The Pugilist

Nearly-man Murray a Brit we can be very proud of

The Pugilist

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When it comes to boxing, more so than any other sport, the British fan loves having something to ridicule.

This past Saturday was as prime an example as any that domestic products make more of a name for themselves as water-cooler talk than they do in a strictly sporting sense. Even before a hand had been taped, there was talk of Amir Khan being washed-up and Audley Harrison being a sitting duck.

It’s easy to blame this purely on the media, but the media will prioritise stories which garner the most attention. Supply for the demand, and all that. So the blame game is a bit rich, to say the least.

Celebrity-like figures such as Amir and Audley will always get more website hits for popping to the shops than an unheralded British star ever will for putting in a career-defining performance.

Case in point: Buenos Aires, Argentina in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

While the fight night ended for those who cherish their early weekend starts after Khan’s decision win over Julio Diaz drew more criticism than praise, it had only just begun for Martin Murray and his loyal supporters.

Middleweight Murray is far from an unknown on these shores, but it’s safe to say he’s a long way off the canon of names such as Khan, Harrison, David Haye, Tyson Fury and the London 2012 Olympians who have since turned pro.

Nonetheless, Murray stepped into the ring with Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez, the man currently regarded by the experts as the world’s fourth best boxer behind only Juan Manuel Marquez, Andre Ward and Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, for the WBC championship. The man who had stopped two Brits in recent fights: Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, both in the penultimate round.

It was not the St Helens man’s first world title opportunity: late in 2011 he gave Felix Sturm an almighty scrap in his native Germany only to perhaps take his foot of the gas in the final two rounds and watch in disbelief as the judges ruled the bout a split draw.

It was the only bout of his career that he had not won until Argentina, where once again the challenger came up short on foreign soil in the eyes of the decision-makers.

But respected boxing writer Kevin Mitchell wrote that Murray gained more in defeat than Amir Khan did in victory. And he’s right.

Unfortunately, that does little for Murray, in the grand scheme of things.

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Before elaborating on his brave performance in the rain-soaked Estadio José Amalfitani, home of football side Velez Sarsfield, I’m going to get some self-confessed bitterness over the result off my chest.

Far from being a narrow-minded Brit who thinks ‘their’ guy is always the worthy winner, it is not the Martinez decision victory which agitates me. Rather, the way in which it happened.

Steve Bunce – who could barely contain his frustration at certain aspects of the fight whilst fronting the live coverage from the studio – felt the same way. And I am certain we are not the only two people feeling a tad disconcerted.

Firstly, of course, there’s the phantom knockdown.

After starting cautiously and forsaking early rounds in order to gauge his world-class opponent without making a fatal error, Murray slowly but surely started to move in on the champion, connecting more and more as he stuck rigorously to his gameplan and turned up the heat as the bout progressed.

Keeping his guard high and admittedly using whatever he could to rattle Maravilla’s confidence with a couple of borderline low shots, one or two leads with the head and some choice smack talk, Murray caught his man perfectly in round eight of the slow-burner.

Martinez looked potentially ripe for the picking, but a crucial decision in the 10th denied Murray a second knockdown, apparently for a tangle of feet which replays showed was completely non-existent.

That was frustrating, as was Murray’s own failure to capitalise. Once again in the final two rounds he stepped off and Martinez was able to close out the contest on top. This was more frustrating on Murray’s own part, but the worst bit for Bunce, myself and many vampire Brits who stayed up was to come.

Finally, rather than the usual measured communications with opponent and team followed by congregating in the middle of the ring in anticipation of the decision, Martinez was already off celebrating.

He knew he had won. Which wouldn’t be a problem had the fight not been so legitimately close. Instead, all three judges had Martinez three rounds up despite one (given) knockdown against him in a very even fight.

My scorecard had Murray up by one point – the given knockdown deciding it, if you will. I would not have argued, however, against a Martinez decision by one round or another draw.

There is no way Sergio won by three rounds. But, unfortunately, home-nation bouts work this way more often than not.

Martinez knowing he was safe when he most certainly was not, at the very least, makes it understandable that supporters of the quiet family man from England would be a bit incensed. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just Steve Bunce.

While the Furys, the Hayes, the Khans and such wind up even their own with brash words and dubious fight selection, Murray has no qualms travelling the world and taking on the big challenges.

Because he isn’t a British sporting celebrity, he kind of has to. Hopefully, it will eventually pay off.

I can see Murray lifting a world middleweight title one day. It may come down to if he can be more selective about how he gets there, or if he can finally work on how he finishes fights. But as it stands he is a more deserving British fighter than many of those whose every word is given headline treatment.

That said, he realises the door on a Martinez rematch has already been slammed shut, now that the champion and his adoring Argentine fans have what they wanted from the arrangement:

“I’d love the chance to fight Martinez again, but there’s no way I’ll get the opportunity,” Murray admitted after landing back in Blighty.

“Martinez is among the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world and I had him down twice, bossed him and lost a very close debatable decision in his own backyard, so I think I’ve proven I belong at world level.

“I’m obviously gutted but I’m happy and proud that I can leave Argentina with my head held high.

“If it was fair scoring then I would have got the decision but it was always going to be an uphill battle in Argentina. I knew that when I accepted the fight.”

Both to world title middleweights and his fellow British boxers, Murray remains a ‘nearly man’ in the sport.

But, that will only make it even more gratifying if and when he finally does reach the top of the mountain.

Liam Happe

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