The crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, cheered and clapped as “Lightning” Lee Murray strode to the podium. The British striker had submitted Jorge Rivera in the fi rst round at UFC 46: Supernatural, held in January 2004. “I’ve waited all my life for this,” Murray said. “Since I started training fi ve years ago, this has been my goal, to get here. The next goal is the belt. And whoever gets in my way … is gonna get knocked out.” He raised his right fi st. “Cold. Cold. Hard,” he said, shaking his head. The crowd laughed. Here was someone who wanted to claw his way to the top, and please a crowd too. But that bout on January 31, 2004, was Murray’s only fi ght in the UFC. He was denied a work visa by the US State Department after English prosecutors fi led felony road rage charges against Murray for nearly beating to death a motorist who sideswiped his car. A little less than two years later, police named Murray as one of the masterminds in the largest cash robbery in British history. The manhunt for Murray sent shockwaves through the MMA community.
Murray grew up in a London project and joined a gang as a boy. “He was a feared guy,” fellow gang member and British fi ghter Mark Epstein said. “I mean, there was plenty of gunplay, you know, drugs and stuff.” Murray began fi ghting professionally in 1999 and, four years later, he fought Brazilian legend José “Pelé” Landi-Jons. At their weigh-in, Murray grew enraged after Landi-Jons continued to stare at him when they were asked to face forward. “Bang! We’re done!” Murray yelled, punching his face, as the fi ghters were pulled apart. “Going down!” Murray’s prediction proved true when he knocked out Landi-Jons in the second round. Murray’s star was on the rise. But an incident outside the cage may have been what vaulted Murray into the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
The Brawl At The Brawl
Former UFC welterweight champion Pat Miletich, who trained Murray, said he was at an after-party for UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall, at which Murray was also present. “He was actually a real nice kid, real polite, well-spoken, never gave any signs of having been in trouble before … just a real nice kid that worked hard and trained hard,” Miletich recalls. A number of fi ghters left the after-party together, including Murray, Miletich, Tony Fryklund, and Tito Ortiz, who was the UFC light-heavyweight champion at the time. “One of Tito’s friends jumped on my back … had his arm around my neck like he was choking me,” Miletich said. Fryklund pulled the guy off Miletich and put him in a choke-hold. Miletich was able to get Fryklund to let go, but Ortiz’s friend yelled at Fryklund. “One of Murray’s friends, Paul, thought we were actually in a fi ght and punched Tito’s friend, and that started the whole fi ght in the alley,” Miletich said. Ortiz and Murray squared off, with Ortiz throwing a punch and missing, Miletich said. “Lee came back with like a fi vepunch combo, and landed every punch crisply and dropped Tito, and kicked Tito twice in the head.” Miletich added that he pushed Murray away from Ortiz, telling him to “get out of there.” This brawl with Ortiz most likely got Murray noticed by UFC offi – cials, Miletich said. “I’m guessing that beating up Tito in the alley in London was a good thing to build a rivalry and to have an eventual fi ght between the two … sell a lot of pay-per-views,” Miletich said. However, the bout never happened. Murray fought next on September 2004 at Cage Rage, facing Anderson Silva and losing to him by unanimous decision. About a year later, Murray was stabbed in a donnybrook outside The Funky Buddha, a trendy London nightclub. Murray suffered a punctured lung and severed artery, but survived after he was resuscitated four times.
Heist, Part 1
For eight months during 2005 and 2006, a gang planned a bank heist targeting the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent, a county in southeastern England.
They trolled the Internet for police badges and uniforms, and arranged for a make-up artist to design their disguises. Murray, for his part, appears to have conducted surveillance on the depot. In July 2005, he was issued a summons for loitering on a side street that has a clear view of the Securitas loading bay. The gang also had an inside man, hired at the depot two months before the raid, who used a tiny camera to get a look at the security system and told the others about manager Colin Dixon. On Feb. 21, 2006, they rolled out. Dixon, 52, saw fl ashing lights in his rear-view mirror as he drove home from the depot. The “policemen” told him he had been speeding. With guns drawn, they handcuffed him and shoved him in the back of their cruiser. They drove Dixon to a remote country house. Inside, they replaced Dixon’s glasses with a strip of tape, and they interrogated him about the depot’s security system. Back at Dixon’s home, his wife, Lynn, 47, started to worry. Her husband should have been home by now for dinner. There was a knock on the front door. Two police offi cers told her there had been a crash. Come with us, they said, we’ll take you to the hospital. Instead, Lynn and the Dixons’ nineyear- old son were taken to the country house at gunpoint. At the house, the crew loaded their victims into several vehicles – including a box truck – and headed for the depot.
