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History of Heartbreak: Martin Murray tries for a fifth time to win a world title, a look back at his previous efforts

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Martin Murray is 0-3-1 in world title fights, but three of those outcomes could have gone his way. On Friday, he tries for a fifth — perhaps final — time.

Carl Frampton and Martin Murray Media Work Outs Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

At 38 years old, Martin Murray is set for a fifth world title shot on Friday in London, when he faces Billy Joe Saunders (Dec. 4, DAZN, 2 pm ET) for Saunders’ WBO super middleweight title.

Murray (39-5-1, 17 KO) is 0-3-1 in world title bouts thus far, all of them taking place between 2011 and 2015. Smart money says that if it were going to happen, it would have on one of those nights, and not as he closes in on 40.

But you could have made an argument in 2011, 2013, or 2015 that it actually did happen, only with this being boxing, it officially did not.

Here’s a look back at Murray’s four world title fights, three of them absolute heartbreakers on the cards.

Felix Sturm (2011, WBA Middleweight Title)

German World middleweight champion Felix Photo credit should red UWE ANSPACH/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

The result in Murray’s first world title fight was a split draw, with one card even (114-114), one to Sturm (116-112, and one to Murray (115-113) on the road in Germany, on Sturm’s home turf. Murray, then 29, came in having capped at domestic level, winning the British and Commonwealth titles at 160 pounds.

Murray gave a terrific accounting of himself in this one; I wouldn’t say he was robbed, but it could easily have gone his way. Murray was the more active, busier fighter, but Sturm did seem to often land the sharper, more telling blows, and it seemed as though the German star had probably banked some early rounds, which were pivotal.

As a side note, one of the highlights of the Sky Sports broadcast — we didn’t have all these fancy “DAZNs” and “ESPN+s” back in the ancient days of 2011, so to see a fight like this we brave Americans had to pirate live streams and get computer viruses — was probably the great color commentator Jim Watt protesting heavily in outrage despite having scored the fight 115-113 for Murray and repeating several times during the bout that many rounds were “too close to call.” I miss Jim Watt, and I mean that sincerely.

This was the period of Sturm’s career where he was maybe a bit past his very best days, but had also become an underrated action fighter, reliable for a good scrap when he had a decent opponent. It was a good fight, but it was 0-1 for Murray in world title fights

Sergio Martinez (2013, WBC Middleweight Title)

BOX-ARG-UK-MARTINEZ-MURRAY JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images

Of the three close calls, this is maybe the one where I get most heated on Murray’s behalf, perhaps because it’s the one that could have mightily changed not just his fortunes, but the history of the middleweight division.

Martinez, 38 at the time, was considered one of the top pound-for-pound talents in boxing, a late bloomer who took took belts and the LINEAL!!!!!! middleweight championship from Kelly Pavlik in Apr. 2010, and followed that up with fine defenses over Paul Williams (a legendary KO), Serhiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The Chavez fight gave Martinez probably his peak stardom; though the HBO pay-per-view went head-to-head with a Canelo bout not just on the same night but in the same town, a lot more people remember Martinez-Chavez now than do Canelo-Josesito Lopez on Showtime, and it was the bigger fight at the time, too, even with Canelo as a legitimate rising superstar.

Martinez mostly dominated goober Chavez, but did get hurt late and had to survive. Next time out, fighting in his native Argentina for the first time since 2002 (he had long since relocated to Spain), Martinez had a terrible time with Murray. The champ looked too slick for Murray in the early rounds, but the dog in Murray came out hard, and he dropped Martinez in the eighth round. That made the difference on my unofficial card, which was 114-113 for Murray. But the judges saw it 115-112 across the board for the bigger star, home fighter, and defending champion.

If Murray had gotten the nod over Martinez, then Sergio never makes it to his sad outing with Miguel Cotto 14 months later. Maybe Murray fights Cotto, though it would have had to happen in the UK or somewhere else, as Murray wasn’t allowed a US visa until 2019. Who knows what happens in middleweight history?


How to Watch Saunders vs Murray

Date: Friday, Dec. 4 | Start Time: 1:00 pm ET
Location: SSE Arena, Wembley - London, England
Stream: DAZN | TV: Sky Sports (UK)
Online Coverage: BadLeftHook.com


Gennadiy Golovkin (2015, WBA Middleweight Title)

Martin Murray v Gennady Golovkin Press Conference Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Well, they weren’t all close. Murray went abroad again for a title shot in 2015, heading to Monte Carlo to face GGG, who was roaring as the real king of the middleweights at this point, just dominating everyone who would fight him.

In the run up to facing Murray, Golovkin had broken out as a key star for the HBO boxing brand, demolishing Grzegorz Proksa (five rounds), Gabriel Rosado (seven), Nobuhiro Ishida (three), Matthew Macklin (three), Curtis Stevens (eight), Osumanu Adama (seven), Daniel Geale (three), and Marco Antonio Rubio (two). Opponents weren’t even competitive with Golovkin, and the bigger names didn’t seem to want a thing to do with the Kazakh star.

Murray has never dodged a fight, never not taken a big opportunity that came his way, so he went to Monaco, where Golovkin was making a third annual defense at Salle des Étoiles, having beaten Ishida and Adama there in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Murray was tough; perhaps too tough. It’s not that Golovkin didn’t batter Murray the exact same way he had all those fighters who fell and were done within eight, but Murray made it into the 11th before referee Luis Pabon stopped the fight, Murray having gone down in the fourth and 10th rounds. Murray made no statements of delusion after it was over, either, admitting that Golovkin was too good and saying he had “thudding” power.

Arthur Abraham (2015, WBO Super Middleweight Title)

Arthur Abraham v Martin Murray - WBO Super Middleweight World Championship Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

Following the loss to Golovkin, Murray decided to test the waters at higher weights, taking bouts in June, July, and September of 2015 where he weighed in between 167 and 172 pounds. The first two bouts were pure club opponent material, a chance for Murray to shake off a one-sided loss, get some confidence back, and see how he felt at a new weight, whether he might want to pursue 168 seriously. After beating Jose Miguel Torres in September, he went to Germany in November to face two-division titlist Abraham for the WBO super middleweight belt. This was just nine months after a pretty bad beating from GGG, mind you.

Once again, Murray was very competitive. Once again, Murray could easily have gotten his hand raised. I wound up scoring the fight very narrowly for Abraham, personally, 114-113, with a point deduction against Murray in round 11 the difference for me. But it was definitely debatable, like the Sturm and Martinez fights were. Any one of them could have gone to Murray. None did. Judges had this one 115-112 for Murray, and 115-112 and 116-111 for Abraham.

Saturday’s shot against Billy Joe Saunders is probably the last chance Murray is getting at a world title. He’s 38 years old. He’s flirted with retirement already, after a return to serious fights at 160 led to a decision loss to Hassan N’Dam in Dec. 2018. But he’s a fighter. 38 is old for a fighter, but there are only so many years you can do it with even a shadow of your prime ability. He’s won two in a row. Saunders is far from flawless.

In some ways, this is the biggest shot Murray’s ever had. And it’s also the first time he’ll get the chance on home soil, facing a fellow Brit; it’s really a shame there can’t be a live crowd there, some supporters for the likable, hard-working veteran finally getting a world title bout at home.

If he loses — and pretty much everyone figures he will — then that’s probably it. Maybe not for Murray’s career, but almost surely for world title shots. (Almost surely, mind you.) Luck has never been on his side in these fights, and he won’t be relying on any Friday. If he beats Saunders, it will be because he beat Saunders.