“Free Lee Murray.”
That’s what people used to say, even if they didn’t necessarily mean it, almost a decade ago. It somehow found its way on to T-shirts and website forums and became one of those cult, iconic MMA phrases that meant a lot to only a few. It signified a place and time. You had to be there.
Today, however, it represents merely the passing of time. The sport has changed, moved on, grown up, and ‘Lightning’ Lee Murray, one-time UFC middleweight, still hasn’t been set free. In fact, he’s exactly where he was back then, at least geographically, and continues to wonder how old he’ll be when he can finally leave his Moroccan prison, roam without handcuffs and sit down on a toilet seat. Now 40 years of age, if growing up is different to getting old, he too will say he has grown up.
His sudden willingness to speak, meanwhile, is information you receive second hand, transferred in the dead of night, almost said in a whisper. (Pssst, pass it on, Lee Murray’s ready to talk.) But it’s true all the same and what it means is this: Lee Murray is going to do an interview and you’re going to be the one conducting it. Moreover, circumstances dictate that there will be a strict protocol to follow, the questions will have to be predominantly mixed martial arts-related and they must – absolutely must – be approved by the prison.
What you aren’t told is that a Lee Murray interview will take months and months to complete and that 61 questions will eventually produce an initial word count in excess of 15,000. Then again, even if you were informed of this, nothing would change. You would still wait, patiently, expectantly, and do so because, after all, you’re waiting for Lee Murray and adhering a process – a long, painstaking process – until its bitter end.
Time passes, though. Murray, the man with the stopwatch, knows this, just as he knows June 25 marked 12 years since he was locked away in a Moroccan jail for his role in the £53 million Securitas depot robbery in 2006.
In that period, there have been different prisons, as well as faint hope of a reduced 25-year sentence. But, for now, that’s all it is: the hope is never more than faint. Still Murray lives alone and still he lives off an almost mythical reputation that precedes him both on the streets of London, where he remains a word best left unsaid, and in the world of mixed martial arts, where he’s just as famous for doing unspeakable things to Tito Ortiz outside a nightclub as he is going three rounds with Anderson Silva in a cage.
Folklore to one side, Lee Murray is real. Real in every sense of the word. He isn’t a figment of our dark, twisted imagination, nor something MMA purists created in order to show the sport’s younger audience just how soft today’s athletes masquerading as professional fighters actually are. He’s polarising, no doubt. Certainly dangerous. But he’s real, for whatever that’s worth, and in an age of widespread sanitisation and political correctness, sometimes, just sometimes, it’s good to consult one of the sport’s mavericks to readdress the balance, remember how wild and uncouth things used to be, and ultimately discover what drives someone halfway through a sentence that could mean they’re locked away for a quarter of a century.
Lee Murray’s not giving up. That much is clear. He’s not giving up the fight for freedom, he’s not giving up hope of seeing his four children, and he’s not giving up the dream of one day fighting again, either. He wants you to know that. He also wants you to know plenty of other stuff, too, because 12 years a prisoner, in the wrong sort of cage, can leave a man with a lot on his mind and a lot he wishes to get off his chest.
Lee Brahim Lamrani Murray, despite the T-shirts, still isn’t free. You can find him here: Ecrou 1163, Prison locale de Tiflet 2, Tiflet, Morocco.
Regrettably, it’s the place he calls home.
Bloody Elbow: What are the three things you think about daily?
Lee Murray: Well, the first thing would have to be freedom. Without that, nothing else is possible. The next would be my family, and the third would be fighting again.
BE: How would you describe a typical day in the life of Lee Murray?
LM: At this present time, I can’t describe to you what a typical day in my life is like. But maybe one day I will be able to answer that question for you. You’ll probably fall back in your chair and say to yourself, “How the f—k did he do it?”
BE: What do you do to pass the time?
LM: I train. That’s all you can do. I train and try to get as fit and strong as possible, so I’m always ready to fight.
BE: What is your favorite film?
LM: There’s an ESPN documentary about me on the net and in this documentary they said my top three films were Gotti, Scarface and The Bank Job. But I had never even seen The Bank Job at the time of that documentary, so I don’t know where they got that from.
I would have to say Gotti and Scarface are definitely in my top 10, though. I can’t wait to see the new Gotti film I’ve heard about with John Travolta playing John Gotti.
My top three films to date are: 1. Heat; 2. Public Enemies; 3. The Town.
I am sure when they make the film about my life it will, without a doubt, be up there with them. I just need Michael Mann to get in touch with me so we can get the ball rolling and make the real Lee Murray story.
BE: What do you miss most about freedom?
LM: Spending time with my family and trying to catch up on some of the time that has been lost.
BE: Are you able to find happiness in your current situation?
LM: There’s no happiness where I am. But I suppose I can say I’m happy I’m still alive. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on things in my past and really see where I went wrong in life. There have been times when I’ve been sitting in a room next to people with multiple death sentences and it’s then your problem seems very small. I’m still here to fight another day. Yes, it is tough – it’s tough as hell – but I suppose I’m lucky I’m a tough motherf—ker.
BE: Do you have any goals that keep you motivated?
LM: I still have that dream of being the UFC champion. That dream will never go all the time I’m breathing air. The biggest disappointment for me is that the dream would have come true if I wasn’t in prison. That’s the most gutting thing about it.
BE: Do you still follow fight sports?
LM: Yeah, for sure. My family and friends always keep me up to date with what’s going on.
The growth of MMA since 2006, when I entered prison, is amazing. If someone would have said to me back in 2006 that women will be big stars in MMA and earn millions of dollars, I would never have believed it. That just shows how much the sport has evolved.
BE: Who are your favorite fighters in MMA today?
LM: I like Gegard Mousasi. For me, he is the number one middleweight in the world. He is very well-rounded and can fight in every position. I used to keep my eye on him back in the day because there was always a chance I could end up fighting him. He has really come on, which I knew he would. You could tell he had the qualities to be a good fighter back then.
Also, Michael Page. Michael is from the same camp as me, London Shootfighters, and it’s a shame I am not there to train with him. He would have been perfect to spar back in 2004 when I was preparing for the Anderson Silva fight. I think Michael has the skills to become a great champion – not just in MMA but in boxing, too. He could become the first man to hold world titles in MMA and boxing.
I have to say Jon Jones as well. He is the best fighter on the planet, with or without steroids. He cleaned up the 205-pound division and needs to go up to heavyweight and take that belt.
BE: What is the last thing on your mind before you go to sleep at night?
LM: Freedom. That and being with my family and bringing home that UFC belt.
Elliot Worsell is a guest writer for Bloody Elbow. ‘The Real Notorious’ is a seven-part series with Lee Murray.