Murray faces boxer who’s ‘better than Messi’
Sergio Martinez won Argentina’s equivalent of Sports Personality of the Year in 2012, which must have been nice for the fella. It’s just that Martin Murray probably could have done without knowing about it.
“I knew he was a big star,” said Murray, “but when I found out he beat Lionel Messi into third place, it opened my eyes a bit.” For anyone not aware of Lionel Messi, he scored 91 goals last year, for some Spanish outfit called Barcelona.
On Saturday, St Helens middleweight Murray challenges for Martinez’s WBC crown in a Buenos Aires football stadium built for 50,000. The fight was announced by Argentine president Cristina Kirchner last December and is Martinez’s first in his homeland since 2002, eight years before he finally landed a world title. As such, it is expected to be a rocking and rolling sell-out.
But the cruelty of boxing seemingly knows no bounds. As you may be aware, relations have been a bit frosty between Britain and Argentina of late, what with Kirchner repeatedly letting it be known she wants the Falkland Islands back. This political twist to the fight means the atmosphere at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani is likely to be more than a little bit fraught. So far, so terrifying.
“You can’t really plan for fighting in front of 50,000 Argentinians,” Murray tells BBC Sport. “I’ve just accepted it’s going to be very hostile. I’ve got about 40 coming over from England and I’m sure they’ll make themselves heard. But I’m worried for them. I reckon the safest place will be fighting Martinez in the ring.” Aaah, the skewed logic of fighters.
At Kirchner’s insistence, the fight will also be shown live on terrestrial television, allowing millions more Argentines to see their conquering hero slap the Englishman from pillar to post. Or at least that’s what he’s meant to do. Not since Martinez’s compatriot Carlos Monzon in the 1970s has a South American boxer captured the public imagination in such a fashion. Martinez dare not lose.
If Martinez’s appeal is something of a throwback, his route to the top was similarly old-fashioned. Martinez had been campaigning for 13 long years before he wrenched the WBC and WBO middleweight belts from American Kelly Pavlik in 2010. Stops on the way included the Whitchurch Leisure Centre in Bristol and Belfast’s King’s Hall. Murray, meanwhile, has been a pro for less than six years.
Not many British boxing writers will be ringside for Murray’s big night, either. But the unbeaten 30-year-old thinks nothing is impossible, even against a man beaten only once in 13 years. And that via an iffy decision.
“There’s no better chance for me to prove myself,” said Murray. “Martinez is a pound-for-pound king, it’s in his own backyard, fights don’t get any bigger than this. This is my chance to shock the world.”
Beat the man who beat Lionel Messi in front of 50,000 Argentines in a football stadium in Buenos Aries and yours should be the earth and everything that’s in it. Just keep an eye out for flying cushions – and make sure your gown is done up tightly as you take your leave.