Former gym mates and friends John Murray and Anthony Crolla meet this Saturday night in a bout that has the potential to be one of the best of the year. 2014 has been pretty poor for fans of the British scene, with Tommy Coyle v Daniel Brizuela being the only bout so far that could be classed as thrilling. On paper Murray v Crolla looks to be a great match-up; they both know each other's style well, both have had their fair share of exciting bouts in the past and neither man can afford to slip up if they want a world title shot in the near future.
The pair have sparred plenty of rounds against each other in the past when Murray was with Joe Gallagher, Crolla's trainer. It's no secret that Murray usually got the better of those spars, the then star man of the gym used to overpower the younger and less developed Crolla, and whilst Crolla always tried to give as good as he got, Murray was normally on top.
Those spars may give Murray confidence, but in reality, a lot has happened since those days. Murray has suffered stoppage losses in two wars, firstly against Kevin Mitchell and then again in a world title bout against Brandon Rios. He was then out of the ring for two year after a scan revealed what at first looked like a tumour but thankfully turned out to be a swollen pituitary gland. It's hard to say whether the break will have been a positive or a negative for Murray, personally, I feel the break may have been a blessing in disguise, allowing Murray to fully recharge his batteries after two draining defeats.
Whilst Murray has had a hard few years, Crolla has been on the up since suffering a loss to Derry Mathews in 2012. As well as avenging that defeat, he's also had good wins over Kieran Farrell, Gavin Rees and Stephen Foster. Crolla has been busy, fighting three or four times a year, gaining experience and has slowly been growing in stature – the boy of their spars has become a man.
Both boxers have said in the build-up to the fight that it's a case of taking care of business first before resuming their friendship afterwards, there's certainly no animosity between the pair. That can't be said for Murray and Gallagher though, whose bitter rift that forced Murray to change trainers has never been fully healed. Murray is using his dislike for Gallagher as fuel for his training, whereas Gallagher, despite what he says, will be enjoying setting the game plan to defeat his former golden boy.
Crolla knows he won't be able to stand and trade with the stronger Murray from the first bell, so expect him to box and move early before standing his ground more as the fight goes on. Murray has said he plans to use his boxing skills more instead of being a face-first brawler, he has the ability to do that but it's not hard to envisage him reverting to type when the fight heats up.
The fight will come down to what level Murray is now at, which is hard to judge after his two year absence. He's had two comeback fights but neither one was competitive, he looked great last time out when pummelling John Simpson in two rounds but Simpson was too small, too old and hardly landed a punch. You couldn't say with confidence that Murray was back to his best based on a fight like that.
If Murray performs like he used to when he was British and European champion then you'd have to favour him, anything less than that level and the in-form Crolla would be the pick on points.
The show is headlined by Scott Quigg, who makes the third defence of his WBA title against Tshifhiwa Munyai.
Munyai has stepped in a short notice after Quigg's original challenger, Nehomar Cermeno, was unable to travel due to visa issues. Munyai is no stranger to fighting on British shores, he's best remembered for stoppage victories over the then unbeaten Lee Haskins and Martin Power in Commonwealth title bouts. He was even promoted by Frank Maloney at one point, a partnership that came to an end when Munyai lost against Osumanu Akaba in a lacklustre performance at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre in 2008. Munyai has gone 8-1 since then, only losing narrowly on points to Christian Esquivel after suffering a bad point deduction due to the WBC's ludicrous ruling that if a fighter is cut from a head clash, his opponent automatically loses a point – it's the same ruling that cost Michael Brodie so dear in his first bout with In-Jin Chi.
The late change will have disrupted Quigg's preparations, Munyai and Cermeno have completely different builds and styles. Quigg will have been preparing for a shorter fighter who fights close and now finds himself in with one that is tall, rangy and has an exceptional jab.
The fight should be a lot closer than the bookies have it, Munyai is as wide as 25/1 at some places, he's a damn sight better than those odds suggest. Quigg struggled to get going in the biggest fight of his career, a draw with Yoandris Salinas, he can't afford another night like that, a slow start against Munyai could prove disastrous.
If Quigg can quickly adjust to fighting someone as tall and awkward as Munyai, he should be able to win around the 116-112 mark, if he struggles to get inside Munyai's long arms and spearing jab then he could be in for a long night and a shock defeat.
A busy undercard sees Josh Warrington make the first defence of his Commonwealth title against Rendall Munroe. Munroe hasn't been the same since losing to Toshiaki Nishioka in a world title bout towards the back end of 2010. He's lost to Scott Quigg and Lee Selby in his only meaningful fights since the Nishioka defeat and doesn't look fresh enough to cause a shock against Warrington, who should be able to overcome some initial problems to widely outpoint Munroe over twelve rounds.
The pick of the rest is Tyler Goodjohn v Tyrone Nurse. Nurse has had twenty-eight fights but is yet to face anyone of note, which makes you wonder whether his team know something about him we don't and aren't to keen for him to mix at British title level whilst the light-welterweight division is as strong as it is at the minute. Goodjohn is improving with each fight and despite being a big underdog here, I'd rate his chance at 50-50. It's a pick-em fight but Nurse's experience may be enough for him to edge it on points.
Callum Smith returns after a six month absence in what will be little more than a glorified sparring session against Francois Bastient. Don't expect the fight to go the distance.
Stephen Foster fights for the first time since losing to Anthony Crolla last year, it's hard to see where Foster can go in his career from this point, it's not unkind to suggest that his best days are behind him. Nevertheless, he's always good to watch and should be too good for his opponent this Saturday, Santiago Bustos, who lost to Khalid Yafai last time out.
One boxer to keep an eye out for is unbeaten super-bantam Liam Hanrahan, whose currently 6-0. This will be his first televised fight, he takes on Antonio Horvatic over four rounds. Expect the busy Hanrahan to swarm all over Horvatic, mixing shots to head and body. Little is known about his Croatian opponent but he'll do well to last the distance against Hanrahan, who is excellent finisher once he's got someone in trouble.
At 24 Hanrahan has time on his side but don't be surprised if he progresses quickly, he looks an exceptional prospect.
Also fighting on the bill are Hosea Burton, Sam Eggington, Jack Massey and Sam Hyde, all in bouts they should win at a canter.