Unbeaten Brit Martin Murray is a big underdog on Friday against Felix Sturm. (Photo by Thorsten Wagner/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Boxing records, as we all know, can be deceiving, or even close to lies.
One needs look no further than the April 17, 2009, fight between Martin Murray, then 13-0 and the winner of a Prizefighter tournament in November 2008, and Kevin Concepcion, who was 14-1. On paper, the six-round middleweight bout was even. In the ring, it was anything but.
From the get-go, Murray was the stronger, better fighter. In the first round, he put Concepcion down twice, and exposed a vulnerable midsection, outlanding Concepcion 14-0 in body shots, his main weapon.
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"You could be watching one of the real hot prospects in British boxing here," Sky Sports commentator Adam Smith said of Murray after round one.
When the second started, he had no doubt where he would attack, even pressing so much to the body that he rocked Concepcion low. But it didn't matter, as moments after the low blow paused the action, a left hook to the jaw sent Concepcion back to the canvas. After three knockdowns in two rounds, Concepcion wanted no more, but his corner sent him back out for the third. Right after the bell, referee Steve Gray called time, had the doctor look at a superficial cut trickling blood over Murray's right eye and down the bridge of his nose. The doctor and referee chose to stop a fight that didn't need to continue.
Martin Murray figured to receive a British title shot within a year, Adam Smith proclaimed. It didn't quite work out that way.
Three months after beating Concepcion, Murray downed Thomas Awinbono in his hometown of St Helens, and after that fight, left VIP Promotions for a deal with Ricky Hatton's outfit, Hatton Promotions. He stayed busy, making his Hatton debut in September 2009, and fought again in November, followed by fights in 2010 in February, May, July and November.
Along the way, he defeated decent gatekeepers like Shalva Jormadashvili and Sergei Khomitski, and picked up the vacant Commonwealth middleweight title with a win over Peter Mitrevski Jr in Bolton.
But Murray, who is now 23-0 (10 KO), just didn't move along at a brisk pace. There was something of a wheel-spinning effect to his career. He was a solid prospect, but as time passed, "solid prospect" was becoming a bit of a letdown for someone who had gotten a little hype, had some TV exposure, and scored a few decent wins.
After easy wins over Carlos Nascimento and John Anderson Carvalho, Murray finally did get to fight for the British title on June 18 of this year, and stopped the untested Nick Blackwell after five rounds. The win and the matchup were such that even getting that British title crack, and winning the belt, wasn't as significant as it should have been.
Tired of waiting, Murray now takes an enormous step up in class on Friday in Mannheim, Germany, when he faces long-running middleweight titlist Felix Sturm for the WBA title.
And three days later, he takes another big step: He'll be getting married on December 5. The two dates being so close together was not on purpose, but it's part of the boxing game. If Martin Murray has to get married with a black eye or a busted nose, that's the way it is. The fighter has to take his chance as it comes, and it comes on Friday.
Murray, now 29, knows he's in for the toughest fight of his career. But it's never easy to tell how much of a problem that will be until the opening bell has come and long gone.
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Compared to Sturm (36-2-1, 15 KO), Murray is in a position similar to what Nick Blackwell found himself in June: Possibly under-prepared, possibly overmatched, and maybe out of his current depth.
Sturm, who turns 33 at the end of January, has been fighting world title fights on big stages since 2003, when he knocked off Hector Velazco to claim the WBO belt. Nine months later, the German found himself with an offer he couldn't refuse in the form of a trip to Las Vegas, where he would meet Oscar De La Hoya, the biggest star in boxing, as "The Golden Boy" attempted to pick up a title belt at 160 pounds.
That night is now infamous. Many felt Sturm deserved a clear, hard-fought, well-earned victory over De La Hoya, who had proven he was no middleweight in the fight.
De La Hoya, on camera after the fight and before the scores were read, shook his head and offered a simple summary of his own performance: "Fuck." Larry Merchant said Sturm deserved "no worse than a draw." Jim Lampley remarked, "I'll say it straight out. I thought De La Hoya beat Mosley last fall, I still believe it. I think he lost tonight to Felix Sturm." Roy Jones Jr added, "He lost the fight tonight. No doubt." And Harold Lederman scored it 115-113 for Felix Sturm.
The scores were read: 115-113, all for Oscar De La Hoya.
Not that CompuBox means everything, but Sturm landed 234 of 541 punches in the fight, for a total of 43%. De La Hoya was busier, at 188 of 792, for a 24% connect rate. For power punches, Sturm landed 52% (122 of 235) compared to De La Hoya's 33% (130 of 394).
Simply put, Felix Sturm was jobbed that night in Las Vegas. And he never did return to the United States to fight. What could have been a star-making win for the German turned into a result that kept him fighting mostly in Germany for the rest of his career to date.
Since De La Hoya, Sturm has won and lost the WBA title, and currently has held it since April 2007, when he avenged at TKO loss from 2006 against Javier Castillejo. His level of competition has often been criticized, and so have some of the scores in his fights. He got what some felt was an outright robbery against Khoren Gevor in 2009, and another earlier this year against Matthew Macklin, though truthfully the Macklin fight was very close, and probably the best 160-pound fight of the year.
[ Related: Sturm Edges Macklin in Brutal Fight ]
Though Sturm has aged some in the ring, he is still a quality fighter, the No. 2 man in the division behind Sergio Martinez, and an enormous task for Martin Murray.
What to Expect & Prediction
Murray will most likely look to do what Macklin did in June against Sturm, which is use a healthy amount of pressure and make Sturm fight outside of his comfort zone.
But that's still going to be trouble for Murray, who is not Matthew Macklin. Macklin is a better puncher, physically stronger, and simply put, a better fighter than Martin Murray. Plus, Sturm proved he can go toe-to-toe. He got rough and bloody and banged up with Macklin, and once he realized he couldn't comfortably control the fight with his jab, he abandoned his usual tactics and started swinging. He acquitted himself pretty nicely, in my estimation, as someone who can dig down deep and fight when he has to.
On paper, this looks to be just another Sturm title defense, closer to his predictable wins over the likes of Ronald Hearns and Koji Sato than his struggle with Macklin.
As we said before, boxing records can be deceiving. And for this fight, Murray's 23-0 mark is a little suspect. Sturm is at least two levels above anyone Murray has fought to date, and I expect that to play out in the ring on Friday. Felix Sturm by unanimous decision.