Interview: Johnny Eames On Ben Murphy And His Headline Grabbing British title Challenge

By Gianluca (Rio) Di Caro

On Saturday night British Light Welterweight Champ Ashley ‘Treasure’ Theophane defended his coveted Lonsdale belt against late replacement Ben Murphy.

Whilst Theophane did manage to retain his title, it was far from a convincing win, and it was the challenger who received all the plaudits, probably because he dominated the fight and all ringside judges had Hove’s Murphy firmly ahead on points at the start of the eleventh.

No surprise then that most of the media reports make a big point that Theophane was very, very lucky to get the win in the end, as well as lavish praise on Murphy for his magnificent performance. Something I readily agree with especially knowing the circumstances surrounding the fight – Murphy took the fight at just a couple of days notice, fought at a higher weight division than he normally does and more importantly had been cut during the successful defense of his Southern Area Lightweight title just two weeks earlier.

As such I really wanted to get an inside track on this mighty warrior, as well as the fight itself, so rather than talk with Murphy so soon after the fight Instead I spoke with his coach Johnny Eames at his famous fight factory The TRAD TKO Boxing Gym in Canning Town.

However before we get onto the interview with the esteemed Mr Eames I thought it sensible to give a very brief rundown on the fight for those that hadn’t been lucky enough to watch Murphy’s magnificent performance.

Murphy completed dominated the first half of the fight, he took the fight to the bigger man, pinning Theophane on the ropes and letting rip with nonstop venomous salvos, to win the first five rounds easily. Theophane had a little more success in the sixth, but still not enough I felt to win the round – mainly because it was clear that it was Murphy that was still in full control.

Round seven see the Tasmanian Devil Dog like Murphy completely tie up the champ, as in the early rounds, to secure the round, even though Theophane had managed to tear a nasty gash over Murphy’s right eye – On this point some reports say was the result of a left uppercut, whilst various of those present ringside, including his coach Johnny Eames, claim this was due to the dubious use of the elbow.

Either way at the end of the day Murphy was badly cut, something that clearly affected him, as such initially he seemed wary to go full pelt as previously, which allowed Theophane to actually gain some semblance of success for the next couple of rounds.

Round eleven sees Murphy fly out the traps and again take the fight to the Champ and keeps the pressure up for a minute or so. As soon as the major assault subsides Theophane starts one of his own. Theophane steps up the pace and continues to do so until the referee Howard Foster steps in and stops the fight on the 2 minute 33 second mark.

Interestingly many pundits disagreed with the ref stepping in and stopping the fight at this point, including myself, but it was surprisingly refreshing that Johnny Eames didn’t, something he explains during the following interview.

Rio – First question I have to ask is just how did this fight actually come about?

Johnny – Frank Maloney called me on Tuesday evening and asked me if Michael Grant wanted to fight Ashley Theophane for the British title as Nigel Wright unfortunately had a problem with his brain scan – obviously my sympathies go out to Nigel Wright, who’s a good friend of mine. I spoke to him up there and hopefully all will be all right once they get the second opinion – I said Michael wasn’t available and maybe he should try Peter McDonagh, who trains here in the gym.

Obviously the answer was that he couldn’t do it, so I said look I’ve got another guy here, who I don’t actually manage, but train and I’ll have a word with him, Ben Murphy, I said the only problem is he only fought two weeks ago and in that fight he got cut, so it was a big if Ben would be willing to take the fight.

That was a stupid question really, because I phoned Ben, maybe I should have rang his manager first but I always have a sort of special relationship with my fighters and I rang Ben he answered immediately I said do you want to fight for the British title Saturday, bearing in mind this was Tuesday and the answer was yes. He didn’t ask who, where, how much, what weight, nothing!

Obviously it was a step up in weight, which was a gamble, but I worked with Ashley (Theophane) for two or three years and I know Ashley quite well. I knew that Ben was the kind of fighter that Ashley really didn’t like fighting. The big question mark over the fight was it was two weeks since he fought and had been back in the gym once, all right he did a couple of runs and he always keeps himself fit.

We hadn’t prepared for it, but that’s all right because Ashley hadn’t prepared for us – then again how can you prepare for Ben Murphy – you know he was prepared to fight Nigel Wright, a southpaw, and now he’s got a little bull like animal who wants to rip his head off with every punch he throws.

Rio – You touched on my next question, normally Ben fights at Super Featherweight and Lightweight, didn’t you worry about him stepping up to Light Welter so quickly.

Johnny – If it had been any other Light Welterweight in the Country I might have been a bit concerned, but I know Ashley quite well, he aint what you call a big puncher, he’s quite accurate but not a big puncher so I knew Ben would be able to deal with the power.

Ben walks around at 10st 4lbs, 10st 5lbs and he makes Lightweight quite comfortably and he did make Super Featherweight for Prizefighter, so he’s pretty flexible. He’s a good liver so he can keep the weight on or take it off as it makes no difference for him, so we virtually fought at walking around weight.

