Although Lee Murray spends a lot of time alone these days, one thing’s clear: he’s a people person. Indeed, were it up to him, he’d be surrounded by them. Close by, right next to him, he’d have his family and friends, and just outside this inner circle you’d find a lot of the old coaches and training partners he hasn’t seen since around the time of his last fight in 2004.
For the most part, Murray has always been flanked by a support network: a team, a crew, a gang, a workforce. He was infamously part of a group arrested for their role in the Securitas depot robbery, and he trained with another ahead of each one of his 12 licensed MMA fights.
But it’s his support network at Miletich Fighting Systems for whom he holds the most admiration. Tellingly, Lee Murray speaks of them and their leader, Pat Miletich, with a reverence and level of respect he reserves for only a few.
Bloody Elbow: Who were the best fighters you witnessed in the gym and which training partners impressed you the most?
Lee Murray: Matt Hughes impressed me with how strong he was and how he could control a fight. If he got on top of you, he felt like a heavyweight.
Jeremy Horn was so relaxed in a fight. He used to fight like he was riding a bike. That is how easy he made it look. He would have a conversation with his cornerman in the middle of the fight. I think he has had something like 200 fights, so the experience he has is second to none. Before I fought Silva, Jeremy fought him. He lost a decision, but I recall Silva throwing combos at him, like something out of The Matrix, and Jeremy never once panicked. Great guy and very, very humble.
James Zikic was one of my main training partners for a lot of my fights. We sparred loads of rounds and I have not trained with many people tougher than him. He would never tap in a training session; he would prefer you to choke his life out. Sparring boxing with him was a nightmare. He would just keep coming forward. His reputation goes before him. People like David Haye sparred with him. Everyone says how tough he is.
Remco Pardoel, my jiu-jitsu coach, impressed me. He was 260 pounds but quick and slick and moved like a lightweight. I couldn’t do anything to him. It was like a bear playing with its cubs when I grappled him.
Alexis Demetriades, my MMA coach, impressed and pissed me off at the same time. He pissed me off because he was good enough to beat most MMA fighters in the UFC, but never fought. He was probably the best wrestler I have ever seen in MMA. Plus, he had top-level jiu-jitsu, his ground-and-pound was on par with the best in his weight class, and he was a decent boxer with unbelievable fitness levels.
During training he used to put me through hell. I hated him. I don’t think I have ever cursed anyone as much as I cursed him. I loved him for it, though, because he helped me become a fighting machine.
BE: Which fighters would you have liked to train with?
LM: Back in 2006, I would probably have liked to train with Fedor Emelianenko. I missed him by a few days when I went to Holland once to train with Remco Pardoel.
Remco took me all around Holland to train that year. I ended up training with all the top Dutch fighters. In America, I trained with Pat Miletich and all his fighters, and also trained with Renzo Gracie in 2000. I think I would have liked to travel to Brazil, train at the Chute Boxe Academy, and fight in some bareknuckle tournaments.
I was supposed to fight in a bareknuckle fight in Russia. I had my visa and was set to go. However, I managed to break my finger last minute and had to have it operated on and pinned. The fight was cancelled.
If I was out now, I would like to train with Gegard Mousasi and go to Canada and train with Georges St-Pierre and Rory McDonald. Sparring and training with these fighters would tell me how near or far I am from having championship fights.
BE: What was it like training with the Miletich camp?
LM: It was a great experience. My first MMA coach, Dexter Casey, who basically taught me everything, put me contact with Pat. Dexter knew how to progress me and suggested I go to the US to train with Pat, and also Remco Pardoel in Holland. At the time, Pat was UFC welterweight champion.
When I first visited Iowa, I was about 22 or 23 years old. I had only 18 months of training experience. One day, while at Pat’s, Robbie Lawler walked in. He was probably 17 or 18.
There was an MMA event on at the time – an extreme challenge run by Monte Cox in Wisconsin – and Pat asked me if I would like to go with them to watch the fights. I said, “Yeah, no problem.”
Next thing I know someone has got injured and Pat said, “Do you want to fight?” I said “yes” and it went from me watching the fights to fighting. The next surprise is that it’s a tournament, so it’s not one fight but two. But I couldn’t look like a p—y and turn it down.
My first fight was against Chris Albandia. I won it in the first round by ankle-lock. Then, in the final, I got matched with Joe Doerksen, who submitted me in round one by key-lock. It was a great experience for me, though. It was also the first time I ever fought in a cage because UK MMA still used rings.
