Murray forced to wait while Khan marches on

John Murray

European lightweight champion John Murray

Is there a more unlucky fighter in Britain than European lightweight champion John Murray? The 26-year-old Mancunian has won each one of his 30 paid bouts since he turned professional in September 2003, with 18 of his opponents not lasting the distance.

And yet Murray remains virtually unknown outside of his native Manchester and among hardcore boxing fans, and still awaits an opportunity to fight for a world title.

One thing is for sure, it’s not for the want of trying. Last month a proposed showdown with fellow Briton Kevin Mitchell (31-1, 23 KOs) on the undercard of Nathan Cleverly’s light-heavyweight title bout with Juergen Braehmer fell through, reportedly due to the Londoner’s contract demands, while Murray’s calls for a shot at Amir Khan’s light-welterweight strap also fell on deaf ears as the WBA champion opted to take on an arguably less dangerous foe in the shape of Paul McCloskey (22-0, 12 KOs).

Murray also recently called out WBA lightweight title holder Brandon Rios (27-0-1, 20 KOs) in light of the Mexican-American’s explosive knockout of Miguel Acosta. Despite Rios’ fearsome punching power, Murray clearly saw some chinks in the Texan’s armour as Acosta dominated the early exchanges with his superior boxing skills before running out of steam at the business end of the contest.

World title ambitions

A fight with Rios, who has had decent exposure in the States on a host of high profile Top Rank cards, would certainly give Murray a ticket to the big time, as well as that world title shot he craves.

In any case, Murray’s appeal barely registered with Rios’ camp, who are patently seeking much bigger and more lucrative fights with household names across the pond. Instead, the much-avoided Briton must somehow motivate himself for a low-key defence of his European strap in his native England next month.

As ever, Murray put a brave face on his next title defence against the obscure and largely untested Spanish champion Karim El Ouazghari (11-2-1, 4 KOs) at London’s York Hall, saying: “It’s every fighter’s dream to headline at the home of London boxing, and I’ll be looking to put on a very special display for the fans.

“I’ve seen a few of his fights on the internet and he looks strong with a tremendous left hook. I’m sure he is going to come to London with all guns blazing,” he added, perhaps a tad disingenuously.

Little recognition

It must be hard for Murray to see contemporaries such as Amir Khan and Kevin Mitchell go on to fight for world titles while he continues to take on mediocre opposition at European level, with little recognition and no sign of a breakthrough.

Admittedly, Murray has not yet taken on a bona-fide top-level fighter, with his most notable scalps coming against the Ukrainian Andriy Kudryavtsev (35-8, 15 KOs), Lee McAllister (32-2, 8 KOs) and a stoppage win over Prizefighter winner Gary Buckland (21-2, 8 KOs). The only other recognisable names on his CV are former British titlist Scott Lawton and the badly faded Jonathan Thaxton, who gave a certain Ricky Hatton hell back in 2000. Murray knows he needs to step up his level of competition quickly, and that explains why he has been so vocal in calling out both Khan and Mitchell.

A victory in the proposed fight against Mitchell, known to American fans for beating Khan conqueror Breidis Prescott and then being overwhelmed by Michael Katsidis inside three rounds, would certainly have given Murray a share of the limelight and moved him closer to the world title shot he covets, but now he must go back to the drawing board and wait patiently for the opportunity that has so far eluded him.

In the meantime, it is vital Murray doesn’t take his eye of the ball, as he is all too aware: “I’ve got a world ranking to protect. If I lose then any chance of fighting for a world title will go out the window so there is so much at stake for me,” he said.

That may be true, but a win against an unknown like El Ouazghari is unlikely to be his ticket to the big time.

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