It has been nearly 14 years since Lee Murray last had a professional fight.
To him, those 14 years are a mere inconvenience – a prolonged, frustrating delay – but far from an indication his fighting days are over. Instead, for as long as he’s able to form a couple of fists, and for as long as he’s able to then use these balled fists to destroy other human beings, the dream of one day returning to the cage or the ring will continue unabated.
It’s why he trains. It’s why he keeps himself in fighting shape and visualises the day he fights in front of a sold-out O2 Arena crowd in Greenwich, London, his hometown. It’s also the reason why he comments on Conor McGregor and Michael Bisping and Tito Ortiz and anybody else he feels is worth talking about circa-2018.
The battle to stay relevant is tough when you’ve been away 12 years, but to stay relevant, Murray knows, is to retain hope. Hope of fighting again; hope of becoming the very thing he threatened to become all the way back in 2004. More than simply relevant, Lee Murray is going to stay ready. Just in case.
Bloody Elbow: What type of training can you do these days?
Lee Murray: Just a bit of bodyweight training: jumps, sprints, running and a lot of circuits using bodyweight movements. The base of most of my circuits includes burpees.
One of my friends I trained, Mojo, has phenomenal fitness. It’s like nothing I have ever seen before. He holds the prison record for jumping burpees. To do 500 jumping burpees in 29 minutes is incredible, but to do them without stopping is something else.
If I can train someone to do 500 burpees without stopping, imagine the fighters I will have. Anyone can go into a gym and learn jiu-jitsu or learn how to wrestle, box or kickbox. But training a fighter to become mentally tough and never break is such a skill. A good coach will teach his fighters this because there is no point having a fighter who is great in the gym but falls apart in the ring or cage.
There is a circuit that is familiar to all of us here: 25 burpees, 25 Hindu press-ups, 25 air squats and 25 bicycle crunches. You have to complete six rounds with a maximum of one-minute rest after each round. You don’t have to take the rest if you don’t want to. Mojo holds the record for this, too. Eighteen minutes. It takes me three minutes to do each round, so my time is 20 minutes. Mojo weighs 200 pounds, by the way.
BE: What do you currently weigh?
LM: I weigh between 175 and 180 pounds. That’s my natural weight. When I was out, I was roughly 180 or 185. So nearly the same. I have never cut weight. I just fight at my walk-around weight.
The last time I weighed more than that was in 2001 when I weighed 200 pounds. As soon as they brought in the 185-pound weight class, I went back to my natural weight.
I had to do a lot of weight training and the one thing I hate is weight training. I don’t do it. If you want to walk down the beach in your Speedos, then do weights. However, if you want to fight, then fight.
There is nothing worse than a bodybuilder who thinks he is tough because he is muscular. If you asked Conor McGregor to fight at middleweight, after drinking water and eating breakfast, he would not last one round. He would be the breakfast. It’s easy cutting weight and going down to beat up the little guys.
Dana needs to open more weight classes. It would benefit everyone. Plus, he would have more championship fights to fill up his busy timetable, and Conor could fight for another belt. It would also help stop people doing these massive weight cuts. If you cut 20 or 30 pounds and then go and fight and take blows to the head, it is not good at all for your body.
BE: Do you expect to one day fight again?
LM: I hope so. I would be very disappointed if I couldn’t. I also think my fans would be disappointed. I believe I still have a lot to give – a lot of great fights and big fights.
I was a big loss to MMA. The sport doesn’t just need good fighters; it needs big characters, too. Conor has shown this.
There are some fighters out there who are good fighters but their character could put you to sleep. Ben Askren, for example, gets the job done but he’s boring. I’d rather paint my cell and watch it dry than watch him fight, let alone pay for the privilege. And what the f—k is that bird’s nest on his head? I’d feel embarrassed to get beat up by a guy with a haircut like that. Whether you love me or hate me, people will always pay to see fights of mine because they know they’ll see some exciting shit.
BE: Do you still box?
LM: Boxing was the main discipline in my armoury. Also, I have always loved the thought of being in the Olympics, and over the years here I have had the chance to see a lot of the 75 kg to 80 kg boxers that box in the Olympics for Morocco. My level of boxing is at a much higher level than these guys. I could box for Morocco as a dual national. I would love to box in the 2020 Olympics and represent Morocco, King Mohammed VI.
When I was out, I was training with professional boxers. Julius Francis (a former British heavyweight champion and one-time Mike Tyson opponent) was my main sparring partner for my UFC debut, and training with us in the gym were David Haye, Kevin Mitchell, Jonny Armour, and many others. I definitely have the experience to box in the Olympics and the determination and skill to win a medal.
BE: The UFC have gone all around the world but have yet to go to Africa. How would the UFC be received in Morocco?
