By Graham Houston
Challenging for a championship away from home is never likely to be easy. Martin Murray discovered this when he went to Germany and came away with a draw against Felix Sturm in a fight that, at home in the U.K., he might well have won. Murray faces an even tougher assignment tonight, though, when the 30–year-old from St. Helens in northwest England ducks between the ropes in Buenos Aires to take on one of the elite fighters of the age, Argentina’s Sergio “Maravilla’ Martinez, for the WBC middleweight title, with TV coverage on HBO.
This, quite simply, is about as daunting a task as it gets for British boxer on foreign soil, with a 38,000 crowd at a soccer stadium roaring its support for Martinez.
The last time a British boxer appeared in a championship fight in Buenos Aires the result was humiliation for the visitor, with Welshman Dai Dower going out like a light in the opening round against Argentina’s great flyweight, Pascual Perez, in 1957.
I am expecting Murray to do a lot better than Dower, but winning the fight is another matter.
Martinez is an athletic, intuitive, fast and supremely gifted fighter. Although 38, Martinez still looks fresh. While Murray is a sound, physically strong, technical boxer, Martinez brings the sort of style Murray has never encountered before, a southpaw who boxes with his hands down, moves in and out, side to side, always looking to shoot in quick punches after slipping an opponent’s lead.
Murray brings an unbeaten record into the fight, however, and I think he will have grown in self-belief after the draw with Sturm for the WBA title. Murray has shown that he belongs at the world-championship level. He fought a solid, steady fight against Sturm. Going into the last round the fight was in the balance but it was Sturm who finished the stronger, rocking Murray with a right hand to win the 12th on all three judges’ cards to get the draw.
There was a point in the fight where Murray seemed to be taking over, in the eighth round, when he seemed to hurt Sturm with a series of shots. Murray showed excellent punch-variety against Sturm and he used the left jab and left hook to good effect. He came tantalisingly close to leaving Germany with the title.
So, I would expect Murray to go into tonight’s fight with a positive outlook. Although Murray has had only 26 professional bouts he has the look of a mature fighter. I don’t think he will be in awe of Martinez. He can take encouragement from the fact that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. knocked down Martinez and had him under severe pressure in the last round of their title fight. Martinez is only human — if Murray can catch him he can hurt him.
The fight has the look of a homecoming showcase for Martinez in his first bout in Argentina in 11 years but Murray exudes a calm confidence and looked in tremendous condition at the weigh-in.
If Murray can put pressure on Martinez from behind a high guard and get in with fast punches, just fighting a consistent fight without getting too carried away, he can keep in the fight, be competitive and put himself in a position to make a late rush.
Martinez has guaranteed a knockout win and he may get one but perhaps not until the late stages of the fight. Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin each made it into the 11th round against Martinez and I think that Murray can go one better by reaching the final round in a courageous but losing performance.
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