Eric Murray looks 'pudgy' ahead of fight

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
KRISSY DWYER/Fairfax NZ

New Zealand rower and Olympic gold medalist Eric Murray talks to Stuff about his upcoming fight against league veteran Manu Vatuvei at Fight for Life this weekend.

Eric Murray
Peter Meecham/Fairfax NZ
GUESS WHO's WORRIED?: Eric Murray left, and Manu Vatuvei get their shirts off at yesterday’s press conference in Auckland ahead of Saturday’s Fight for Life bout.

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Take a "pudgy" white rower and throw him in the ring against a muscle-bound league player of tough Tongan heritage - this doesn't seem like a fair fight.

It wasn't just his sporting prowess that made Olympic gold medallist Eric Murray stand out as the union versus league Fight for Life opponents squared off in Auckland yesterday.

From the moment Warriors wing Manu Vatuvei - in the best shape of his decade-long career after shedding six kilograms in five weeks - and Murray reluctantly pulled off their respective shirts and posed for the cameras, a clear favourite was confirmed.

"This is the lightest I've ever been since I started at the Warriors," Vatuvei beamed. "I don't want to lose . . . I would never hear the end of it."

For all Murray's mental strength, endurance and guts, his out-of-shape physique painted the picture of a bloke battling grave odds in this arena.

Compared to former and present All Blacks, Carlos Spencer and Hika Elliot, Murray appeared out-of-his-depth - his extra pounds gained during a well-earned two-month training hiatus post Olympics.

There were smiles yesterday but underneath the grin was an awareness of what could eventuate if "The Beast" unleashes on Saturday.

"That's one thing we hope won't happen," Murray said of being knocked out.

"We've trained so things like that won't happen. I'm in a unique position where people think you're silly and then there's a lot of admiration for it."

Murray deserves that respect for taking on a challenge he didn't initially sign up for. He was originally told organisers would find someone of similar ability, weight and height. "I don't know where they went wrong," he laughed.

Not only is boxing a new experience, Murray hasn't hit the gym for two-and-a-half-years. Pumping iron apparently slows speed on the water. "It's genetic I guess," he said of the stark physique disparity.

"I'm still a little bit pudgy after coming back and doing nothing for two months after the Olympics. I had to really get back into shape. We don't tend to spend too much time in the gym so I'm not going to look like Carlos Spencer and be ripped."

Murray's undoubted underdog tag and novice boxing status was further evident after some brief pad work with All Black Liam Messam.

Technically sound, maybe. Power was, however, a concerning, absent commodity. Damage control may be his best option.

"Coming from having no background in boxing at all . . . it's definitely going to be interesting, that's for sure. Physicality wise, what they do in rugby league compared to rowing is huge.

"I've been told anything can happen when you're in the ring. I know I'm not going to be as strong so that's what we've based our training around.

"You've to work you're strengths and know you're weaknesses. I need to back my fitness."

This is the part where you wish him good luck.

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