Ben’s a different animal, yeah it was a gamble, but a calculated gamble.

Rio – Ben’s only been with you around six weeks or so, so I assume a lot of what we see was his normal fight style and not that you have bought much on board yet.

Johnny – When he came to me he had three weeks ‘til his Southern Area title defense, there’s nothing I can teach in three weeks, not even Superman could teach anyone anything in three weeks, and there’s a lot better trainers than me out there (Rio – I doubt there are many better, with the levels of Championship success Johnny has had over the years) that would tell you that you couldn’t teach anyone anything new in just three weeks, so we just had to make sure he was ready for a ten rounder, which he was.

After the first fight I said we’ll get you in the gym and I’ll start teaching you some of the things you need to know. He was due to be in this Monday to start our coaching for fights after Christmas.

Obviously it’s not how I want him to fight, but for Ashley it’s the way he had to fight. I spoke to him beforehand and said that there’s things I want to teach you to do, but said to him for this fight just go out there and do what you do, because he had to do what he does. It aint pretty but it’s effective.

Rio – Now I’m going to get onto the fight itself – unfortunately I couldn’t get up to Sunderland so I watched it on TV – I thought he did amazingly well and that the stoppage was early, but please tell me how you see that fight.

Johnny – I was amazed at how he could back Ashley up so easily in the first six rounds, I mean at first I thought Ashley was having a look to see what Ben’s got to offer. I knew he hadn’t prepared for Ben, all good fighters can adapt during a fight and Ashley is a good fighter.

As I said I thought Ashley was just having a look, then after the first round went, and then the second and then the third went I realised he couldn’t deal with it.

Ben was very fired up, I was asking Ben not to put power in every shot, unfortunately that side of it we haven’t taught him that yet and he just went round after round.

I had us win the fist six rounds, without a shadow of a doubt. For me personally I had us lose the next four, going into the eleventh I had us two up. I believe, no I know for definite because I spoke with the judges, that one judge had Ben five up going into the eleventh, one had him four up and one had him one round up.

In hindsight if I had known that I would have told Ben to go out there and hang on him for dear life, but not knowing if he’d be able to do that or not, because that’s not his style.

Everybody was in his favour, at the end of the tenth round, I think it was, he came back – he was cut in the second round, it was a cut that he got two weeks before and we knew it would reopen, and then cut again in the seventh round – and he’d started to get beaten up a bit, I’m not someone that I’m not one for letting my fighters get beat up so I said to him unless you win this eleventh round I’m not letting you out for the twelfth.

Obviously partly to fire him up but also to make him aware he was taking too many shots. Unfortunately the referee didn’t let him get back to the corner, but a lot of people who watched it on TV said they didn’t feel the stoppage was justified, from ringside it was and Howard (Foster) did a good job, a very good job.

Ben did everyone of us proud, when we went back to the hotel the officials stood and clapped us in, I’ve never seen that before.

The bottom line is that it could open doors for Ben in his own weight division.

Rio – Again you’ve touched on my next question – what’s next for Ben.

Johnny – Ben is a Lightweight, he really is a Lightweight, he will do Lightweight again and he will be fighting at Lightweight in the next fight.

I’d love to think, and reading the reports and website that everybody thinks that Ben should be mandatory challenger for the British Lightweight title. I’d love to think he would.

Anthony Crolla is a good friend of mine, Joe Gallagher is a good friend of mine, but I’m pretty certain if they was watching that they wont be fancying facing Ben Murphy at Lightweight and I’m pretty certain that he could go and take the title from Anthony.

Rio – So if he does get the shot and wins the title, do see Ben progressing further than that?

Johnny – I never look beyond the British level with one of my fighters until they win it and defend it and then we look to see what’s around. The Lightweight division on the European scene is a very good division.

I’m not saying Ben aint good enough, but let’s see what happens with the British title first and then we’ll see where we go after that.

Rio – You’ve only had five weeks working with Ben, what’s your absolute honest opinion of him.

Johnny – The American trainer that was with Ashley said to me after the fight ‘put that man back in the cage, he should be on chains.’ That’s exactly what he is, he’s a total throwback, he’s not scared of anybody or anything.

When he was up here training with Bryan Lawrence, he’s a Lightweight but he was sparring with Middleweights because the lighter weights didn’t want to spar with him. That’s the kind of kid he is and any fighter that has Ben’s attitude I’ll give them as much time as I can.

As a character and as a person he’s amazing, he’s just amazing you know I’ve never had a fighter with such a positive thinking way of fights. In his mind no one can beat him and he don’t care who he fights.

I just wish there were a lot more fighters like him out there. Fighters these days are picky, want to be guaranteed wins, this kid don’t give a shit, he’ll fight whoever you put in front of him.