Anderson Silva didn’t want to stand with Lee Murray when the pair fought at Wembley Conference Centre 14 years ago. He beat him (that was never really in doubt), and walked away with a Cage Rage middleweight title, but the Brazilian, they said, wasn’t keen to strike with his confrontational opponent, and this, in the context of adding layers to the Murray legend, is kind of all that mattered.
As far as moral victories go, it was about as good as anybody could hope for against Silva. Not only that, it spoke to Murray’s potential. For if this ill-disciplined brawler from south London could spook arguably the greatest striker in MMA history, and then quite comfortably last 15 minutes in his presence, there must be more to him than an unsettling aura and a pair of heavy hands. He must be special; a cut above your average British fare.
Alas, we’d never find out. Silva defeated him on points, left with the belt, and Lee Murray, unbeknown at the time, would never fight professionally again.
Bloody Elbow: As Anderson Silva approaches the end of his career, what are your memories of your fight in 2004?
Lee Murray: I remember that fight as if it was yesterday. I went into it underestimating Anderson after I watched him on tape fighting in Pride. He didn’t look strong or powerful and I thought I was just going to blow him away with my power the same way I did with Pele Landi.
But when I got in the ring with him and felt how strong and powerful he was, it surprised me and made me think twice about dropping my hands – especially when he threw a high-kick at the beginning of round two, which, although I blocked it, still knocked me into the fence.
From then on, I knew I needed to keep a high guard with him. My defence is always good. He didn’t really get me with any clean head shots apart from one at the end of the last round when he threw a lead front-kick followed directly by a lead straight punch which got me right on the eye socket. It was a good shot.
He used his kicks to bring my hands down because he was having problems working out how to get around my tight defence. But, at the same time, he wasn’t stupid enough to get in my range too long for me to start trading shots. He would come in range, throw a few shots, and then slip back out of range again. He was definitely very cautious of my hands and power. He didn’t want to engage in any type of war and many times tried to take the fight to the floor.
He battered my lead leg with low-kicks. After the fight, I couldn’t walk and was on crutches for two weeks. But my face was still pretty fresh. That punch in the last round was the only real head shot that caused me a problem. It blurred my vision as it hit me right in my eye.
But my instincts are great, and I knew not to cover up like a lot of fighters would have done. Instead, I dropped to my back, so he couldn’t follow up with a barrage of punches and try to end the fight. If you watch the fight, you will see me on my back speaking to my coach, Alexis, saying, “I’m okay, don’t worry.”
Experienced fighters don’t panic when the heat is on. They are relaxed in bad situations. This is experience I gained not just from being in the ring or the cage but from outside. Jeremy Horn, for example, was a master at that. He would always be relaxed and as cool as a cucumber even under big pressure.
After getting my visa refused for UFC 48 – where I was scheduled to fight Curtis Stout – I was pissed and was having serious thoughts about doing pro boxing instead. I was doing only boxing training. But then Cage Rage approached me and asked if I would fight for them. I told them I’d only do it if I could fight Silva or Matt Lindland. They later rang back and said Silva accepted the fight.
The UFC let me fight in Cage Rage to keep me active, but, technically, I was still contracted to the UFC. After the Silva fight, I went back to the UFC and was set to fight Patrick Cote at UFC 52. I was in the best shape of my life. But, two weeks before the fight, my visa got refused again. My heart was broken.
BE: Silva appeared to want to take you down as soon as the fight started. How did you manage to get in his head like that?
LM: I don’t think Silva ever hit more takedowns in one fight than he did in that fight. He was definitely scared of me. I could feel it. He was very nervous. He didn’t want to get in my range and he was scared to trade. He didn’t want to get in a war with me. He used his range to stay on the outside and throw a lot of low-kicks to always keep that distance. I think my confidence and fearlessness is what intimidates a lot of people.
Conor (McGregor) is quite a confident guy. That’s why he overpowers a lot of his opponents. It is with his confidence, not his skills. And I am a master at that. You can just look in a man’s eyes and know what he is about. You can see a killer just by looking in his eyes. That’s what you see when I see red and the switch goes on. I will smash everything in my way.
My friend, Paul Allen, knows when I am going to knock someone out. He sees my eyes change and knows it’s on. People who know me – my coaches Alexis Demetriades, Paul Ivens and Terry Coulter – all know I am going for the kill. Mike Tyson had it; Badr Hari, also. You either have it or you don’t. This is something that cannot be taught in a gym.
When I was at the weigh-in with Silva, look at my eyes. That look will tell you everything. We are different breeds of fighter. When I punch, I punch to break your face, your eye socket, your skull and your jaw.
BE: Was Anderson Silva the best opponent you faced?
LM: Anderson Silva is probably one of the best fighters the sport has seen. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say he is the best fighter I faced. But I believe I could have been better. I had a lot more potential than he did; a lot more room for improvement.
