Once upon a time, in a distinctly un-magical kingdom, an unknown, unranked, un-heroic middleweight laid a lauded light-heavyweight champion unconscious in an alley.
In the early, twilit hours of July 14, 2002, a mass altercation consumed the streets surrounding a central London nightclub. Although that is not completely unique in itself, what sets this particular brawl apart from the countless other drunken feuds, is the quality of combatant involved.
Five were professional Mixed Martial Artists: Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tony Frykland and Lee Murray. Three are now legends in the sport. One is a semi-retired journeyman and the other currently resides in a Moroccan prison fighting extradition to the UK on charges of armed robbery.
Embedded within the annals of MMA folklore; this is the cautionary tale of Lee Murray.
It began as most confrontations begin: with misunderstanding. A jovial, relaxed evening in celebration of UFC 38, the organisation's triumphant European debut, quickly collapsed beneath the strain of copious alcohol, and the confrontational gene inherent in men who choose to fight for a living.
A member of Ortiz’s entourage playfully/foolishly mounted Miletich’s back and feigned a chokehold. Frykland, apparently not renowned for his sense of humour, misread this as an intentful attack and promptly ripped the would-be jokester off Miletich and into a genuine chokehold of his own. From there a melee ensued.
In events such as this, often variations occur with perspective. Most accounts, however, settle upon two enduring images. One is of Chuck Liddell, postured against the nearest wall dropping anyone who dared approach him.
The other is of Light-Heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, removing his jacket, swinging a wild punch at young middleweight Lee Murray, missing, eating a furious flurry of punches, falling, and receiving a few obligatory head stomps for his trouble.
Understandably, Ortiz denies this ever happened (The Ortiz version sees Murray replaced by an army of hardened war criminals each armed with a baseball and it ends in a draw), but whatever the truth, the story spread and the rudiments of myth had been set.
Indeed, a mythical shroud of uncertainty appears to extend into every aspect of Murray’s colourful past. The Internet is awash with speculative biographies, charting underground orphan fighting circuits, gangs and an unreasonable number of street fights (A number Murray himself estimates to be within the high hundreds). It is only with his professional fighting career that an element of credibility can be found.
Between 1999 and 2004 Murray amassed an impressive record of 8-2-1. Gifted with incredible hand speed, surprising power, a prodigious desire to learn, and an almost sociopathic enjoyment of fighting, he possessed all the requisites for success.
In early 2004, after years of honing his craft in Europe and under the tutelage of the Miletich Fighting System, Murray made his American debut at UFC 46, with a first-round submission victory over Ultimate Fighter 4 contestant Jorge Rivera.
What should have become a prosperous stint stateside was curtailed, however, as Murray's undesirable past caught up with him and a visa was denied for his return. Instead, Murray took a fight for the vacant Cage Rage middleweight championship. His opponent would be Anderson Silva.
As with many promising middleweights, cursed to be of the same generation as the potent Silva, Murray’s attempt to secure the title was destined for failure. Murray lost, but took Silva the distance, which itself stands as a testament to his potential as a fighter. It would be his last professional appearance.
On Sept. 28, 2005 Murray’s penchant for nightclub scuffles revealed itself once more outside the ludicrously named ‘Funky Budda’ in London. He was stabbed through the heart and died on three separate occasions.
Ironically it was the supreme physical condition achieved through fighting that would save his life. Just a week beforehand, outside the same venue, Murray had suffered another stabbing and lost a nipple. Murray's chronic attraction to trouble had ended his promising career.
On 25 June 2006, Lee Murray was arrested whilst shopping in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, in connection with the armed robbery of £53 million, from the Securitas depot in Tonebridge, Kent.
British intelligence had identified him as the mastermind behind a robbery, which saw the manager of the depot and his family kidnapped and threatened at gunpoint.
Murray was also found to be in possession of Class A narcotics, which would turn out to a rather serendipitous offence, as it mean that a prison term would have to be served in Morocco before Britain.
On Sept. 12, 2007, Lee Ibrahim Murray was granted Moroccan citizenship, prohibiting an extradition to London under article 721 of the criminal Code. Currently, Murray remains in Morocco despite the best efforts of the British government.
And there he waits. The most promising of British fighters waits within the confines of a foreign jail for a trial that may never come. A tragic example of the dangerous contradiction of professional fighting. An example of talented aggression and professional training without control.
The plight of Lee Murray is a microcosm for the wider failings of street fighters who believe they can transfer those useless endeavours into Mixed Martial Arts. Often these individuals lack the technical acumen or temperament to succeed against the modern athlete (Kimbo Slice/Tank Abbott/Sean Gannon).
Murray, however, possessed all the tools for success, but he lacked control. A lesson that should be heeded by all those thinking of embarking upon a career in professional fighting.
This is the cautionary tale of Lee Murray.