'Genius' Joe's masterplan
Manchester’s jagged inner-city terrain provides the breeding ground of straightforward, straight-talking folk. The heart of the city, built on industrial toil, forms an unforgiving landscape that moulds sharp-tongues that articulate strong intentions, a trait of Mancunian mentality. Levenshulme-raised boxer Joe ‘Genius’ Murray (16-2, 7 KOs) is no different. The Beijing 2008 Olympian has a frank plan to conquer the British lightweight division.
“My plan is to rip titles away from people. I'm looking at the division now and I'm not rating the division. This is my opportunity,” said Murray, who fights at Victoria Warehouse, Manchester, against an as yet unconfirmed opponent on Saturday. It will be the second fight for Murray after a 14-month layoff following a second loss to British and Commonwealth super-featherweight king Liam Walsh.
The defeat shuttled Murray to a crossroads in his career. Plagued by weight problems, the former amateur standout decided to move up from super-featherweight to the 9st 9lbs division, a decision he believes more pertains to his natural build.
“I feel a lot better,” the 29-year-old admitted. “[At featherweight] I remember going into the gym and just being so tired from making weight. It would get to a Wednesday and I'd feel like I had done a full week of training. I'd be training all the time with a sweat-suit on as well. When I was down at featherweight, it's not natural to be 5ft 9ins and walking around at nine stone. I was taller than most super featherweights, I'm even taller than most lightweights.
“I feel good at the weight; I've always been at the lower weights in my career. I've let my body grow into the weight and I feel very, very comfortable. I'm not going into [the gym] tired and I'm not cutting no corners. I'm always a busy fighter, I move around a lot in there. I don't feel like anything has been lost, or power or anything. It's not like I can't punch, I'm putting people to sleep and I'm putting statements across. The lad I fought last time out [Teesside-based Cameroonian Abdon Cesar, 3-8-0] had never been stopped and I went out there and knocked him out in the second round.
“I've only been beaten by one man. There's no shame in losing to Walsh, he's British champion and he's a great champion, but I had to cut a lot of weight out for that fight.”
The move up is perhaps literally natural, as Joe’s older brother is fearsome former British, European champion and WBA lightweight title challenger John Murray, whom the younger sibling refers to affectionately as ‘our kid’. John also doubles as Joe’s trainer at Murray Machines gym in Reddish, Greater Manchester.
“My brother was a lightweight so that tells you something, and we're about the same size as well, now I'm coming up to lightweight. He held the British title and never lost it. [Current British champion] Scotty Cardle is just keeping the belt warm for me. If Cardle wants it he can just pick up the phone and I'm ready to go.”
Murray is resolute in his ambition, and has firmly set his sights on rifling through the domestic rankings to capture the Lonsdale belt, one he is wasting no time in trying to achieve. Saturday’s fight will be his second in just 12 weeks, with a further outing planned later this year. His eagerness means his training camps have overlapped.
“We are just going to keep going on our path. We're out in Manchester at the weekend and then we're out on 1 October, but if a title chance comes before that I will take it, no worries. I'm very confident to get out there as much as [promoter] Steve Wood can get me out. I want a win out next and then a win out in October. The camp that I've had has been nine weeks, I came straight out of the camp for my last fight. I've been sparring Ryan Doyle, who is fighting for the English title on the same bill, (Bradford welterweight) Darren Tetley, who is a southpaw, but the southpaw has pulled out. But it's been good training for me,” Murray insisted.
“I'm ready to go now, soon as [manager] Steve Wood gives me that green light I'll go. I'm not one of these fighters who will say ‘ahh I'm not ready I've only got so many weeks’ notice I haven't had enough time’. I'm always ready to go, I'm always in the gym.
“I just want to keep active, I believe an active boxer is always better than an inactive boxer. Hopefully the phone will ring and when it does I'll be ready. I'm ready to grab a title off anyone. Steve is the best in business and I feel this is the first time getting looked after properly in my career.”
After a coruscating unpaid career that saw the former roommate of Amir Khan medal at consecutive EU amateur championships for Great Britain, and secure the 54kg spot on the Olympic team in China, it wouldn’t be unfair to say Murray’s seven years as a professional has thus far not reflected the promise he showed in a GB vest. An IBF youth featherweight title is so far the only recognised honour on his paid slate.
But the desire to put that right is apparent in Murray’s words, which are carefully crafted by his Mancunian impulse. Paradoxically, the fight on Saturday also gives Murray the chance to box in front of a typically partisan Manchester crowd for only the fifth time in his 18-fight pro career, something he says he will relish.
“I can't wait. As an amateur I was boxing abroad most of the time and now I'll be in front of the home crowd, with home comforts, it's always a good Manchester crowd I'm looking forward to making a big statement. I'm looking forward to fighting and I believe it's my time this year, whoever wants it can just pick up the phone and I'm ready to go. Just pick up the phone and I'm here.”
Given Murray’s undoubted natural talent in the ring, reinforced by the inherent drive ingrained in him by his environment, it could be only a matter of time before he receives the call he has been waiting for.