By Kieran Mulvaney
“I’ll be honest with you.”
It’s a particularly British sequence of words, generally uttered as a way of reducing the potential conflict arising from the statement that follows.
"I’ll be honest with you, I’m upset that you ran over my cat.”
“I’ll be honest with you, I rather wish you hadn’t burned down my house.”
Martin Murray, who challenges for Gennady Golovkin’s middleweight belts in Monaco’s Salle des Etoiles on Saturday night, doesn’t come across as the kind of person who feels the need to avoid conflict, although a series of youthful mistakes – he has been jailed three times – are firmly in the past. But he utters the phrase with sufficient frequency that it seems almost like a verbal tic. Thirty minutes in his company, however, suggests that, far from being a meaningless aphorism, it’s a window into the fact that Murray eschews bluster in favor of a refreshing candor.
Asked what weaknesses he has seen in Golovkin, he admits, “there’s no chinks in his armor, I’ll be honest with you. I was hoping a couple of his past opponents would show us some, but he’s a great all-round fighter. That means definitely he’s my toughest fight. The things we worked on [in his previous two world title bouts against Felix] Sturm and [Sergio] Martinez, we saw the weaknesses so we could work on them. We’ve not found any with Golovkin.”
Reminded that all 31 of Golovkin’s professional opponents have lost, and asked how he knows he will be different, he responds that, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t. It’s not a foregone conclusion that I’m going to win. I’m going to go in there and give it my all. But I think my mentality for this fight, and also my versatility – I can box, I can fight, I’m good defensively, I’m good going forward, I’m good at nullifying what other people are good at – I think that’s what makes a lot of people think that’s why I’m his toughest opponent to date.”
Taken in isolation and out of context, such statements may sound defeatist, as if Murray has already found comfort in the notion of leaving the ring second-best. But rather they are the realist observations of a man prepared to emerge victorious yet fully aware that he will almost certainly have to walk through fire in order to do so.
As the two fighters sat down with media at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel on Thursday, Murray’s manager Andrew Mikhail touched his fighter on the arm, expressed the hope that he wouldn’t mind his sharing the upcoming anecdote, and revealed that, as fight night approaches, “we always have a little talk and he always shows me pictures of food because he’s always dying to have a burger on Sunday. He said to me, ‘You know how far I’m prepared to go? Don’t plan Sunday, because I may be in hospital. I’m going to give this everything.’ That’s the mentality. He’s willing to do everything; he’s putting his body on the line to do what he has to do on Saturday night.”
To prepare himself for just that, Murray has endured a training camp above all others: six weeks over the holiday season in England, followed by five weeks at altitude in South Africa.
“It’s the first time Martin’s trained at altitude,” said Mikhail, “and we found that quite difficult adjusting in the first 10 days, but we can feel the benefit of that now coming down to sea level.” According to Murray, however, the most difficult aspect of the camp was the separation from his family.
“Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love my kids,” he said. “Being away from them for so long crippled me; it was so hard. The first couple of weeks I was thinking, ‘What have I done here?’ But I had to do something I’ve never done, and this was it. I’ve come so close twice before [in a draw with Sturm and a split decision loss to Martinez], and by the smallest of margins I’ve come up short. I just needed to take away any kind of regret come fight night. Don’t get me wrong: I want to win more than you could ever know, but if that doesn’t happen, I can be happy with myself. All I can do is my best, and I’ll have done it.”
That sentiment was echoed by his manager Mikhail. “If you’re going to take yourself to that next level, you’ve got to do things that you’ve never done before, you’ve got to put yourself through that barrier you’ve never done before,” he said. As a result of doing so, the manager insisted, Murray is “in the best shape he’s ever been, mentally, physically. I’m more confident than for any other fight he’s ever had that he’s going to go in there in his best shape. And all I can say is, if he’s not good enough on the night, there’s nothing more he could have done to be good enough.”
“It’s my toughest fight,” admitted Murray. But at the same time, “it’s his toughest fight. I know we’ll both rise to the occasion. I know that. It’s going to be a great fight on Saturday. I’ve just got a feeling it’s going to be an absolute classic.”