LM: Very well, I think. Combat sports are loved here, and we have some of the best kickboxers in the world, especially the Dutch-Moroccans. Fighting is in in our blood. Most of us are aggressive, explosive fighters who go in for the kill. Us Berbers of Morocco have a reputation for being fierce warriors. We were born to fight and, for sure, every Moroccan would love to see the UFC here in Morocco. It would be even better if I was out to fight on that card.
BE: Is MMA popular in Morocco?
LM: It’s getting popular. Everyone now knows what MMA is here in Morocco. Badr Hari is very popular and has done a great job building the popularity of kickboxing here, and so has another Moroccan heavyweight, Jamal Ben Saddik.
Abu Azaitar is building the popularity of MMA. Abu has signed with the UFC and this will help the sport grow here. Abu is making big strides. He has built up a big fan base. In fact, he started his career in the UK at Cage Warriors and then later moved to World Series of Fighting.
It’s a shame I’m not out to help him build MMA in Morocco and do the first UFC Africa in Morocco. Hopefully Abu Azaitar, inshallah, will work his way to a title shot and win the belt. Then maybe they will do UFC in Morocco and it will be the first UFC Africa.
BE: How long do you need to get ready for a professional MMA fight?
Not long. I always keep myself in shape. You will never catch me looking like Johny Hendricks with a fat gut. I’m always lean, and my fitness levels are naturally pretty good. I’d just need to sharpen up my boxing, kickboxing, grappling and submissions.
BE: If you could fight anyone in a comeback fight who would you choose and why?
LM: Someone in the lightweight or welterweight division who walks around at the same weight as me. Conor has the crown at the moment, but that crown would look a lot better on me than it does on his ginger head.
You have to be realistic, though. I’m not going to get a fight with ‘Catweazle’ for my first fight back. I’d probably get someone who has been around for a while and is well-respected. Someone like Diego Sanchez would be a good fight for me. He’s tough and likes a war. He gets involved. He might have a set of balls in that sack of his to stand with me and make a ‘Fight of the Night’. But only if he can withstand the powerful shots he’d be eating.
Maybe after him I’d deal with Forrest Gump (Nate Diaz) and show ‘Catweazle’ how you deal with a r—rd and his crew. Then I’ll pay ‘Catweazle’ a visit.
BE: Do you have any regrets in terms of your MMA career?
LM: One of the biggest mistakes of my MMA career was not raising the Moroccan flag. My father never suggested it, and it never crossed my mind. I never really knew much about Morocco growing up, but, having spent so long here, I’ve educated myself.
I speak fluent Moroccan Arabic now, and the thing I like about Moroccans is they really get behind their people regardless of their history. They have a great sense of togetherness when it comes to their own people. They stick together. The country is fully supporting Badr Hari, and also now Abu Azaitar and Jamal Ben Saddik.
The British media, on the other hand, try to break their athletes. (Soccer player) Wayne Rooney is a prime example of this. The media try to make the public hate him, despite what he has achieved for the country. We all make mistakes in life. No one is perfect. But everyone deserves a second chance to put things right.
BE: If you never fight again professionally, will you be disappointed?
LM: Of course I would be. I love fighting. I was born to fight. Fighting is in my blood and to imagine I might not be able to do something I love so much is very disappointing.
You don’t stop fighting because you get old; you get old because you have stopped fighting. Luckily, Randy Couture, the oldest UFC champion at 45, set the benchmark. That record is there to be broken and Dan Henderson almost broke it at the age of 47.
I think there is still hope. I am someone who loves doing the impossible, so let’s see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, I will always be involved in the sport. If I can’t fight, I will be a coach. I won’t just be any old coach, either. I will be one of the best coaches. I will win ‘Coach of the Year’ awards and have a gym full of champions; real killers in the ring or cage.
There are so many fighters in London who got involved in MMA because of me. I inspired most of them. Being from the streets and one of the first fighters from the UK, many others followed in my footsteps. I am the first breed of UK MMA fighters, alongside Ian Freeman, James Zikic, Alex Reid, Mark Weir and Leigh Remedios. We all went on to fight in the UFC, except Alex, but he fought in Bellator and against many UFC veterans. It would be fair to say we paved the way for the fighters of today.
“Show me something.”
Typically shouted by a referee, this is the command a flagging fighter hears when under fire, at the mercy of their opponent and on the brink of defeat. For the rest of us, however, those reading Lee Murray’s testimonies from a Moroccan jail and wanting some kind of redemption story, it’s something you say to yourself, over and over again, and has nothing to do with fighting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Sentences. Here’s one: twenty-five years. Here’s another: “I’ve had almost twelve years to sit and think about every mistake I’ve ever made and how I could have lived and done things differently.”
