British Beat: John Murray And Kevin Mitchell Wage Civil War In Liverpool

(Kevin Mitchell, at left; John Murray, at right)

There has been an imaginary dividing line etched across Merry Old England since the Industrial Revolution, a hotchpotch of boundary stones separating northerners, seen as warm and gregarious provincial types, from their southern cousins, typified as insular urbanites wallowing in a realm of comparatively better wealth and health. The more well-worn and offensive version pits flat cap wearing beer swillers against city workers beloved of the sound of their own noise.

Frank Warren has latched onto this perceived sense of tribalism to help tout the tastiest match-up in British boxing as Levenshulme’s John Murray, 31-0 (18), and Dagenham’s Kevin Mitchell, 31-1 (23), meet along the banks of the Mersey on Saturday inside Liverpool’s Echo Arena, to determine the nation’s best lightweight. Surely, though, there can be nothing to be gleaned from these geographic generalisations, right?

Manchester’s Murray is certainly more adept at cosying up to people, that’s for sure — a clubbiness of sorts. A smoke and pistons pressure fighter, Joe Gallagher’s main man rarely leaves an opponent be, constantly advancing upon them in a bid to carry out a spot of organ reshaping. A liver punch here, an eardrum splattering overhand right there, Murray’s barmy army serenades the opposition throughout their ordeal, insistent that John will eventually catch up with them — which he invariably does.

Southerner Mitchell, meanwhile, is more reserved, preferring to distance himself from those he has been paid to share airspace with. A diminutive counterpuncher, he’s technically pretty sound, possessing a useful jab and a solid dig. Any attempts at getting close are met with a terse response, as if someone has attempted to pass the time of day with him on public transport.

Mitchell emerges from an extended period in the garage, one enforced by antipodean warmonger Michael Katsidis who, 14 months ago, trampled Mitchell within a handful of rounds. An astringent postmortem revealed that poor prep-work had been culpable, as a golden opportunity to move Mitchell’s career up a level went begging, leaving promoter Frank Warren — seething at the ingratitude he felt he’d been shown — to consider throwing his favourite boxing baby out with the bathwater.

Mitchell’s graduation ceremony had been a total and utter bust. The former British junior lightweight champion bobbed for answers at the bottom of a beer vat in its aftermath, embarking on a six-month bender during which he flushed his career earnings down a host of east-end urinals. Though he’d failed to fit in at world class, he was still one of the boys. A working class hero remains something to be still, it would appear.

Murray, meanwhile, will be seeking to make amends for his own lamentable showing back in April after he struggled with the game but limited Spaniard, Karim El Ouazghari. A fighter who requires bringing to the boil, the constant simmer Murray had been cooking on while stalling for a fight had left him scorched and overdone. As Mitchell cocked a snook at him from ringside, Murray laboured to a frustrating decision win, one whose memory he’ll be looking to eradicate here with a return to better form.

On their best nights, Mitchell was able to outpoint the wild-punching Colombian slugger, Breidis Prescott, while Murray managed to overpower the seasoned Ukrainian Andrei Kudriavtsev in defence of the European title he has since discarded. Of the two, Mitchell has the patchier resume. Closer examination reveals his life and death struggle with Leeds puncher Carl Johanneson down at 130 lbs. and back in 2008 as his next most meritorious win.

Murray has only one method. With his guard held high, he’ll look to pick Mitchell apart with precision punching which he increases in tempo as the bout progresses. His main challenge will be pinning Mitchell down long enough in order to do damage. It is a pressure fighting technique which has seen him ride roughshod over decent domestic men such as Lee McAllister, Jon Thaxton and Gary Buckland, yet none of the aforementioned trio were as fleet of foot as is Mitchell.

Mitchell will box from outside. The Dagenham man feints constantly with his left, before jabbing quickly and then motoring out of range. He’ll have been primed to land short, chopping shots whenever he finds Murray too near and, in fact, probably holds the edge in power when delivering a single shot. Both he and trainer Jimmy Tibbs will view Murray as the perfect foil for them to record a headline-grabbing rebound win, with Murray’s porous defence wide open for exploitation.

The fight will probably play out in one of two ways: Either Mitchell’s speed allows him to bank too many rounds for Murray to overhaul, or Murray proves too insistent for the Londoner, forcing him into a close quarter battle and then surpassing him down the stretch. A distance fight, though, seems likely.

A late addition to the bill (the fight was due to take place a week ago in the capital, only for Mitchell to request a timeout to recover from a virus), the relocation of the fight hurts Mitchell, as he suddenly assumes the role of the away fighter. While Murray’s tapering will undoubtedly have been messed up some, one has a suspicion that momentum may now lie with the natural lightweight, which will leave Mitchell rueing his decision to stray north of the Watford Gap.

Junior lightweight contender Ricky Burns, 31-2 (8), headlines the Liverpool card with an alphabet title defence against the comebacking Londoner Nicky Cook, 30-2 (16). Coatbridge’s Burns is enjoying an easy ride since his thrilling victory over Puerto Rican firecracker Roman Martinez last year and he should have too much form for Cook, who can pose a few problems before folding over the second half of the fight.

In the prelims, the vocal and local Tony “Bomber” Bellew, 15-0 (10), reunites with Ovill McKenzie, 18-10 (7), in a punch-out to decide the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight championship, while junior welterweight climber Frankie Gavin, 10-0 (8), takes on footballer-turned-fighter (read cannon fodder) Curtis Woodhouse, 15-2 (10).

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.