By Wolfgang Schiffbauer at ringside
It wasn’t easy. But after the final bell, WBA super world middleweight champion Felix Sturm, his team, the press and most of the 14.000 fans sitting ringside at the SAP-Arena in Mannheim, Germany, were in agreement. Sturm had won this fight. Close but clear, as they say. They did not, however, anticipate the official judging. In a surprise verdict, the bout was ruled a majority draw. While Jean-Francois Toupin had Sturm ahead 116-112, as did FightNews and numerous other press outlets, Pasquale Procopio saw it a draw at 114- 114 and Ted Gimza even scored it 115-113 for the challenger, Martin Murray.
What the boxing fans witnessed beforehand, though, was another great battle between two motivated and strong middleweight fighters. The champion Sturm, 32, making his eleventh defense of the WBA belt, started out aggressive, pressing Murray, 29, with the jab and the occasional right hand. As opposed to his last fight against Irishman Matthew Macklin, Sturm focused more on boxing than brawling and took a step back every now and then to keep the distance. The unbeaten Brit, on the other side, himself tried to set things up with his jab and did some good works with hooks both to the body and the head.
The early stanzas were close. Sturm once again showed his excellent technique and was the aggressor as well. Murray landed some good shots and defended himself well. As the fight progressed, the German champion started to get the better of Murray in most sequences of the bout. He landed the cleaner and harder punches and was more accurate as well. Besides, he steadily continued to move forward.
Starting with the second half of the fight, though, Murray had more success – his best round of the night being the eight. He repeatedly connected with good hooks and uppercuts and bruised his opponent a bit. Still, Sturm connected with some blistering combinations.
The last couple of rounds, especially the championship ones, were filled with drama. In the tenth, the bout was halted for a few seconds because a bag pack was thrown inside the ring at referee Stanley Christodoulou after he warned Murray for low blows. Sturm did a good job in the eleventh and as it later turned out, he needed to win the twelfth as well – otherwise, the decision would have gone to Murray. But the champion showed his heart and, in an exciting finish, rocked the challenger with various hard left and right hands. Murray wobbled but ultimately survived without touching the canvas.
After the fight’s conclusion, the crowd was on their feet, ready to celebrate the victory of their hometown hero Sturm. Then came the official verdict, which was received with boos. “I was the aggressor, I landed more and cleaner punches. I’m disappointed about the result, but what can you do? I thought I won the fight along the lines of 115-113”, Sturm said after the bout. “Nobody is happy with a draw.” His trainer Fritz Sdunek added: “The Macklin was more of a draw than the fight tonight. Felix won. I think it was a tit-for-tat response because of the last fight.”
Punch stats by German television station SAT.1 showed a 248 to 177 edge in connects for the champion.
The Murray team was happy with the decision. “He is a great champion and I proved my worth tonight”, the challenger told the press, “It was a tough fight and I would love to do it again.” Sturm himself praised Murray and talked about a possible second fight. “He fought his heart out and did an excellent job. And he had the balls to take this fight, he wanted to fight. Maybe we can do it again in the future.” Murray promoter and former world champion Ricky Hatton was full of compliment for his fighter, too: “Everybody thought this fight would come to soon for him but he proved the critiques wrong. Martin did a excellent job and I had him ahead slightly in a close and good fight.”
After all, the boxing fans saw an interesting battle between an improved champion in Felix Sturm and a stronger-than-expected Martin Murray. While Sturm should have gotten the nod, Murray surely fought well and deserves a lot of respect for his spirited effort. With the draw, Sturm’s record now stands at 36-2-2, Murray’s at 23-0-1.
Sturm’s fitness and conditioning coach Clive Salz had the fitting closing remarks at the post-fight press conference: “I feel Felix won. But what is important to me is that everybody respects those two athletes who did a great job tonight. They surely deserve it.”