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Martin Murray Holds Felix Sturm To A Draw In Germany

WBA middleweight champion Sturm retains title but Murray proves he's world-class

The cries of robbery could be heard all the way from the St. Helen's contingent at the SAP-Arena in Mannheim, Germany to the Sky Sports studios in London, but in reality Martin Murray can consider himself lucky that he still has his unbeaten record intact. Murray ran defending WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm desperately close in their title fight last night, but if anyone has the right to feel hard done by on this occasion it is the German.

Don't get me wrong, Murray was a revelation in his first fight against a world-class boxer, and proved beyond any doubt that he has the tools and confidence to mix with the elite of the 160 lb division. The problem was that Murray was too pleased with his handiwork, and failed to go the extra yard. He often fought as if he and not Sturm was the defending champion, and not the hungry challenger desperate to win the title.

Sturm lacked the spark of a defending champion right from the start. It was clear from the early rounds that he had taken this fight too soon after his epic brawl against Matthew Macklin in June. On that night, both men went toe-to-toe and waged war for 12 sensational rounds. Sturm pulled a split decision out of the bag by winning the final two rounds on all three scorecards. In retrospect, the German should not have fought again this year, and used the time to recuperate fully, but instead chose to put himself through another rigorous training camp and another arduous title fight.

In this fight Sturm, clearly the bigger man in the ring, seemed content to fight in spurts and try and steal rounds by finishing them strongly. His blows carried far more weight than Murray's, but he seldom looked to capitalize on any success that he achieved when he scored with a solid shot.

For his part, Murray showed no fear of Sturm nor his reputation and took the fight to the champion from round three onward. His confidence grew and by the middle rounds he may have had a slight lead. From then on it was a dog-fight, and the rounds became increasingly harder to score. 

Murray seemed content to throw an awful lot of pitty-patty punches that bounced off Sturm's high guard as if he was looking to appear busy to the judges. Sturm would emerge from behind his defense and unload with a handful of heavy punches that got the crowd cheering, but frustratingly he would then slip back into his defensive shell.

Murray clearly believed that he was winning the fight, and if there is a rematch between the two, one would hope that his corner would ensure that next time he fight's with the mentality that to take the title from a long-standing defending champion, one must do much more than stay competitive. 

It was obvious just how tired Sturm was in the final round. Normally the German stages a grandstand finish in the final three minutes, but this time he could only get going with 30 seconds left on the clock. However during that time he landed his best punch of the night - a booming right-hand that rocked Murray to his boots.

At the bell Sturm was hoisted into the air by his jubilant cornermen who clearly thought that their man had done enough. The German contingency at ringside seemed to agree, while the army of fans that followed Murray from St. Helen's believed that they were about to see the crowning of a new middleweight champion.

The scores were 115-113 Murray, 116-112 Sturm and 114-114 even. I gave the fight to Sturm by a two point margin.

In an interview with Sky Sports afterward, Murray said: 
"We thought we'd won but you're in Germany, in his own backyard. We're gutted we didn't get the win but it's expected in Germany. We've always known I'm world-class, I just needed that chance. I've shown it today, I took a major step up in class but I belong at that level. I took a couple of rounds to get into it and get flowing, I eventually warmed into it and went 12 rounds with a good world champion."

The belief that foreign fighters are ripped off in Germany is a somewhat unfair and antiquated one. There have been far more home-town decisions handed out in Britain than Germany over the last decade. 

The simple fact is that Murray needed to dominate more rounds and throw harder shots, not punches that would fail to break an egg. He will never be the biggest puncher in the middleweight division (Murray has just ten inside the distance wins from 30 bouts) but he is powerfully built, and by simply planting his feet occasionally and letting his punches go, he will surely do more damage.

What now for Felix Sturm? The sensible thing would be to take several months off before considering his options. The German may well give Murray a straight rematch, and if that were the case, the fighter who makes the most improvements on the first fight will take the title. 

At 32, Sturm (36-2-2, 15 KOs) does not appear to have many more big nights left in him. Although heavy-handed, he is not a knockout puncher, and only three of his 11 WBA title defenses have ended inside a distance. Sturm relies on tremendous physical fitness and solid boxing skills to win his fights, and may be still capable of at least one more big performance.

As for 29 year old Murray (23-0-1, 10 KOs), he must take last night's result as a positive and build on it. The middleweight division is fast becoming the most competitive in boxing. Sergio Martinez may dominate the 160 pound class at the moment, but the great Argentinian will turn 37 in February and cannot go on forever. Mexico's Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, the WBC title holder, will always be a lucrative proposition for any decent middleweight because of his box office appeal in his home country and with the Latino population of the US. Former IBF champ Arthur Abraham is returning to the 160 lb class, and Mexican sensation Saul Alvarez, the current WBC light middleweight will likely fight Chavez or Martinez next year. Aussie Daniel Geale holds the IBF belt, but does not look set for a long reign. 

The dark horse of the division may turn out to be Russia's WBO champion Dmitry Pirog, who as a youth studied videos of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr and Floyd Mayweather Jr, and as a result may be the slickest boxer ever to come out of the Eastern Bloc. 

Domestically, the middleweights are also brimming with outstanding fighters like Murray, Macklin, Darren Barker plus highly ranked Irishman Andy Lee.

Martin Murray should be excited today. Last night in Germany he proved he can mix with the very best in one of boxing's most illustrious divisions. He is in the shop window now, and 2012 should see him in another world title fight, and next time he'll be expected to win it. 
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Martin Murray Holds Felix Sturm To A Draw In Germany

WBA middleweight champion Sturm retains title but Murray proves he's world-class

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