The Exorcism Of Kevin Mitchell: John Murray Hammered On Merseyside; Ricky Burns Records Bizarre Win

(Kevin Mitchell gives John Murray a left.)

John Murray played Damien Karras to Kevin Mitchell’s Regan MacNeil in Liverpool on Saturday as the Londoner passed on the burden that had eaten away at him for more than a year following his loss to Michael Katsidis. A sizeable underdog going in, Mitchell withstood Murray’s bruising assaults before rallying at the mid-point to halt the world-rated and previously unbeaten Mancunian in the 8th round. And the fight? Well, it was a real horror show.

Mitchell appeared keyed up as he entered the arena and he started sharply before Murray set himself away with his familiar method. Closing the distance on his man with real devil, Murray began getting off with his patented overhand rights and short left hooks in close and while Mitchell probably took the opener, Murray had already laid his foundations.

In the 2nd, Murray shovelled it on. Mitchell began to squirm as the combinations kept coming and Murray, intent on strangling the resistance out of his man, rattled him with a thudding straight right which caused the southerner to list somewhat. Murray, sensing some give in his opponent, pounded away furiously up to the bell.

Round 3 was fast paced and closely contested. Mitchell, boxing on the counter, would stop moving occasionally to plant his feet and land stinging left hooks inside, punches which caught the eye, yet it was Murray, in fact, doing the more damaging work.

Murray bossed rounds 4 and 5, penning Mitchell in against the strands for long spells while raking him over in waves. Mitchell appeared to be suffocating as Murray, head down and pumping punches, peppered his head and torso unmercifully. Although clearly uncomfortable, Mitchell hung tough, repeatedly ducking low on the ropes (an old trick of Jimmy Tibbs’ former student, Nigel Benn) before threading hard counter uppercuts up between his guard.

As Murray’s trainer Joe Gallagher implored him to target Mitchell’s left flank in between rounds, a horrible looking mouse grew under Murray’s right eye. Mitchell had seen it too, rousing him in round 6. Back up on his toes, he boxed rings around the favourite, whose features began to twist and contort under the thudding counters Mitchell belted him with time and again.

Bruised under both eyes and tiring badly, Murray continued to tear after Mitchell in the next. The cockney had assumed control at this stage, though, and just as you began wondering which one of them would give first, it happened. A searing left rocked Murray to his core, with the bell rescuing him from certain defeat.

Murray, gutsy to the last, tried to rally himself as he marched up off his stool, banging his gloves together before charging into Mitchell.  However, a monster left hook dropped him hard onto his knees. Murray staggered up gamely, both eyes now ugly slits and with his nose teeming blood, before a blur of left hooks and left uppercuts brought the intervention of referee Richard Davies at the 1:36 mark.

Mitchell, now 32-1 (24), re-establishes himself here with a career-best win. And while promoter Frank Warren gesticulates about going after Californian Brandon Rios, he’ll almost certainly be eyeing the movements of Rios’s neighbour Robert Guerrero with a keener eye. With both Guerrero and lightweight king Juan Manuel Marquez scheduled to fly the coop, Warren is likely to point the resurgent East Londoner toward a vacant title match with his favourite alphabet organisation should the opportunity present itself. Murray falls to 31-1 (18) and must now come again.

The official headline act ended bizarrely as Dagenham’s Nicky Cook suffered a prolapsed disc in his back within seconds of his junior lightweight alphabet title match against Scotland’s Ricky Burns. Cook, who suffers from a degenerative spine complaint, had almost certainly been troubled by it in the lead up. He repeatedly stretched backwards at the waist as he made his way into Liverpool’s Echo Arena in the manner of a pensioner who’d risen too quickly from his armchair. And word had almost certainly filtered out too, with betting having been suspended earlier in the day after a tonne of money fluttered in on Burns (who is not noted as a puncher) to win in round 3.

Burns tested the rumour out right away, smacking a right body shot (which Cook turned away from) into Cook’s bothersome back and instantly disabling him. The contest was as good as over at that point as Cook, writhing in agony, attempted to press on despite being unable to stand correctly. Mercifully, the towel came in at 1:33 of the opener with Cook stretchered off to hospital in agony. Frank Warren and BBB of C chairman Robert Smith appeared similarly pained as they were prodded and poked in the immediate aftermath of this oddity.

British light heavyweight champion Tony Bellew cantered to a rather uneventful unanimous decision victory over Ovill McKenzie further down the card — a rather disappointing affair after their exciting punch-up back in December (won by Bellew in eight rounds). In his first pro outing under former amateur coach Mick McAllister, Bellew looked quicker, moved his head a little better and pumped an improved jab, yet clearly, this new style is going to take a little while to bed in.

The most interesting moment took place in the corner at the end of round five when Bellew’s trainer offered the following pearl: “Your left hand is slipping a little bit by your tit.” Bellew stretches his record to 16-0 (10) and has his sights set on the world rated Welshman, Nathan Cleverly.

Junior welterweight Curtis Woodhouse, mislabeled in our preview piece as nothing more than “cannon fodder” for young hotshot Frankie Gavin to beat up on, proved that description to be as misguided — as miguided it would appear young Gavin is at this stage of his career. The former world amateur champion struggled to a split decision win over 12, yet it was the unheralded Woodhouse who took more of the plaudits.

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.