Commonwealth middleweight champion Martin Murray is a man in a hurry. Despite only having been a professional for three years, the 28 year old from St Helens insists he is more than ready to take on the best Britain has to offer and is desperate to prove it.
“If I could only have two fights next year, firstly I’d face Darren Barker and then I’d fight Matthew Macklin. No disrespect to either but I’d beat them,” says the confident Murray.
After turning professional at the relatively late age of 25, Murray has powered his way to 21 straight victories and finds himself hovering around the top of the British rankings. His route into the life of a professional fighter is a familiar one.
“I always boxed from being ten years old and fought as an amateur until I was 21. Then I made some mistakes, went down the wrong path and ended up in prison. When I got out I won the ABA championships and represented England but then had to go back to prison over some earlier incidents” says the Lancastrian. “I’ve been really active in the three years since then and made a lot of progress. As well as my trainer Oliver Harrison, my friends and family have supported and helped me a lot”
If you haven’t seen Murray fight, the first thing that strikes you about him is his size. At 6 feet tall and broad he is an imposing figure. He is also very composed in the ring and picks his punches beautifully. His crowd pleasing attacking style is so far proving popular.
“I’m a good box fighter who goes out to get the win. I can attack and defend and always go out to entertain the crowd”.
With respected trainer Oliver Harrison in his corner Murray feels he has the ideal teacher to help him achieve his goals.
“Oliver improves your bad points and makes your good points even better. We do a lot of work on technique. Some days I’ll do rounds with people of every weight in the gym working my technique. Other days I might do 12 rounds with lighter weight guys just working purely on my defense. Another day we’ll change it minute by minute. A minute on attack, a minute on defense then a minute on the jab. We train hard when we need to don’t worry about that but getting into wars in training every day shortens your career”.
Nowadays gym work is just one part of a fighter’s conditioning program and Murray supplements his actual boxing training with a rigorous strength and conditioning program. “We do either flat, hill or shuttle sprints once a week and they are killers. I’ve also been working with Martin Cullen over in Wigan on my strength and conditioning for years. We do lots of plyometric and explosive work. I put a lot of the reason for my sheer size at the weight down to him. Some fighters are always changing trainers. That doesn’t do you any good as they all have their own ideas. I’ll have the same trainer for all of my career”.
As he is so big it is easy to imagine that boiling down to 160lbs would prove a massive struggle. Does he intend on staying at middleweight for the foreseeable future? “Without a shadow of a doubt. There is a lot I want to achieve at middleweight. I don’t see why I should move up. I’m big and strong and I’ve not yet gone into a fight feeling weak. For the Carlos Nasciemento fight I had Kerry Kayes helping me and we got everything absolutely bang on weight wise”.
Murray’s big break came when he won the Middleweight version of the one night Prizefighter tournament. While the popular series has increased in quality recently, in its early days it was seen as a way for the second and third tier of domestic fighters to grab a piece of the limelight and maybe pick up a career high payday.
Murray’s performance that night marked him out as a fighter with loftier ambitions. After taking decisions over fellow unbeatens Joe Rea and Danny Butler, Murray claimed the title with a thrilling victory in the final against the hard punching but erratic Cello Renda. “People do Prizefighter for one of two reasons. It’s either to boost your profile or for one last payday on your way down. I did it to show people what I could do,” says Murray.
While recent winners of the series have used their victory to propel them into major title fights, Murray was under no illusions as to where the victory would take him. “I know people like Audley Harrison and Willie Casey have gone on to European title fights after winning it but I wasn’t ready for 12 round fights at that point,” he says. “Before I knew it though I was starting to ask for those type of fights. I’m ready now.”
Having worked his way to a record of 21-0 Murray has so far answered every question asked of him. With just eight of those victories coming within the distance the only criticism that could be leveled at him is a perceived lack of power. “There are two reasons for that. Early on I was put in with a lot of light heavyweights. Bad matchmaking. Secondly, I’ve found a lot of fighters just cover up when I hit them and leave no gaps. I spoke to Peter Metrevski after I beat him for the Commonwealth title. He’s a great guy but he told me he knew he couldn’t beat me after the first punch I landed. Me and Oliver know how hard I hit though”.
Murray’s latest victory, a third round stoppage of the big punching Brazilian Nascimento for the WBA intercontinental middleweight belt seems to back up his claim. “As a boxer you always want to take on opponents who come to fight you. We watched tapes of his fight with Pawel Wolak and knew he would attack me. After I cut him in the second round he threw everything at me but he left gaps for me to exploit”.
Murray is competing in a thriving British middleweight division. As well as the world rated Matthew Macklin and Darren Barker it contains bright young hopes Craig McEwan, Nick Blackwell and Joe Selkirk. “Its a packed division. I know Joe Selkirk well and he’s a quality fighter. I don’t know the others but they are all good fighters. The middleweight division has always been a classic one. The only problem is making the fights happen”. Although Murray is impatient to move on and make 2011 the year he really breaks through, he is aware that the fights he longs for may be hard to make. “I do think I’m an avoided fighter. There are 2 domestic fighters ranked above me and neither of them want to fight me. Darren Barker’s unbeaten and is the number one contender for Macklin’s European belt so he has nothing to gain and everything to lose from facing me. I don’t criticize though. I understand how boxing politics works and one day it could be me not wanting to take a risky title defense before a big title fight”.
With that in mind, if the team at Hatton Promotions were unable to maneuver him into a major domestic fight, but a fringe world title opportunity arose, would he take it? “Yeah. Fights can be hard to make and nowadays everything doesn’t have to be done the traditional way. I just want to do what I can to get to the top. You can always go for the British title on the way back down. Look at Ricky Hatton, he didn’t win the European title, gave up the British title quickly and made his name defending the WBU belt.”
So with the Commonwealth belt safely in his possession and a high domestic ranking, 2011 looks set to be the year Murray introduces himself on the international stage. While he would willingly grab any chance presented to him it seems one particular domestic fighter has irked him.
“If it was gonna happen for Matthew Macklin it would have happened by now. I hear he had my name put to him recently and he claimed he’s a level above me. He isn’t. He’s a step ahead of me and that’s purely because he has more experience. Recently he hasn’t impressed me at all and I don’t think he’s as good as he thinks he is”.
The middleweight division will be one to watch in 2011 and given the chances, Martin Murray could just be the fighter who emerges as the man to beat.