Martin Murray, a British middleweight out of Ricky Hatton’s burgeoning stable, gets a surprise tilt at German Felix Sturm’s WBA title. Murray is unbeaten in a 23 fight career, and is the current British and Commonwealth champion. Sturm, 36-2-1, is of course the WBA’s long-standing champion, making a twelfth defence of the strap he won back in 2007 (in fact he’s now been promoted to the status of “Super” champion, whatever that is).
To date Murray has been a workmanlike performer, strong and big at the weight but perhaps a little light on skills, and on paper Sturm, fighting at home, will be expected to turn back the challenge of the 29 year old Mancunian. There’s a spectacular gap in the quality of the two fighter’s opposition, with Murray’s professional campaign restricted to mostly domestic journeymen and a smattering of low-level Europeans. The German, of course, has shared a ring with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Ronald Hearns.
Hatton has been playing up Murray’s chances here in the UK, suggesting that the time might just be right to topple the 32 year old champion. In his last fight Sturm struggled mightily with the challenge of Matthew Macklin, another Brit who pressurised Sturm throughout 12 rounds and appeared to have earned the decision, only for the judges to give the German the nod. Murray and Macklin are not dissimilar in approach, but Murray is perhaps the bigger and stronger man, so if Sturm shows any signs of decay it’s conceivable that Murray could come away with the win. To do so, he’ll have to stop or knock out the champion, because German titleholders do not lose decisions on German soil.
The next night John Murray, no relation, takes on WBA Lightweight Champion Brandon Rios in the chief support to Margarito-Cotto at Madison Square Garden. Back in July Murray, 31-1, 18 KO’s, took the losing part in British boxing’s 2011 fight of the year, when he was stopped by the mercurial Kevin Mitchell in eight rounds in a scintillating edge-of-the-seat fight that had the cognoscenti purring. Mitchell was supposed then to proceed to the Rios fight, but got himself into some legal difficulties that prevented him from leaving the country, so Murray has stepped in. Doubtless Rios will be expecting an easier night with the lesser challenger, but maybe not so.
Until the Mitchell loss, Murray was highly thought of here in the UK – a strong, competitive lightweight with the heart of a lion and a prodigious engine, it seemed he simply got his tactics all wrong in the Mitchell fight and ended up playing to the Londoners strengths. As a result he sustained cuts around the eyes that clearly inhibited him and ultimately led to his downfall.
There’s a suspicion that Rios, 28-0-1, might not be all he’s cracked up to be – his opposition has been less than stellar, and there’s a chance he might not have come up against a fighter quite as persistent as the Englishman, and could come unstuck. He certainly doesn’t appear to be on the radar of the big players in his and surrounding divisions – in the buildup to the Marquez fight Manny Pacquaio was asked if he’d considered a match with Rios; Pacquiao’s answer – “Who’s he?”.
Murray’s only loss is to Mitchell, who one suspects might just become something very special, and until that setback he had the longest unbeaten streak in British boxing. Murray has fought and won in the US and Canada before so travels well – he’ll certainly give the young Texan champion a run for his money, and might even spring the upset.