Lee Murray is the great British "What If?". His MMA career was over before we really got to see him excel at the highest levels. Murray was tall, in great shape and had devastating knockout power. I hadn't watched his fight with Anderson Silva in a long time. I always remembered it being a walkover for Anderson. But having rewatched it, Murray did much better than I initially thought.
But before we talk about Lee Murray v Anderson Silva, we need to roll back. Murray had been training at London Shootfighters, which at the time was one of the premier MMA gyms in the UK. He was also training at a local boxing gym to have somewhere to focus purely on his hands. With his tall frame, long reach and heavy hands - Murray excelled.
While it's normal now for MMA fighters to spend some years in the gym building their skills in all areas before they fight - in the 90's and 00's, it was normal to learn as you fought. Especially in Europe, where our grappling ability lacked considerably in comparison with the US and Brazil. So it wasn't uncommon to see many top fighters lose some fights earlier in their career by submission, as they found their feet in the cage.
Murray won his first three fights. After only a year of fighting professionally, Murray took on Joe Doerksen at Extreme Challenge 34 in June of 2000. Doerksen was a savvy grappler and submitted Murray with a kimura in the first round. A video of the fight used to be available online, but I can't seem to find it anymore. When you lose a fight, you can either cry about it or learn from it. Murray chose the latter.
A year later, Murray would be matched up against Chris Bacon. Bacon was a 10-1 professional boxer and accomplished Judoka, medalling in the Commonwealth games. A real test for Lightning Lee. The fight would end in a draw.
He would win his next 3 fights with ease. But it was his fight outside the cage with Tito Ortiz that garnered him some notoriety in the MMA community. UFC had come to the UK for the first time in history at UFC 38 in July of 2002. It was around this time that I started getting seriously interested in MMA as UFC began to air on television here.
At the time, Tito Ortiz was the light heavyweight champion in the UFC. Ortiz had looked unstoppable since his loss to Frank Shamrock - and had secured wins over Wanderlei Silva, Yuki Konda, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic and Vladimir Matyushenko. There were lots of debates at the time on who was the best light heavyweight on the planet, but very few arguments could have been made against Tito being the man.
Events of what happened vary depending on who you ask. The general story is that Pat Miletich and a member of Tito's crew were play-fighting outside with some grappling exchanges. What started as as a friendly wrestling match quickly turned serious. The fight spiralled out of control, with one of Tito's friends getting knocked out by one of Lee Murray's friends.
At some point in the madness, Tito Ortiz and Lee Murray were taking off their jackets and squaring up to each other. According to Pat Miletich, Ortiz swing at Murray - which missed. Murray responded with a 5 punch combo that put the then Light Heavyweight Champion of the UFC out cold.
Tito Ortiz's recollection of the events are different. According to him, he chased Murray and as Murray turned to face him to plant his feet, Ortiz slid on the concrete and took a punch to the head which momentarily dropped him, but didn't put him out cold.
We'll never fully know what happened, but the story was enough to make Lee Murray infamous in the MMA community. Threads popped up everywhere trying to find out more about the fight. Potential bouts in the UFC were brought up, but up to that point - Lee was not signed with the UFC, so it just was fantasy matchmaking as per usual.
It's one thing to make a name through the rumour-mill, but it's another to actually do it in MMA. In July of 2003, Lee Murray would face his biggest name opponent in MMA to that date. The legendary Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons. The original bad boy of Chute Boxe.
Pele had an impressive resume - with wins over then UFC Weltwerweight champion Matt Hughes and former WW champion Pat Miletich. He was a striker, and a particularly good one. But not good enough as Murray knocked him out cold in the second round.
Lee was now regarded as a legit contender in MMA. Something that was a rarity in British MMA at the time, given they were still in their infancy stages of the sport. After his win - the combined hype of the Pele win and the street fight with Ortiz, Lightning Lee Murray was signed with the UFC.