IT is almost two months since Martin Murray left the boxing ring for the final time, beaten but unbowed following his fifth unsuccessful World title challenge, the hugely popular St Helens middleweight has had a short time to reflect.

Although the memory of that defeat by Billy Joe Saunders at the SSE Arena, Wembley is still fresh – as are the gruelling weeks leading up to it – there are no second thoughts, rather a mixture of gratitude, pride and even relief following a career which has been something of a salvation for the Fingerpost fighter.

The 38-year-old warrior has hung up his gloves with a fine record – and something money and success can’t buy, respect…and he has resisted the temptation to cling on too long, for one fight too many.

St Helens Star:

Murray reflected: “It is still pretty fresh, but it is not going to change. I just knew after that last fight, when I got back to the changing rooms. There were a few tears but I thanked my team there for what they had done and I just knew that was it.

“I knew it was over, but to be honest I am glad it’s over.

“This last training camp took a lot out of my body. The last time I had trained for anything like that was two years ago preparing for the Saunders fight that he twice pulled out of.

“Those training camps take a lot out of your body and after the last one I knew I was old because I was taking five days off in between tough sparring sessions.

“I just knew my time was up.”

Murray has always backed himself to rise to the challenge, and pick himself up countless times when weaker characters would have given up the ghost, but he is also smart enough to know when he can give no more.

“In the fight with Billy Joe there were a lot of rounds that were close, and although I knew what I needed to do I did not have those gears to be able to do it.

“The boxing ring is a dangerous place to be if you feel that.

“There was no point me fighting here and there just for the sake of wages or boxing. My health is more important,” he said.

St Helens Star:

Murray’s record in the ring is impressive with ABA titles at amateur level being augmented by the British, Commonwealth and the WBA Interim belts in a career made up of 39 wins from 46 paid bouts, with six losses and one agonising draw.

That draw was painful; Murray’s first world title challenge against Felix Sturm on the WBA middleweight champion’s home patch at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany. It was not only Murray and his Barmy Army who felt he had won, with the draw leaving the belt with the champion.

That, plus the harsh defeat by Argentine Sergio Martinez in Buenos Aires, were the closest he came to that elusive crown.

But his failure to become world champion does not eat away at him, he is not bitter rather he reflects his achievements and how that career can help inspire others, especially in his home town.

“I am happy with what I have achieved,” he said.

“When I am asked about never being world champion, I want to say I am gutted, but I am not.

“I don’t lose any sleep over it at all – never did do and never will.

St Helens Star:

“I have always been a firm believer of everything happening for a reason. What is the point of stressing about not getting there? I know I got there but did not get the nod.

“The most important thing is having that respect – and there are champs out there, past and present that people have no respect for.

“You can’t buy respect and I’d like to think I can be a shining example and inspiration to people to show that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.

“You should not let your past determine your future if you really want to turn your life around, then you can. I am happy and proud in that respect too.

“I had a good go at it and will be forever grateful to boxing for what it has done for my life.”

Sports stars, especially those who have been intensely committed to their craft since a very young age, can often find a gaping hole in their lives when that career ends.

Murray admits he has seen this feature in other fighters, but is not experiencing that void from the missing routine and the lack of an adrenaline rush, quite the opposite in fact.

He explained his sense of relief that some of the unseen parts of the fight game will now be out of his life forever.

“I am lucky – I look at some fighters who would fight on and fight on, people who have really struggled with retirement. It has not bothered me – I know I have achieved what I can and have squeezed every last fight out of my career without it being one fight too many.

“Mentally there is a lot of stress that goes on in preparing for big fights,” he said.

“I will always look after myself, but making weight, the stress of fighting and getting ill has all gone and I feel like there’s a big weight been lifted off me.

“Nor am I going to miss the stress of not knowing when your next fight is going to be.

“You get down and frustrated because all you want to do is fight, and provide for your family.

“I have done enough of that throughout my career and I am happy that I don’t have to do that again.”

That aspect of boxing was tough for Murray, who struggled to get the breaks; pushing the stone up the hill to fight Sturm and Martinez in the big arenas, only to see it roll back down and send him back to the sports hall square one.

