two domestic super bantams ahead of him in the pecking order, Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton. Quigg currently holds the WBA’s “regular” belt, defending next month, while Frampton is building massive support in his native Northern Ireland, and is edging closer to a shot at the WBC crown.
Neither man would have anything to gain, and potentially plenty to lose, by agreeing to tangle with Galahad. As one Ingle insider commented ruefully: “Frampton and Quigg wont even face each other, so we’re not expecting them to put the welcome mat out for Barry.”
One alternative might be to continue to add to his growing collection of belts. Galahad is mandatory for the vacant Commonwealth title, which has been lying idle since Frampton destroyed Steve Molitor 18 months ago.
If Galahad is able to add Commonwealth to British and European titles, a step up to world class is virtually inevitable. And at the very least, it would send out another noisy reminder to Quigg and Frampon that Britain doesn’t just boast two world class super bantams.
Rendall Munroe was serious when he said he had no plans to retire. Word is that the one-time Boxing Binman will be popping up on the Manchester show on 19 April as the opponent when Josh Warrington defends his Commonwealth featherweight title.
There is a chasm of experience between the two. Munroe is former British, Commonwealth and European super bantam boss who has also boxed for the WBA title in Japan. In total, including “international” fights, Munroe has had 14 outings with a significant belt on the line.
In contrast, Warrington has had just 16 appearances since turning pro in October 2009. He may lack power, but the Yorkshireman’s skill set is impressive and his workrate is relentless. He won’t give the veteran a moment’s rest.
Munroe’s appearance in the other corner next month is dependent on his beating Youssef Al Hamidi in Blackpool on Saturday night. If he can’t beat Hamidi convincingly, he might as well pack it in.
The news will be a disappointment to Scotland’s John Simpson. The former British feather champ had hoped to see his name drawn from that hat. An opportunity might still come up should current domestic champion Lee Selby relinquish his title. With the Welshman being groomed for a larger stage, that seems merely a matter of time (and indeed may already have happened without any fanfare). A match for the Commonwealth and vacant British featherweight belts is one for later in the year, and Simpson, potentially a prime candidate, will not be the only one watching developments with interest.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.