By Ezio Prapotnich
European Lightweight champion John Murray (31-0, 18 ko’s) retained the title in his second defense against previously unknown Spanish champion Karim El Ouazghari (11-2-2, 4 ko’s) but not quite in the fashion expected. This was his debut under the Warren Promotions banner, after parting ways with former promoter Mick Hennessy, and his first fight in London in 4 years. Both John and his trainer Joe Gallagher made it clear they have a world title shot in their sight and believe Frank Warren is the right man to deliver the chance.
Murray claimed he received more press and attention in the build up to this fight than he had throughout his whole career and also that he knew he needed to look good in despatching his opponent. Unluckily, it seems that the pressure of the occasion worked against him.
From the first bell, he looked very aggressive and overtly determined to make a statement but also over-anxious and rushing himself too much in pursuit of a stoppage. While there is no doubt he took the round on aggression and work rate, backing his man off with power, it is also true that a lot of his shots were not finding the target and that, while attacking, he left himself open to the left hook counter of El Ouazghari, which supposedly was the Spanish challenger danger shot.
Murray started the second trying to get inside and getting caught again while trading at close quarters but managed to finish the round strong trapping Karim on the ropes, although unable to capitalize. He seemed to grow frustrated in the next three rounds. While relentlessly pressing the fight, the defending the champion made himself vulnerable in a series of untidy exchanges due to the fact that he went for the kill furiously after each time he landed a clean blow. Again, the left hook to the temple was the challenger best counter.
In the sixth, El Ouazghari appeared tired for the first time, although hanging in there and still landing occasionally, and touched the canvas in the seventh, from a slip according to the referee. Murray’s pressure paid off eventually and the champion landed his right hand at will in round 8, although warned for headbutting, while Karim switched to survivor mode. John slowed his pace in the ninth and it is important to notice that as a consequence his shots were considerably more precise and effective.
The challenger took the initiative in the 10th but his unsteady legs would not let him keep it up and Murray re-established himself as the aggressor. The moment of truth came in the elventh, when, following some good body shots with a rally, Murray finally knocked his man down, after he already lost a point for intentional headbutting off a clinch. Saved by the bell, a spent El Ouazghari was still there in the final round and made it to the end, although slipping on the canvas again.
John Murray retained the European title by unanimous decision with scores of 116-110, 117-111, and 115-112.
Although dominant all the way, Murray’s performance did not live up to the expectations, especially considering that is opponent is 32 years old, had only 15 bouts, all of which on home soil, and is ranked number 20 by the EBU. It is understandable that not having any material to study, John entered the ring without a gameplan and that, because of the circumstances, he was under pressure to perform, but it is not acceptable for a professional of his calibre to rush into a fight without any caution looking only to score a knockout.
Nevertheless, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise and an useful lesson before moving to world level, where the same mistake might be severely punished. It would be advisable for the former British Champion to step up the level of opposition gradually before considering a world title shot. A match against Kevin Mitchell, who was a very interested spectator at ringside, seems like a very good option at this point.
Billy Joe Saunders
In the chief supporting event, former Olympian and middleweight prospect Billy Joe Saunders (8-0, 5 ko’s) had a short night against Turgay Uzun (35-16-2, 22 ko’s). Uzun approach to the fight was very passive, hardly throwing any shots from behind his peek-a-boo guard but, in spite of having a sitting duck in front of him, Billy showed a certain degree of maturity. He took his time, testing the opponent with single punches first, then building combinations, picking his shots carefully and switching the attack from head to body and viceversa. Turgay took a knee right on the bell ending the second round from what appeared to be a good body shot from Saunders and did not come out for the third, When the doctor came to examine him, Uzun was pointing repeatedly to his left ear as the cause of his surrender.
Also on the undercard, 24 years old Featherweight Ryan Walsh (12-0, 5 ko’s), twin brother of Commonwealth Super Featherweight champion Liam, stopped Gavin Reid (6-9-1, 3 ko’s) at 2:43 of round 7.