Heist, Part 2
Night manager Tony Mason was counting money when seven masked intruders burst in to the depot, with a gun pointed at Dixon’s head. The shock of the group’s entrance froze the 14 depot employees. They were locked in cages used to store stacks of money, their wrists bound with cable ties. “Do as they say, they’ve got my wife and kid,” Dixon said to Mason. Mason was marched to a forklift, an AK-47 at his back, and was ordered to drive it to the vault. Realizing the robbers were on a time table, he began to stall, smashing the forklift into doors and pillars. When he later drove the loaded forklift to the truck, he saw Lynn and her son inside, their hands bound. Lynn thought she and her family would be killed. After all, they had gone with the robbers to the depot, and had seen their faces. Instead, she and her son were packed in with the rest of the employees, presumably to make room in the truck for the money. “Let’s rock and roll,” one gang member shouted when the truck was packed. The convoy drove off, their vehicles filled with more than 53 million pounds, or 92.5 million dollars.
Investigation And Arrests
It turned out that the perpetrators of the perfect crime had left some clues behind. Police found a reflector light from the box truck at the depot. They also discovered DNA on the cable ties. And they found the country house after Lynn remembered details she had seen though her loose-fitting blindfold. They made several arrests, but did not arrest Murray.
Scanning cell phone records, they hit on a conversation Murray had a month before the heist. The records MMA LIFE show that the conversation was with Lee Rusha, a man later convicted in the robbery. “I can’t show my face in there. Been on the newspapers and the fucking tele. Especially when I have my comeback fight,” Murray is quoted as saying. He surfaced in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, several months after the robbery. There, he paid one million pounds cash for a lavish villa in the city. One wall featured a life size mural to his one and only UFC victory.
In late June 2006, while being monitored at the request of the British government, Murray was arrested in Rabat by police for cocaine possession and resisting arrest. He has been in prison ever since. British prosecutors delivered a warrant for Murray’s extradition, but there was problem: Murray’s father is a Moroccan, making Murray one as well. By law, anyone who is Moroccan cannot be extradited. A Sky News broadcast showed a copy of what appeared to be Murray’s birth certificate, revealing his full name: Lee Brahim Lamrani Murray. The Moroccan Supreme Court convened to consider the extradition. British prosecutors sweetened the deal by purportedly offering to exchange suspected terrorist Mohamed Karbouzi, wanted for questioning by Moroccan authorities. On October 3, Karen Noble, a member of Kent Police’s Media Services, responded to an e-mail inquiry by writing, “We are unable to comment on Lee Murray, who, as you are aware, is still awaiting a decision at the Supreme Court in Morocco.”
In January 2008, fi ve men were found guilty after a seven- month trial. A second is underway for several additional robbers, among them, Paul “The Enforcer” Allen. According to The I ndependent , the prosecutor, Sir John Nutting, said Allen was “at the heart of the robbery,” and that “he played an important part throughout and assisted Lee Murray, who was arguably the leading light.”
A movie about Murray, based on the Sports Illustrated article “Breaking the Bank,” is now in the works, according to Variety’s website. Even without the movie, Murray’s legacy is solidifi ed among hard-core MMA fans, although possibly not for the reason he wanted. Miletich said Murray had the ability and drive to become a champion, adding that he didn’t know if Murray had indeed robbed the Securitas depot. One thing he does know: Whoever did rob that depot wanted to do it more than anything else. “You got to have a different level of commitment to do something like that,” Miletich said. “Everybody would love to have $100 million, but I think most people realize that they don’t want to sit in prison for the rest of their lives.”