John Murray’s displacement as the lightweight champion of Europe has afforded domestic peers Gavin Rees and Andy Murray the opportunity to duel over his discarded title belt at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday evening. Rees, a former alphabet world titlist at junior welterweight, is heavily favoured to swim into the void — a form guide based upon the notion that the John Breen-trained County Cavan man Murray is checking into a class higher than that which he has grown accustomed.
This isn’t the first time Rees, 34-1 (16), has looked to benefit from Murray’s world title aspirations. The stubby-armed little swarmer picked up the Manchester man’s abandoned British title last year after overcoming the game Scouser, John Watson, in eleven rough and tumble rounds. Watson’s spirited effort in defeat earned him a hometown return in February; however, Rees never made it into Liverpool.
After the Welshman’s gammy nose caved in on him in sparring, he made the rather gracious decision to step aside and hand back his Lonsdale belt rather than restricting rations from his former rival’s table. Manchester’s Anthony Crolla, in training for a crossroads meeting with Carl Johanneson down at super featherweight, gambled on a last-ditch punt to step into the breach and as Rees headed off in search of a surgeon’s hand, Crolla thwarted Watson with a groundhog day-style late stoppage.
Irishman Murray, 24-0 (12), appears a tad flimsy at first glance, yet further inspection reveals a precision puncher with an eye that must make the threading of needles a relatively tranquil pastime. He must have been a bugger to beat at that pesky electronic dexterity game from the 60’s “Operation,” too, so handy is he at hitting his mark. And while Rees could be made to resemble “Cavity Sam” with his flashing red beak, he’ll be a less orthodox target than that particular cartoon patient, one who will be hitting back hard, quickly and often.
Originally a product of Enzo Calzaghe’s corrugated iron torture chamber in Newbridge, Rees currently trains under the tutelage of former middleweight championship challenger Gary Lockett. Whilst his boxing has come on some since the switch, his main plus point remains Enzo’s engine installation, one which so often leaves opponents shriveling in his rear view mirror. Here, he’ll look to make the middle of the ring his base camp before lashing home volleys and combinations, tunnelling into the unbeaten and largely untested 28-year-old with his head down and his teeth clenched tight.
Murray’s chances may actually hinge on his ability to bust the older man up. Rees’ Achilles snotlocker almost did for him against Watson and if it comes apart again here, the Irishman’s meticulous technique can very quickly have the referee wrestling with his own squeamishness. Murray has also been the busier campaigner of the two, this his seventh contest in a little over a year, with Rees preparing for only his third.
If it can be agreed that Murray is embarking upon a leap of faith, siding with him to pull off victory would be a similarly unsighted vault into the dark. He doesn’t appear to have quite enough going for him in order to deal with someone as well-rounded as Rees, who should win handily and probably within schedule. If his racquet-wielding namesake is anything to go by, Murray would be well advised to hang onto that bridesmaid dress for the foreseeable future.
Chief support on this Matchroom card comes in the shape of Barry McGuigan’s Belfast padawan, Carl Frampton, 9-0 (6). He can salvage Irish pride in making mincemeat of Welshman, Robbie Tuley 10-3 (1).