British Scene: John Murray vs Kevin Mitchell Preview

Dave Oakes previews Saturday's Echo Arena lightweight match-up between John Murray and Kevin Mitchell.

Just over a year ago Kevin Mitchell had the biggest fight of his career, a WBO interim title shot against Aussie brawler Michael Katsidis. The fight was being held at Upton Park, Mitchell’s home patch, and was thought to be Mitchell’s chance to catapult himself onto the world scene. Unfortunately for Mitchell that wasn’t the case as he was mercilessly battered into submission inside three rounds.

It came to light in the aftermath of the fight that Mitchell had had numerous problems going into the fight, problems which spiralled uncontrollably in the months that followed – splitting from his long-term partner, drinking his money away, ballooning in weight and being arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs with intent to supply – Mitchell is due in court later this summer.

It’s obvious that it’s not been the best of times for the likable Londoner, but if we’re being honest, he’s not the only boxer who has fallen victim to drink or drugs (allegedly) and he certainly won’t be the last. He’s recently admitted he lost his way in life and seems keen to turn things around, starting this Saturday when he takes on John Murray at the Echo Arena, Liverpool.

It’s an eagerly awaited match-up between two respected, no-nonsense boxers who are always in good fights. The fans will certainly get their money’s worth, the clash has the potential to be a real thriller - neither fighter likes to take a backwards step and both know a win will put them in prime position for a world title shot, most likely against Brandon Rios.

The bout had been scheduled to take place last Saturday but was delayed a week due to Mitchell suffering from a virus, a problem that soon cleared up and shouldn’t be an issue come fight night. The only slight downside for Mitchell will be that the bout now takes place in Liverpool rather than the original London location that will have provided him with a more vocal backing from the fans.

Murray, 31-0 (18), was poor last time out against Karim El Ouazghari, six months of inactivity and maybe a touch of complacency resulting in an untidy, lethargic looking performance. The most worrying aspect was the ease in which he was being caught clean with punches he should’ve been blocking, a problem that he suffered from early in his career and one which he’s worked so hard to try to eradicate over the past few years.

It’d be unfair to judge Murray on that one performance; he’s proved that he’s undoubtedly the best lightweight on the domestic scene, with seven wins at British and European title level under his belt. He has vacated the European belt to take this fight, which is more about manoeuvring for bigger opportunities rather than for the lightly regarded Intercontinental belt that’s up for grabs for the winner.

Murray can be a slow starter; it usually takes him two or three rounds to find his rhythm before he begins to pin his opponent down. When he does get going he’s a hard fighter to stop, he attacks relentlessly, closing the gap between himself and his foe quickly before unleashing a bombardment of punches to head and body.

Mitchell, 31-1 (23), is the more skilled fighter but usually gets embroiled in tear-ups, the only notable occasion where he kept his composure and stuck to a game plan was when out-pointing Breidis Prescott just over eighteen months ago. I believe Mitchell needs to produce another controlled performance if he’s to beat Murray on Saturday, he can’t afford to get into a hardman contest with the bull-like Mancunian.

Mitchell is the puncher in the fight; he’s stopped eleven of his opponents inside two rounds, including a brutal knockout of Ignacio Mendoza, who gave Murray a tough test early in his career. Whilst not being a one punch knockout artist, Murray’s shots are spiteful blows that sicken opponents, and as the Katsidis fight showed, Mitchell can be caught and hurt.

As mentioned earlier, Murray’s defence can be lackadaisical at times, but I feel people are overlooking Mitchell’s vulnerability in that department. Mitchell has a tendency to pull his head straight back, thus leaving his chin unguarded and up in the air.

Despite being easy to hit at times, we’ve yet to see Murray in trouble. This could be the first major test of his sturdy looking chin, his propensity for getting caught clean mixed with Mitchell’s power could prove to be a lethal combination.

This is a real 50-50 fight, but I feel there are more questions about Mitchell that need answering than of Murray – What frame of mind will he be in due to the impending court case? What effect did the Katsidis demolition have? Has he made the weight easily? Can he keep his composure for the full twelve rounds? Can he keep his chin tucked away? Can he withstand Murray’s relentless attacks?

Mitchell is more than capable of winning but Murray has got to be considered the favourite, he’s always in great condition, has the confidence of an unbeaten fighter and should have shed the ring rust that blighted his bout with El Ouazghari, something that Mitchell may suffer from having not fought for over a year.

I’ll be amazed if this is anything other than an engrossing battle. I can see Mitchell starting the better; trying to box more than brawl, but Murray will set a fast pace and will eventually drag Mitchell into the trenches, which is unquestionably Murray’s forte. I can envisage a battle weary Mitchell being pulled out by his corner around the tenth.

e-mail Dave Oakes

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