Like many professional boxers, Irish light middleweight champion Lee Murtagh grew up idolizing former fighters. His father, also a prize-fighter, enthralled the youngster with his stories of pugilists and their thrilling battles. Murtagh was also inspired by the exploits of Irish champions James J. Corbett and John L. Sullivan.
Murtagh began to box at age eight, learning from his dad at an early age that, “boxing is a hard game."
The young Murtagh figured that out soon enough. One of the Irish fighters he admired, Crawford Ashley, lost both of his attempts at the world title. Murtagh, crushed by the loss, focused instead on his own budding professional career, adopting the styles of a pair of famous American boxers.
“I tried to emulate two great southpaws, Marvin Hagler and Hector Camacho,” Murtagh told this writer during a recent telephone interview.
“I would fight like Marvin and move like Camacho,” he added with a chuckle.
In an ironiccoincidence, Murtagh (33-14 -1, 11 KOs) faces Hector Camacho Jr. (56-5, 31 KOs) in the headline fight August 8 at the Frontier Field in Rochester, New York. The bout is his first in the U.S. and the biggest of his career.
Murtagh was born 39 years ago in Leeds, Northern Ireland, but his heart resides in elsewhere.
"I'm Leeds born, but my blood is Belfast, Ireland," said Murtagh.
"I'm in Belfast regularly. I love the place. It's where I won the championship of Ireland."
Belfast'sboxing history stirs deep emotions in Murtagh.
"My dad boxed at the famous Ulster Hall," Murtagh said. "It was always a place I admired andI dreamed of boxing there."
He lived his dream last October when he defended his Irish light super middleweight title at the historic venue. Ulster Hall was erected in 1852. Some of the noteworthy fighters who fought their include Rinty Monaghan,Wayne McCullough and Barry McGuigan.
“I was lucky enough to top the bill and have a war worthy of being the main event,” said Murtagh.
The determined Irishman's 18-year professional career has been one battle after another. He won 11 of his first 13 pro bouts, but lost in his first bid for a title in 1999. He soldiered on, losing attempts to win titles in eight fights before capturing the Irish belt in 2012.
It makes sense that his favorite fighters, including former heavyweight champion James J. Braddock and welterweight battler Micky Ward, were plucky boxers with plenty of heart.
Murtagh's favorite saying speaks to his drive and determination.
“Some get protected, some get neglected,” Murtagh said.
“Some rise above it and do the unexpected.”
Murtagh will enter the ring on August 8 against Camacho Jr. the decided underdog. He’s fought the odds his entire career. There were many times he could have retired, but one thing is for certain, no matter what happens, he won’t quit.
Fighting is in his blood.
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