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Is John Murray Ready for the Big Stage at Lightweight?

Manchester’s new European lightweight champion John Murray proved two things in his latest victory over Welsh toughman GaryBuckland – that he is clearly the best domestic level lightweight in Britain by some distance, and that he needs stretching if he is to realise his full potential at world level.

The 25-year-old wasted no time in calling out the winner of this weekend’s WBO interim title clash between Kevin Mitchell and Michael Katsidis after his 11th round stoppage win in Widnes.

But while Murray looked dominant yet again in recording his 29th straight win, and his 17th knockout, I would urge the Joe Gallagher-trained fighter to proceed with caution before moving up to world title level.

He is a vicious and accurate body puncher and is clearly as strong as they come at lightweight – like another famous Manchester body puncher his long term future may at light-welterweight – but he has yet to come across an opponent he couldn’t bully or eventually overwhelm so far in his career. John Thaxton, Lee McAllister, Scott Lawton and Lee Meager have all been halted inside the distance by the Marauding Mancunian so far. At world level this will not always be the case.

For example, though he stopped McAllister in the eighth round, the first three or four rounds of that fight proved he can be outboxed and like most ‘bangers’ may be vulnerable to slick, classical boxers. His defense has also looked far from water-tight although it was noticeably tighter against Buckland than in his previous bout with Thaxton.

At the highest world level he will undoubtedly meet opponents who can negate his aggression and body punching with movement, as well as fighters who can match his heavy hands and largely untested chin.

The big worry for me in his challenge to Mitchell is that the likable Londoner appears capable of doing either. His stunning one punch knockout of Ignacio Mendoza and his controlled, punch-perfect 10 round points victory over Breidis Prescott displayed a versatility Murray has yet to show. Admittedly this is because he has not yet been forced to do so by any opponent so far.

Another potential long-term target for Murray, Amir Khan would also probably be a big favourite to outmaneuver Murray at this stage of his career. Murray is clearly on the verge of world class and if brought along correctly represents one of Britain’s best chances to increase its haul of world titles. But he needs to prove himself at the European and fringe world level before mixing with the Mitchells, or Juan Marquez’s of the world just yet.

A couple of European title defenses against genuine European-class opponents –with the greatest respect for Buckland, the brave late replacement was unproven above domestic level – will do Murray’s long-term world title prospects the world of good, especially if they can take him the 12 round distance for the first time.

An ideal world level breakthrough fight for Murray either at the end of this year or early next year would be Juan Diaz. The Houston Texas native has mixed at the top level with Paulie Malignaggi, Nate Campbell, Acelino Freitas, Katsidis and Marquez, with mixed results.

As a well-known and respected former world title holder at the weight he’d be a big name on Murray’s ledger and is clearly durable enough to extend the Mancunian, but lacks the concussive knockout power to stop him. Either way it would provide a big learning curve and a useful barometer of Murray’s class at the top level.

Katsidis too would be a good opponent in 12-months time, and the Australian’s relentless style would mesh with Murray’s to create a fan-friendly war. But it would possibly be too-bruising an encounter for both the winner and the loser to be worth the risk at this tender stage of Murray’s career.

As stated Murray has bags of talent, frightening strength and appears to have the rock-hard constitution required of any elite boxer. But almost all punchers are vulnerable to a top-clash boxer and Murray probably needs to realize he is not invincible before he ventures into the highest echelons of world boxing.

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Matthew Vee is a journalist based in the Midlands, England, who has been an avid boxing fan since his early teens. He currently works as a news and sports journalist and covers small hall boxing on a regular basis. He is a long-time follower of boxing at all levels from area title to pound-for-pound levels using television, the internet and magazines.