By Paul Mason
Saturday night at the O2 Arena, London, should have seen a WBO Middleweight Title fight between the Champion, Hatfield’s Billy Joe Saunders, and St Helens’ four time former World Title challenger, Martin Murray.
However, the show was on the brink of collapse weeks ago, when Saunders pulled out of the contest, citing a hamstring injury. Doubters within the sport suspected Saunders was trying to angle for a deal to fight Gennady Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, as negotiations between “GGG” and Alvarez began to stall. A deal has now been reached for their rematch, leaving Saunders without a dance partner for the foreseeable future. Luckily for Murray, Frank Warren has managed to find a suitable replacement, and a ranking building WBC Silver Middleweight Title fight for Murray to sink his teeth into. His opponent, and the Champion, Roberto Garcia, will arrive in London unbeaten in eight years since a wide points defeat to Antonio Margarito.
Here, I preview Saturday night’s entertainment.
Roberto Garcia (41-3, KO24) v Martin Murray (36-4-1, KO17) – 12 Rounds WBC Silver Middleweight Title
Unfortunately for Martin Murray, throughout his career, he has mainly campaigned in a weight class where tough tests have blocked his way to World Title glory. Four times he has challenged for World honours, and three times he has come up short. Saturday was scheduled to be his fifth tilt at a World Title, but this has been put on the back burner for the time being due to the aforementioned Billy Joe Saunders’ injury curse struck again.
Murray has been a good solid professional, but time is fast running out for another assault on the Middleweight World Title scene after a brief flirtation at Super Middle.
A professional since 2007, following his early days in and out of prison, Murray compiled a steady enough 9-0 record before a breakthrough Prizefighter tournament win in November 2008 on the UK leg of the big Ricky Hatton v Paulie Malignaggi show. Murray beat fellow unbeaten fighters, Joe Rea and Danny Butler, before seeing off Cello Renda in a thrilling final at the York Hall.
It would be another seven routine wins later before Murray would get a Title opportunity. He won nearly every round against the Australian, Peter Mitrevski Junior to lift the Commonwealth Middleweight Title at the Bolton Arena in July 2010.
Three fights later Nick Blackwell stepped in at very late notice to contest the vacant British Title, as well as a shot at the Commonwealth belt in June 2011. Although very game, Blackwell would be retired in five rounds in Wigan. This win led to a dream shot at the WBA World Title, then held by the much respected German, Felix Sturm, who was fresh off a tight and contested home win over fellow Brit, Matthew Macklin. Murray gave Sturm all he could handle in Mannheim, but the result was a three-way split draw.
Two keep busy wins followed the Sturm fight, and Murray was thrust into World Title action once again. Standing in his way this time would be Sergio Martinez, the WBC Middleweight World Champion, and riding high in the pound for pound charts following impressive wins over Paul Williams Kelly Pavlik, and Julio Cesar Chavez Junior, as well as stopping Macklin and Darren Barker in Title defences. The match with Murray was designed to be a homecoming for “Maravilla” and the fight would take place in Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires Argentina, so a knockout was very much required for Murray. Murray performed admirably, knocking down Martinez in the eighth round, and it looked like he had done it again two rounds later, but this was ruled a slip. At a rain-sodden stadium, Martinez retained with a 115-112 victory on all three cards.
Murray wouldn’t be out of Title contention for long. After a stop off in Kempton Park, South Africa, defeating Ishmael Tetteh in six rounds, Murray boxed twice in Monte Carlo, scoring decent wins against Max Bursak (Unanimous) and Domenico Spada (Technical Decision, 7) leading to a February 2015 date against WBA and Interim WBC Champion at that time, Gennady Golovkin. It was a tough assignment. Murray put up a game fight but was stopped for the first time in his career in eleven rounds.
The Golovkin defeat made Murray believe his future lay at Super Middleweight. Three knock-over wins against limited opposition on Matchroom cards afforded Murray another World Title shot. WBO Super Middleweight Champion Arthur Abraham blocked the St Helens fighter’s path. Hanover in Germany would be the setting in November 2015, but again Murray came up short, this time via split decision in a scrappy affair. Murray would continue to campaign at Super Middle, but two fights later he suffered defeat against George Groves in a fight the Hammersmith man comfortably controlled.
Since that June 2016 setback, Murray is unbeaten in three, however, he has shown signs of receding. In April last year, Gabriel Rosado wasn’t expected to give Murray too much trouble in a return to the Middleweight division, but Murray was dragged into a dogfight, and he was somewhat fortunate to escape with a majority decision victory. His last outing was in September 2017 with a fourth-round stoppage win over Arman Torosyan. He needs an impressive victory this weekend to reignite his Title flame.
His Opponent, Roberto Garcia, comes to London with a very deceiving record. Although unbeaten in his last thirteen fights, he has never really got near to World level, and when he has, he’s been found wanting. A professional of some seventeen years, the 38-year-old Mexican has made his living in mostly obscure Mexican and American venues.
He enjoyed thirteen straight wins in his first two years before being unanimously outpointed by the then 12-4 Calvin Odom in April 2003. Three fights later came another loss, a split decision reverse in an eight rounder against Ian McKillop in Houston. Another thirteen wins including a unanimous win over gatekeeper Carson Jones, and a no contest later Garcia was pitched in with the hard-hitting Antonio Margarito in May 2010. Margarito was coming off a stoppage loss to Shane Mosley, but had way too much for Garcia, decking him in the opener before winning widely on the cards.
Garcia is currently on another thirteen fight unbeaten streak. He avenged his loss to Calvin Odom, and has beaten solid, but unspectacular opponents in Antwone Smith, Victor Cayo and Breidis Prescott, in which he had to come off the floor to win on points. His last fight came in August last year, where he won the Title he defends on Saturday night, outpointing Omar Chavez in Monterray, Mexico.
Even though Murray may be on the slide, I think he still takes this one comfortably enough. I can’t see him stopping Garcia, and it will be a points win for me.
The Best Of The Rest Of The Card
The rest of the card is full of talent, but not in any 50/50 fights. Hackney’s outspokenO’Hara Davies (17-1, KO13) was scheduled to meet Josh Leather in an intriguing contest, but Leather has pulled out. Filling the void left is Congo’s Paul Kamanga (21-1, KO12) Davies should be far superior for Kamanga, and I expect a stoppage just after halfway. Davies is aiming for new WBO Super Lightweight Champion, Maurice Hooker should he be successful.
Anthony Yarde (15-0, KO14) continues his education by facing another light punching opponent in Poland’s Dariusz Sek (27-3-3, KO9) who has one win in his last four outings. An early stoppage should be the pick.
Daniel Dubois (7-0, KO7) meets Tom Little (10-5, KO3) for the vacant English Heavyweight Title. There has been plenty of trash talk in the build-up from Little, but Dubois can punish his opponent and stop him within four.