The next time out, I was to fight in a bar. I remember we finished training and Jens Pulver had just won the UFC lightweight title and we were going to a bar to celebrate. Pat asked me if I wanted to come. He picked me up from the hotel and took me along with him. I walked into the bar and the Miletich camp are there celebrating with Jens and they are showing his fight on the big screen. In the centre of the bar is a boxing ring. I asked what the ring was for and was told it was for people who wanted to get up and fight. I was asked, “Do you want to fight?” My response was, “Why not?”
So, then I am in the backroom warming up and the announcer shouts, “Who wants to fight this English kid?” It doesn’t take long for one of the security guards working on the door to say, “Sure, I will fight him.” The crowd were roaring and cheering, and the announcer says, “Now we have a fight, ladies and gentlemen!”
The person I am fighting turns out to be Drew McFedries.
The fight started with a bit of a scrap, we hit the floor, and I remember reversing him and was in mount position hitting him. Towards the end of the first round, though, he escaped out of the mount and ended up in my guard. He then hit me with a good shot on my nose. There was blood pouring and the crowd were banging on the canvas chanting “USA, USA, USA!”
The round ended. I got up and went to the corner with a busted nose. But I still won the round.
The second round started. I threw a head-kick but slipped, fell, and he jumped on me to try and punch me. I managed to catch his arm and put on an arm-bar. He tried to stand up, but it cracked his arm and he tapped out.
I had won the fight. To win in that type of atmosphere was a great experience for me.
Each time I went to train with Pat I gained more and more experience. But he eventually moved out of his gym to go somewhere brand new that was being built. During that time I started training in a wrestling hall in a different part of town and it was there I met Tim Sylvia from Maine. I ended up staying with Tim and Jason Black at the house they were renting.
When Tim first arrived in Iowa, he was pretty raw in terms of skills, and nowhere near ready for a UFC title fight. The next time I went to Pat’s, though, he had turned Tim into a UFC champion. I don’t know if Pat had some kind of f—king wand or something, but this guy was creating so many UFC fighters in one gym: Matt and Mark Hughes, Jens Pulver, Jeremy Horn, Robbie Lawler, Spencer Fisher, Drew McFedries, Tony Fryklund, Nate Schroeder, Joe Slick, Jason Reinhardt and Justin Eilers. It might be normal to see that many UFC fighters in one gym now, but back then it wasn’t.
It’s a lot easier getting a UFC contract now than it was back then because they put on more shows. I had to beat Pele Landi (Jose Landi-Jons) to get in the UFC. This guy was one of the most feared strikers in the division and was the former number one in the world after beating Pat (Miletich). He also had a knockout win over Matt Hughes and had won the most bareknuckle tournaments in Brazil. Even then, after beating him, the UFC only gave me a one-fight contract.
BE: Were you welcomed with open arms in Iowa or did you have to prove yourself?
LM: Pat welcomed me with open arms from day one. I remember him saying, “I can’t get some people to train with me when they live five minutes away, but you have flown all the way from UK and I respect you for that.”
He always refused to take money from me when I tried to pay him. I was made to feel at home. When Pat and the rest of them came to England, I made sure I took them out and they had a great time. They had done the same for me.
BE: Were there any funny gym stories from your time in MMA?
LM: There were so many funny moments at London Shootfighters. I would always be doing some crazy shit and cracking jokes, and Alexis used to chase me with an Aikido stick.
One day, two guys turned up at the gym. One was English, the other was American. They told Alexis they were cousins and that the American wanted to fight. So, Alexis says, “No problem.” He tells him to get changed and says they can start training with the guys grappling on the mat. But the American guy interrupts and says, “No, I haven’t come to train. I have come to fight. I want to fight your fighters.” The English guy goes red in the face, apologises for his cousin and tries to get him to leave. The American guy shouts, “I can beat anyone in this gym!”
Alexis told me to spar with him for one round, so the guy gloves up and we start the round. He comes steaming towards me, throwing punches and trying to knock me out. He was grunting as he threw punches. He was a bodybuilder type; he reminded me a lot of Phil Baroni. He threw 20 shots, one after the other, and I just covered up. Then, as soon as he stopped punching, I hit him with a three-punch combo which sent him skidding across the floor and out the double doors. He was literally outside in the road.
He got up off the floor shaking his head and holding on to a car. Alexis said to him, “Where are you going? Your round’s not over yet. Get back in and finish your round!”
There was another short barrage of punches from him, but this time when I hit him he fell against the wall. I then started to unload on him and my punches were holding him up at one point.
I was pulled off him and there were a few people worried he might be dead. He wasn’t.
When he finally got off the floor, he was a different man. Very humble and very apologetic. You don’t enter a man’s gym and try to disrespect it like this.
‘The Real Notorious’ is a seven-part series with Lee Murray.