The past few years have been frustrating because he knew he had one big fight in him, but “nothing was igniting.”

That situation was not helped by the sad death of his trainer Oliver Harrison, at the age of 59, something that knocked Murray for six.

“Oliver’s passing affected me badly.

“It has been a terrible couple of years because we lost Oliver in April 2019 and then my granddad (Father) in February 2020.

“That was two positive male role models out of my life. I still have my dad, but I can count those type of male role models on one hand.

“Father was old – he was 82 and it was his time to go, but Oliver was young , fit, strong and healthy and had so much more to give.

“I still get upset when I think about him but now I am at the point where I just feel blessed to have known him and got to know him.

“He was more than a trainer, but was a top mate and a father figure.

“It is sad – we could have had so many good years now working together.

“It is a hard loss to get over, someone like Oliver…we went past the boxer-trainer relationship and we were good friends who confided in each other and had proper talks.

“He was a really good guy – but we are doing him proud. He has created a lasting legacy.”

There have been other people in boxing, who Murray credits with getting his life and career back on track.

Not least of those is St Helens’ Olympian John Lyon, who guided him back into the ring after he had gone off the rails.

“When I served my last prison sentence and I came out of jail, I went to John, who was at Wigan then and he helped me out massively.

“He said, ‘stay in the gym’, and took me to the JJB and had me doing bits and he got me four fights before I turned pro,” he said.

Further on in his career, Murray credits St Helens businessman Andy Mikhail for stopping him from calling it a day after his career ground to a halt in 2013 after going so close against Martinez.

He said: “I will never forget what Andy did for me. He spun it on its head and we ended up going to South Africa and then Monte Carlo, getting a deal that set me and my family up for life.”

And, of course, there is the Barmy Army, which started off as a few mates and family, but snowballed into a large vocal support that cheered him whether in Wigan, Germany or the red-hot cauldron of Buenos Aires.

“St Helens people are good people, and they support you, and I have had backing from Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester and Belfast, too.

“It is a bit random, but I have got a big support in Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales.

“But the people there are so relatable to us – we are the same people but in different towns, Merthyr is just like St Helens but in South Wales.

“I feel lucky and blessed by that support. It is a shame it has all gone but I am sure there’ll be other kids to support.”

St Helens Star:

But back to St Helens, the sight of Murray entering the ring with Saints crest proudly emblazoned on his shorts always made a few thousand chests puff out with pride across the borough.

One of our own – flying the flag for a town that has had some battles on its hands this past 40 years, but is still here standing tall. And that feeling of pride is reciprocated.

“I have always wanted to do the town proud and I have always had that Saints badge on my shorts just so that I could represent St Helens.

“It is a great town and it is full of good people…I might have been doing the town proud but I was proud to represent it wherever I went,” he said.

And he now hoping to repay that town by helping bring the next Martin Murray into the boxing world.

To that end, he has just started helping at the Wildcard Boxing Club in Parr.

He said: “I have been helping Dom and Mick in training a few kids once a week, including a young lad who is thinking of turning professional from there.

“For me going forward now it will be a bit rewarding to give a little bit back and train my own champion.

“I have learned a lot from my own experiences and was taught so much by Johnny Chisnall back in the day, and then Oliver (Harrison) and Jamie (Moore).

“It would be a waste not to try to help someone out in boxing. I’d like to give a little back to a St Helens fighter especially – because I have had amazing support off everyone in the town it would be nice to bring a St Helens kid through and help him get some support.

St Helens Star:

“St Helens for many years has produced top fighters – the Gilbodys, John Lyon, Ste Birch, Craig Lyon, Darren and Wayne Chisnall - Chissy’s lads.

“I was at Wildcard last week and there were some good kids there with potential. The talent is always going to be there in St Helens – a good, solid working class town where you are just tough by nature.

“Dom and Mick are coaching at Wildcard and Ste Birch is at JCs. There are loads of kids there but maybe I could give them a leg up and advice on the boxing game in general.

“I am lucky to have met who I have in my life and I am only half way through it….that chapter of boxing has gone now but I am looking forward and excited about the future,” he said.

Pictures: Mark Robinson/Matchroom