Boxing: Mitchell keeps mum after a round in last chance saloon
Intriguing all-British battle sees rising star return from six-month binge to take on unbeaten Murray
After the unseemly welter of words, mainly tiresome, tasteless trashtalk, that preceded the protracted build-up to last night's heavyweight happening in Hamburg, comes the welcome restoration of some semblance of nobility to the dark art.
Neither John Murray nor Kevin Mitchell, who meet at London's ExCel next Saturday, have a bad word to say about each other, preferring to exercise dignity and decorum before a potentially classic contest that could turn out to be the most fiery domesticdust-up of the year.
Lightweights they may be, but both are heavy on mutual respect. "I don't believe in all that bad-mouthing," says Mitchell. "There's no need for it. I think both of us prefer to get in the ring and let our fists do the talking."
A year ago Mitchell, fresh from sensationally beating Breidis Prescott, the Colombian who clobbered Amir Khan, fought the Australian Michael Katsidis for the interim world lightweight title at West Ham. One of the ring's brightest young stars was demolished inside three rounds, admitting later that he had not prepared properly for what was the fight of his life because of personal problems that affected his training.
His reaction was to embark on a six-month drinking binge that only ended when his feisty mother, Alice – who could be a ringer personality-wise for namesake Peggy Mitchell, late of TV's EastEnders – literally dragged him out of the pub.
Her wayward son had sought solace in alcohol. "After the fight I jumped on the booze for six months," he admits. "My mum suddenly decided she'd seen enough of it, came into the pub, pulled me out and said, 'Right, kid, you've got to get yourself back on track.' She told me, 'You're better than this. Stop messing around and sort your head out.' My dad backed her up and I agreed that they were right, so I got back into the gym a month before Christmas, started ticking over and boom, here I am.
"My trainer, Jimmy Tibbs, has rarely let me out of his sight and believe me, I am in the condition of my life. Seeing my mum and dad together again [they are separated], yanking me out of the pub and telling me to buck my ideas up, well, it gave me a big kick up the arse. The penny dropped.
"In the Katsidis fight, things hadn't gone according to plan. But a lot had gone wrong before it all happened. I wasn't living the life. My family life wasn't right. People around me could see it. My brother came into the dressing room, clouted me round the head and told me to liven myself up. The concentration wasn't there. But this time I'm ready.
"Everything is straightened out now," he says. "Nothing like that will ever happen again. Now I am definitely in a better place. I want to get back on top. I know I was almost there and I can be again."
First he has to get past Murray, a Mancunian with the longest unbeaten run in British boxing, 31 wins stretching back eight years. Mitchell has lost only one [to Katsidis] in 32, with a higher percentage of knockouts.
Unlike the spiky Essex boy, Murray is a more reserved character. Tired of not getting the big fights he wanted under his previous management, he has now joined Mitchell in Frank Warren's stable. "This fight's been a long time in the making and a victory will really propel me into the public consciousness," says Murray.
"It wasn't my best performance last time out [when he outpointed Karim El Ouazghari in April] but I've got an underrated boxing brain. And this time I'm going to use it. If Kevin thinks I'm just a come-forward slugger, he's in for a shock."
Mitchell counters: "John is tough but there's nothing there to worry me. I'll knock him out. He's aggressive and he's been getting away with it at domestic level, but let's see how he reacts when he walks on to my shots."
This banter is the nearest they have come to verbal aggro before a North versus South Sky-televised pairing that promises to produce a memorable scrap, a genuine 50-50 fight between two 26-year-olds of differingstyles and temperaments.
Murray gave up his European title in order to fight Mitchell for this vacant WBO Inter-Continental championship, a prelude to a possible full-blown world title fight with the WBA champion, Brandon Rios. At least this is the gameplan, according to Warren's sons, George and Francis, who are making their own promotional debut, no doubt with a little help from dad.
This is a hard one to pick. My hunch is the more methodical Murray may possess the slicker ringcraft and the greater resolution. But much depends on how well Mitchell has recovered from his alcoholic aberration.
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