In the case of Lee Murray, a street kid whose circumstances and fighting capabilities led him towards trouble and the UFC and trouble again, you can’t have one sentence without the other.
Bloody Elbow: How hopeful are you that you will soon be released?
Lee Murray: I like to think I was put here for a reason and that reason was to reflect on my past mistakes and become a better person. Through my own stupidity I’ve learned many lessons the hard way. I am just keeping the faith and hope that the door will open and they will tell me I am free to leave so that I can go home to my family and be a father to my children again and be there for them.
It wasn’t just me who got a 25-year sentence. They did, too, along with my whole family. I hope I’ll soon be able to start making it up to them.
My father passed away two years ago, and my mother has been ill. Dealing with this 4,000 miles away hasn’t been easy. I’ve missed a lot. When you’re young and stupid you don’t think about the long-term consequences of your actions. I just hope I’m given the chance to change all this because I have so much more to give. I just need to be given an opportunity to prove it.
The Lee Murray story doesn’t end with me in prison. It ends with me climbing back up that mountain and getting back everything I lost the right way.
I have seen many people in my years here get a King’s Pardon and go home, so anything is possible. My friend, Paul Allen, who was arrested with me and extradited back to the UK, served nine years in England for his part in the robbery and was released two years ago. My kids say all the time, “How come Uncle Paul’s out but Dad’s still stuck in prison in Morocco for something that happened in the UK?” Being young, they don’t understand. But I broke their hearts and I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to them once I’m out.
BE: What is the first thing you will do when you are finally free?
LM: I will spend some quality time with my family. I will do some of the little things we often take for granted. I will have a bath, take a walk down the road, choose what I want to eat, sit on a toilet. I have not sat on a toilet for a decade. Can you imagine that? I am so sick of squatting over a f—king hole.
BE: How has your time away changed you as a person?
LM: Spending so many years in solitary confinement has given me a lot of time to think and reflect on the wrong turns I made in my life. I can’t change my past. However, I can try to build and become a better person and create a better future. It was only through being here that I have been able to see how toxic my life was and realise a lot of the people who were in my life at the time were no good for me. The bad ones outweighed the good tenfold.
They say you can count your true friends on one hand and that is very true. Everyone wants their pound of flesh. They’ll claim to be your friend, make all the right noises when you are flying high, or when it benefits them, but hit rock bottom and they scatter like monkeys when you shake the tree.
Even since being here, that hasn’t changed. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who get in contact claiming to be film producers or directors and say, “We can do this or that for you,” when really they just want something for themselves.
I’m very paranoid now, but in a good way. For me, loyalty is one of the most important qualities in a person, and from these lessons in life, I have realised just how important it is. Without loyal people in your life, you have nothing. The loyal people I have in my life I would die for.
BE: If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
LM: To be honest, I believe things happen for a reason. If I changed one thing in my life, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now; maybe I wouldn’t be here at all. But that is in no way saying I’m not sorry for things in my past. I’ve had almost 12 years to sit and think about every mistake I’ve ever made and how I could have lived and done things differently.
I’ve grown a lot over the last 12 years and have realised what’s important in life. I wish I knew the things I know now back then. All I can do is apologise and learn from my mistakes because what’s done is done. I lost everything. I lost my life, my career, my freedom. Most of all, I lost the chance to be there to see my children grow up. There were no winners.
I hope others learn from my mistakes. In particular, I hope some of the MMA fighters who come from the streets learn from me. Don’t make the same mistakes. Use MMA to keep you on the right path in life.
BE: Do you have a final message for the people reading this?
LM: The world is full of surprises and maybe one day I will get a chance to prove myself again; this time the new and improved me; even tougher than the Lee Murray they last saw in the cage.
I would also like to thank the people who put the time into helping me throughout my career. Dexter Casey, he started me in the sport, and the Nemesis Gym was my first fighting gym. Tony Malik and Gordon’s Gym, as well as my Thai-boxing coach, Lee Whittington, deserve credit, and Andy Jardine and Lee Hasdell, the first ever MMA promoters in the UK, made it possible for fighters like me to fight in the UK.
I’d like to thank Dave O’Donnell for always leaving the door open for me to fight on Cage Rage shows whenever I wanted, as well as Dana White and UFC for giving me the opportunity to fight for them. My main gym, London Shootfighters, all my training partners there, and my main MMA coaches, Alexis Demetriades and Paul Ivens, deserve thanks for all the years of sweat and blood.
Pat Miletich and his team helped me so much over the years, as did my strength and conditioning coach, Alan Ingarfield. And last, but by no means least, I’d like to thank the man responsible for turning my hands into Kalashnikovs: Terry Coulter.
There is an Instagram and Facebook account run by my family, and any important messages will be passed on to me. Also, updates on my situation will be posted on there. My solicitor’s email address is Dpatel@barkco.com