BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Throughout their history, Argentina and Great Britain have gone through starkly different eras in their relationship. The wounds of the Falklands war are still very much alive, just as the distant but bitter remembrance of the failed British Invasions of 1806 and ’07.
But the rocky relationship between the two countries has also included periods of great mutual collaboration in times of peace, symbolized by the magnificent English Tower built by the British residents of the country as a homage to the Argentine people for the nation’s centennial celebration in 1910, and which stands directly in front of Martin Murray’s hotel (across the street for a Falkland memorial monument, no less) as a silent reminder of the glory to be achieved.
And Murray, THE RING’s No. 7-rated middleweight, would rather leave exactly that kind of lasting impression seared into the hearts and minds of Argentine fans as he attempts to grab local icon Sergio Martinez’s RING and WBC title belts in front of some 50,000 of the loudest sports fans in the world this Saturday, in atask worthy of all the queen’s men. Only that, on this occasion, Murray (25-0-1, 11 KOs) will be Her Majesty’s lone knight in shining armor knocking on the door of this seemingly unconquerable target.
Confidence, however, is the last thing he lacks. Even though the fan support, in his case, is expected to be considerably smaller.
“I think there’s about 50,” replies Murray, when asked about the number of hardcore British fight fans expected to make the trek from his native St. Helens to the ringside of his biggest fight to date.
“It’s going to be a great experience. You can’t prepare for something like that. You can’t train for that unless you train in a stadium or try to reenact it first. There is only one way of getting over it and it’s mentally. And I am ready for it all. I am going to be nervous, as anyone in his right mind would be, but when that time comes I know that I am ready and I will become world champion”.
There is, however, one way for Murray to reenact the feeling of being a prohibitive underdog facing the most hostile possible situation, and that’s remembering his biggest previous challenge. In December of 2011, in his first attempt at a world title and his first fight away from home, Murray traveled to Germany to face veteran middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm. After 12 tough, back-and-forth rounds, the fight was declared a split draw in what many people saw as a blatant robbery, and which also marked the start of Sturm’s decline which eventually led to him losing his belt a couple of fights later.
This time, Murray seems confident in his ability to provoke his opponent’s decline in a more expedited manner.
“To be honest with you, like I said before, if I was going to go over to Germany, if I was going to try to beat the champion in his own backyard, I was going to have to do it more convincingly than what I did”, says Murray about his failed first attempt at a title belt. “The fight was so close that it was never going to go my way. I know from experience, then, that I can’t get a close decision for me. It’s not going to happen. It’s going to have to be by stoppage or by winning a lot more convincingly.”
And even though this new opportunity has a number of firsts of its own to overcome (his first fight in America, and his first fight against a southpaw as a professional), Murray believes that he has improved in the one department that he needed to improve most.
“The only thing with Sturm was experience. You can’t buy experience, you got to learn it. If I had more experience going into the Sturm fight to change things, then I could definitely win it. But now I know what I got to do against Martinez”, said Murray, who is coming off a sixth-round stoppage of Venezuela’s Jorge Navarro last November.
But as much as Murray values his recently acquired experience, he has no problem acknowledging that he is the one at a disadvantage in this particular department.
“Definitely,” says Murray. “As good as Martinez is in every other field, like speed, punching power, awkwardness, movement, I think the biggest one is experience. He is a true champion. He dug deep when he needed to do it, and he always comes up on top. So I think the first thing to worry about Martinez is his vast experience fighting elite fighters in all different types of styles. It’s going to be a big factor”.
Sheer numbers are not always the best way to determine an opponent’s experience, but Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs) has twice the fights Murray has, and against tougher opposition.
But as his promoter Ricky Hatton recently pointed out in an interview with THE RING, Murray’s willingness to take on any challenge is what will ultimately lead him to earn the experience he needs to become great one day. And Murray agrees with that point of view.
“By far, Martinez has fought at a higher level than me, but the only reason I’ve not been fighting in those type of fights is the fact that I’ve not been given a chance,” he said. “I got my chance against Sturm, got a draw in Germany, and since then I’ve said yes to every single fight but the only tough one was Sturm. I got my chance then, and now a couple of fights later I got my fight with Martinez. I got a new chance to prove myself against the world’s best.”
One of Murray’s most noticeable advantages on fight night will be his size. He towers a full two inches over Martinez, and usually puts on about 15 pounds between the weigh-in and fight time. But when it comes to running down a checklist, Murray seems certain that there is one particular department that will make the difference.
“If I had to aim for one (pauses)… I can outthink him,” says Murray. The air in that phrase, however, hints to the idea that his outthinking of Martinez won’t be focused on his quickness to adapt to any situation on the spot, but rather to finding holes in his opponent’s strategy and take advantage of them.
“I can outsmart Martinez. We’ve just been working on the southpaw stance. This is the first southpaw that we’re going to face as a professional. We’ve been practicing a lot, because he’s a southpaw and a very tricky one at that, so we got a lot of southpaws coming over to spar with me.”
Martinez’s southpaw stance and awkward movements in the ring are not the only riddle Murray will be presented with. Martinez’s has shown that his level of energy can peak and fade at any given moment in the fight, dropping his stamina sharply in the last round against Chavez Jr. but also surging late in the fight against Mathew Macklin to score a crushing KO. For good measure, Murray affirms he is ready for either version of the man they call Maravilla.
“I’ve not trained for Martinez as someone who’s going to fade. I’ve trained for him as a complete fighter, as someone who knows when to dig deep when he needs to,” says Murray. “He’s showed in other fights when he could fade or when he could get stronger. But with the tactic that we’ve got, we know we can get him in the ring, regardless of when he can step it up or slow it down.”
And even though his challenge within the ring will be evident, Murray doesn’t lose focus on the challenge that will surround him, in the sound of 50,000 throats ready to voice their derision towards a British fighter daring to venture into Argentine soil to take the crown from the hands of a local fighter. And he is conscious that the expected animosity of the fans in attendance will be his greatest challenge and it will eventually make his victory even bigger. Which makes his goal, in turn, all the clearer.
“Win, obviously,” he declares, flatly dismissing the vision of those who see him as little more than a glorified dancing partner for the night’s belle of the ball. “I want to be remembered as someone who, win or lose, has given a great account of himself. I’ll fight like a true warrior, and I would like people to remember that I fought like a warrior.”
Win or lose, such a performance would put Murray in a position to be remembered in the same line as Bennie Briscoe, Rodrigo Valdez, and many other fighters who came, saw and did not conquer, but left their hearts in the ring and who live in the hearts of Argentine boxing fans as symbols of the standards of toughness to be overcome on the path to glory.
A toughness that Murray seeks to redefine not with the roar of the crowd, but rather with the humbling sounds of silence.
“I see two things”, says Murray, when asked about his premonitions for the night of the fight. “One: the crowd being completely quiet, stunned, everybody being shocked. The crowd just appreciating the fight that me and Martinez are going to put on. And two: me becoming champion and getting cheered.”
A tall order, indeed. And worthy (should it ever come to happen) of a commemorative tower of its own.
Photos / Diego Morilla, Lars Baron-Bongarts, Alex Grim-Bongarts, Juan Mabromata-AFP