As Martin Murray counts down the days towards his challenge to WBA middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm on Friday, Dec. 2, at the SAP-Arena in Mannheim, Germany, the undefeated-but-unheralded pug from St. Helens, Merseyside, England knows he’s up against the odds.
It’s a position that he’s accustomed to being in, however.
The 29-year-old Murray could hardly imagine himself being in this position as he sat in a British prison on his fourth stint shortly after winning the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABA) welterweight title in 2004, this time for his role in a violent brawl. Boxing had long been his chosen outlet for his aggression, and when he was out of the gym and out in the pubs with his friends, trouble was never too far behind.
“Prison was prison,” said Murray (23-0, 10 knockouts) of his ordeal. “I didn’t want to be there but I just got my head down and got on with it. Everything was going well for me boxing wise at one stage when I went in so I was gutted, but I used my time well and trained like a machine.
“It gave me a chance to look at my life and made me realize that this was not the life that I wanted. I used it as a drive to make me determined to do something good with my life and I think that this is why I am as determined as I am, not just in boxing but in life as well. I want to be a success.”
Boxing has always been in Murray’s life, ever since he walked into the Glass Boxing Gym in St. Helens at age seven. Murray followed his best friend’s lead to the gym, where Murray’s grandfather served as club secretary. Martin learned the ins and outs of the sport while sparring with his brother, a matchup usually put together by his grandfather.
“I suppose it was always in me to be a boxer,” said Murray.
Murray turned pro in 2007 and now trains with Oliver Harrison out of Manchester, the hometown of Murray’s promoter Ricky Hatton. In 2008, Murray entered the popular Prizefighter tournament as the odds on favorite and won it all, along with it’s £25,000 prize. He has also claimed both the British and Commonwealth middleweight titles, which are well-regarded regional belts in the United Kingdom.
But in Sturm (36-2-1, 16 KOs), of Cologne, Germany, Murray is skipping over many rungs on the ladder on his way to a title shot against the 32-year-old titlist. Still Murray welcomes the challenge, believing that a spike in competition is what his career needs at 29 years old.
“Sturm is by far the most experienced fighter I have ever fought,” said Murray, “but there comes a time in your boxing career that you’ve got to make that step up in class. Otherwise you can get stuck at a certain level and this is what I’ve done. I wasn’t getting anywhere in terms of getting the fights I wanted in England so when this fight got put to me I jumped at it.”
Sturm, who most remember from his controversial 2004 loss to Oscar de la Hoya, is in his third reign as a middleweight titlist. The 32-year-old boxer formerly known as Adnan Catic will be making his eleventh defense of the belt he had won back from Javier Castillejo after losing it in a surprise knockout defeat in 2006.
Murray believes he may be getting to Sturm at the right time in his career. Sturm, who has never been known to overwhelm opponents with his sheer activity, was slow out of the gates in his last fight against Matthew Macklin in June. Macklin faded down the stretch as Sturm rallied to salvage a split decision, a verdict that Murray agrees with.
“He underestimated Macklin but he was world class when he let his shots go,” said Murray. “I don’t think he’ll make the same mistake twice so I will get a better Sturm. I think Sturm is a world class fighter but his work rate has dropped over the past couple of years and I don’t think he’s as hungry as he once was either. He is very experienced though and he knows how to time the fight and rounds well to get the decision in Germany.
“If the same Sturm who Macklin fought turns up against me I know I’ll win.”
Few in the international boxing community are expecting Murray to overcome the task set before him.
But perhaps he prefers it that way.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.