In 2005, he was not far off his prime, whereas I was nowhere near mine. I was still one of the most feared strikers in the division – and I had never even thrown a kick. Imagine what I’d have been like once I got my kicking on par with my punching. How dangerous would I have been then? How many times have you seen Silva take a fight to the floor and not engage with an opponent?
When I fought Anderson Silva, I wasn’t really taking fighting as seriously as I should have been. I loved it, and it came naturally to me, but it was more of a hobby than a profession. I didn’t train as much as I should have. I was out partying and up all night, playing PlayStation. I then got in the ring, with hardly any sleep, but still managed to go the distance and not look out of my league.
On top of all that, I gave away between 15 and 20 pounds in weight because I wanted to fight and didn’t care about the who, what and where of the situation. I’d give away huge weight advantages without even a second thought.
BE: Do you agree with the people who say Anderson Silva is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time?
LM: Muhammad Ali was named ‘The Greatest’ for a reason. The reason he was so great was that he got to the top and stayed at the top for a long time. You need to be really good to do that.
Silva is a definitely very good. He has to be to have held the title for as long as he did. But losing to Michael Bisping and Chris Weidman the way he did wasn’t the act of someone you would describe as ‘The Greatest’. If a guard knocked on my door and said, “Bisping is in the yard and wants a fight,” all I would have to do is get off my bed, go down to the yard and knock him out.
Someone named ‘The Greatest’ needs to be able to put fighters like that away in the first round. I think people gave Anderson a bit too much respect. That hype shit does not sell with me. You need to bring more than a bag of hype if you’re going to fight me. If there had been a rematch with him during that time, I would have beaten him, hands down.
BE: Do you regret not getting the chance to fight Silva again?
LM: Not really. I have no regrets about not facing Anderson Silva again. There’s nothing wrong with losing. Sometimes in life what’s wrong is quitting. Quitters achieve nothing in life. They can’t even beat a loser.
There’s no quitting in me, let me tell you. There aren’t many fighters who will give away 15 or 20 pounds in weight, sit up all night playing PlayStation, and still go the distance with Silva and come out fresh-faced.
Also, my preparation for that fight was a nightmare. I injured my ankle three weeks before and had to have a cortisone injection just to be able to continue to train. Then, on the day of the weigh-in, I was running late as I had to have an emergency dental appointment for an infection in my tooth which had kept me up all night. I ended up having a root canal that morning.
If the right Lee Murray turns up, he beats Anderson Silva. That day just wasn’t my day. It was his.
BE: What were the most important fights of your career?
LM: The first has to be my UFC debut. Getting to the UFC is what all fighters dream about – not just getting there but winning, too. Winning my UFC debut was such an important fight for me.
The second is my fight with Pele Landi. It was a big step in my career to fight the former number one-ranked fighter and become the first person to ever knock him out. I first bought some cagefighting videos in 1998 and this is the guy I watched, along with the World Combat Championships Renzo Gracie won. Renzo was in Pele’s corner the night of our fight, so I was standing there looking across the cage at two of the men that inspired me to become an MMA fighter. It was quite a big task for me to go in there and knock him out.
I was really pumped up for the fight. I recall in round one he was in my guard and I kept telling him he hit like a girl. I said, “When I get up, I am going to kill you.” It was funny.
When they raised my hand and announced me as the winner, he didn’t know what had happened. He did not know he had been knocked out. That is how hard I hit him. The second punch made him bounce across the floor.
Number three would be my first ever MMA fight. Getting in a ring or cage for the first time takes balls, and I respect anyone who does it. It is easy being one of the drunk guys in the front row booing and saying you can do better. To that I say, “Shut the f—k up, grow a set of balls and prove it.”
This fight, my first, was a 20-second knockout. But getting that first one out of my way with a win was very important.
My fourth choice would be my fight against Amir Rahnavardi. Amir had fought in Pride a few times and in King of the Cage. He was trained by Bas Rutten. Amir was a step up from a lot of the fighters I was fighting in Europe at that time.
Getting the fastest knockout in British MMA was a bonus. It was a four-second left hook from hell. It dropped him flat on his face.
Last but not least, I would have to say my fight with Anderson Silva. It was my last fight. I fought Silva in September 2004, and then in April 2005 I was scheduled to fight Patrick Cote at UFC 52, but my visa got refused.
In June 2005, I was supposed to fight some Japanese guy in Cage Rage but busted a rib and Alex Reid stepped in for me. Then, in December 2005, I was supposed to fight Phil Baroni in Cage Rage but was stabbed in the chest towards the end of that year.
In February 2006, I left England, and in June of that year I was arrested. I have been in prison ever since.
‘The Real Notorious’ is a seven-part series with Lee Murray.