All the time I’m watching footage of Conor McGregor go toe-to-toe with a bus, I’m wondering what Lee Murray would do in the same situation. Something similar, I suspect. The chaos. The confusion. The controversy. But the damage and the terror would be far greater. That much is obvious.
I witness it from every angle. I hear every shout of anger, panic and fear. Yet, without wanting to downplay its severity, I can’t escape the feeling that it all seems a bit Murray-lite. The McGregor shtick, the rent-a-hooligans, the threat level. It’s the sort of carnage a teenage Murray would have wreaked on his way home from school.
Bloody Elbow: What have you made of Conor McGregor’s impact on MMA?
Lee Murray: He has made a great impact. There can be no hiding from the fact he has done a good job and helped a great deal with the growth of the sport. Having said that, I don’t think he has done any more than I would have done.
BE: Is McGregor the kind of champion you would have been?
LM: I like the fact he went after more than one belt. That was always my plan – to win multiple belts, set big goals and break records. But when I see him turning up to a fight wearing a white mink coat with tags hanging off it, looking like (Eastenders character) Pat Butcher on a night out down the Queen Vic, I would have to say no, he isn’t the kind of champion I would have been. And you definitely wouldn’t catch me with Tony the Tiger and King Kong tattooed on my chest, either.
You have never seen the champion I would have been. Conor can dream of being like me, but that’s what it would be – a dream. He could never be as confident as me, have balls the size of mine, or have the skills or power I have. He can pretend to be me, but you will never see another me. Period.
BE: If you and Conor McGregor coexisted in the UFC, do you think you’d be the one fighter he’d refrain from trash-talking?
LM: He would choose his words very carefully when speaking to me and wouldn’t cross the line like he has done with all his other opponents. He knows I am a different breed of animal compared to the little pipsqueaks he has been beating on.
The funniest one of them was that Eddie Alvarez guy. Where the f—k did Dana (White) find that little turd? Was he in the storeroom stacking shelves? He is not fit to clean my car on a Sunday morning, let alone get in the Octagon to defend a UFC world title. The thing I have not been able to get my head around is how he even won that belt in the first place. He must have won it a raffle.
BE: How would you expect someone like Conor McGregor to behave around you?
LM: The same as everyone else: very cautiously. There is no one in the UFC as fearless or ruthless as me. I go to limits others wouldn’t dream of. Where they end, I’m just beginning. People know my words come directly from my heart and I’m a man to be taken seriously.
I am the real ‘Notorious’. There is no one in MMA more notorious than me. I heard there was an article online titled, ‘The real notorious one before Conor McGregor,’ and it’s about me. Everyone who knows me knows I am the real ‘Notorious’.
Besides, what is he notorious for? What has he done to earn that name apart from throw a few water bottles and wear a bad suit? The combination of the bad suit and the ginger hair makes him look more like Krusty the Clown than notorious. I was born notorious. When I was sixteen years old and in prison, fighting in the prison yard, he was doing his paper round, being tucked in at night by his mummy and daddy. I would have his belt and his name, all in the same night.
BE: What did you make of Conor McGregor’s boxing match with Floyd Mayweather?
LM: It was always going to be a Floyd win. Conor had a one in a million chance. That was about it. Floyd outboxed some of the best boxers in the world; they could hardly touch him. Conor couldn’t even beat the best fighters the UFC had to offer, let alone go to another sport and beat the best there. The Russian guy, Khabib Nurmagomedov, would maul Conor. Also, Tony Ferguson would beat him. You can’t beat that Eddie Alvarez guy and claim to be the best lightweight in the world.
If the link between Lee Murray and Conor McGregor seems tenuous, based purely on a penchant for troublemaking, the line that crosses through Murray and Michael Bisping, the former UFC middleweight champion, is of the straighter, truer variety.
The two cut their teeth on Cage Rage shows in the early noughties and would even one day share a common opponent in Jorge Rivera. Where Murray burnt brightly and burnt out quickly, Bisping was true to his style — all pecks and prods and self-preservation — and well-equipped for the long haul. He stuck around. Won some, lost some, but always kept moving forward.
Which is why in the end, as Murray disappeared from view, Bisping entered the fray. By 2006, around the time Murray waved goodbye to freedom, he was on track to becoming the British face of the UFC.
Bloody Elbow: Did you ever expect Michael Bisping to become UFC middleweight champion?
Lee Murray: No. I never thought he would win that belt. Matt Hughes once said, “Anyone can get lucky once and win a belt – it’s defending it that makes a champion.” And defending it is something Michael Bisping could not do. ‘Defending’ means doing it against the next contender in line, not against a 47-year-old man in semi-retirement. I scored that Dan Henderson fight a draw anyway.
I am not taking anything away from Dan Henderson. Dan is a tough motherf—ker and a legend of the sport. In his day he would have knocked the s—t out of Bisping every time, exactly the way he did the first time they fought. He came up a little bit short, but Dan is an inspiration to still be fighting at the age of 47. He gives people like me hope.
Michael has world-class cardio, probably the best in the business, along with great desire. He is very tenacious. He loves fighting and loves competing. But, apart from that, his skills are very limited. He is just okay at everything; not great at anything. He’s not great at jiu-jitsu, he is not a wrestler and he doesn’t have great kickboxing skills. So, it was difficult to believe he could go on and win the UFC title.
BE: Would you have wanted to fight Bisping?
LM: For sure. Especially if he had that belt. It would have been the easiest night’s work ever. I cornered Mark Epstein for his two fights against Michael in Cage Rage. Michael won both and it was hard to accept watching a friend you have grown up with on the streets, been through wars with, get beat the way he did. It wasn’t nice.
To fight Michael and get that win back would definitely be something I would have been up for. That bit of rivalry makes it so much better.
Michael knows I am leagues above him. Whether he admits this or not, he knows in his heart. I was the real number one in the UK by far, and he would have always reigned second to me if I had not ended up in prison. He would not have achieved what he did if I was still out and about.
Dana White gave Michael a lot of chances. If I had been there, he would not have got those chances. Which is why it is quite frustrating sitting here knowing the second best man had the belt strapped around his waist.
BE: What would happen if you fought Bisping?
LM: I would hit his jaw hard and his head would hit the floor even harder. I would put him away in round one – at the latest, round two. My style is a nightmare for Michael. Explosive power-punchers like me are a bad match from him.
‘The Real Notorious’ is a seven-part series with Lee Murray.