Speaking at John Murray’s retirement fundraiser, Ricky Hatton’s former nutritionist Kerry Kayes claimed that both Murray and Salford’s Jamie Moore “Gave more to boxing than boxing gave to them”. It is true. It also applies to too many former professional fighters, especially the ones who fail to claw in life changing money or lose what they earned in the ring and are forced to start over again.

This is the position former English, British, and European lightweight Champion Murray (33-3, 20 KOs) found himself in when he was forced to retire due to persistent retinal detachments to his right eye, an injury that has left him blind on one side.

His last fight was a memorable 10 round loss to fellow Mancunian Anthony Crolla, a punishing defeat that saw him ushered out of the sport on his shield after sustaining yet more damage to an eye injury that had been causing him problems for years.

Prior to that, he had been inactive for two years after a medical raised the issue of possible brain damage, although it eventually turned out be a problem with his pituitary gland. Previous fights against Kevin Mitchell and a vacant WBA title fight against Brandon Rios had netted him good money, which he invested in a house, but the house was swindled out from underneath him by a former partner so by the time his enforced sabbatical rolled around he was digging on the roads for a little extra money.

“I would fight then binge. I wasn’t happy at home or in my career, so it was like a job for me in the end. I don’t think I got paid enough. I was on two or three grand a fight early on, but lost about 25 grand net because I would have to pay out contracts due to bad advice. In the end, I was boxing to earn a wage.”

However, the Crolla fight allowed him to earn enough to keep his gym, Murray Machines, on an even keel and local fight figure Simon Clayton organised the fundraiser to bring more money into the coffers after the BBBoC got the ball rolling by hooking the former fighter up with a grant that allowed him to open the gym in the first place.

Now enjoying life as a trainer, Murray told Britishboxers.co.uk that the celebration of his fighting career, which was hosted by Ed Robinson and featured contributions from former foes Mitchell and Crolla, was greatly appreciated.

“It was a nice send off, wasn’t it?” he said. “A chance for people to remember what a good career I had, a chance to see some old faces and catch up. I got to 31 fights on the trot undefeated, but people only seem to remember my defeats because of how good I was in defeat.

“I was up on the scorecards when I lost, so it does annoy me sometimes that the defeats are what people remember me for. But that can be a good thing, performing well in defeat, as even when I lost people remembered me.

“I was glad Kevin and Anthony were there, it was a good show of respect from them. Me and Mitchell get on really well and so do me and Crolla, it was good of him to be there with his own fight coming up.

“I was made up by it all. I did feel like I’d been abandoned after boxing. I saw other fighters retiring due to injuries then getting celebrated and having fundraisers, so I wondered why I’d had nothing after going blind in one eye. To be fair, though, no one really knew about it as I didn’t tell people about it all the time. I think I deserved it, I put in some tough fights and gave my eye up to boxing so it was nice to get something back.

“I had some hard fights behind me earlier in my career and they do take something out of you. By the time I got to the title levels, I was 25-26 fights in and some of them were hard. I was worn-out, I could never see a finishing line. I’d fight and win, and fight and win, but then there was someone else to fight. I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the world (titles).

“Then you’re looking at someone else and thinking: ‘He’s got a world title shot, but I’ve had more fights, how come I haven’t had the chance yet?’ I got the mentality that people who had had less fights were getting that shot and driving a better car than me so why wasn’t I?

“I’d half given up on boxing before I got beat by Mitchell, a few of my late performances were fought with me thinking: ‘No matter how many belts I have, no matter what I do, my face doesn’t fit’. I was either too rough or too good looking, I don’t know.

“It is a business, you need a team behind you and a promoter who is behind you—I don’t think I had that in my whole career. I was with Mick [Hennessy], but he had [Carl] Froch, [Darren] Barker and people like that, so he looked after them and I felt I wasn’t properly pushed.”Murray partyFrom left: Simon ‘Claymaker’ Clayton, John Murray and Sky Boxing’s Ed Robinson – pic credit: 

Despite English, British and European titles under Hennessy, Murray felt that he was way down in the pecking order after failing to secure a fight with stablemate Jon Thaxton when both were in good form. They eventually met in 2009, but Thaxton had seen better days by then and the result lacked the resonance it once would have had.john murray lonsdale beltWins over Gary Buckland (W TKO 11 to add the vacant EBU title to his collection) and Andrey Kudryavtsev (W TKO 9) in 2010 followed before Murray decided to team up with Frank Warren, who handed him a fight at York Hall against Karim El Ouazghari as a warm-up for that memorable July 2011 showdown with Mitchell at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, a stirring eighth-round TKO defeat.

Despite the loss, he was given a fight against Rios (L TKO 11 in 2011) at Madison Square Garden due to the fact that Mitchell could not travel to New York due to Visa issues. It would be the last outing under his new promoter as his licence was withdrawn by the BBBoC following a routine scan prior to a mooted showdown against long-term rival Gavin Rees.

“By the time I went to Frank, I was already established but hadn’t been with him from the start so I was just a business asset to him. He used me as a business asset, handing me one big fight and test, which was right enough, but you need long-term backing, you need to be supported with TV and fans behind you. By the time I got beat I’d half given up on boxing.

“I would fight then binge. I wasn’t happy at home or in my career, so it was like a job for me in the end. I don’t think I got paid enough. I was on two or three grand a fight early on, but lost about 25 grand net because I would have to pay out contracts due to bad advice. In the end, I was boxing to earn a wage.”

Seemingly done and dusted with the sport for good, Murray was given his licence back in 2013 after being given the all clear by specialists and went straight back to work. A brace of wins over Michael Escobar (W TKO 4 in November of that year) and John Simpson (W TKO 2 the following March) plus his outspoken comments when talking about former gym mate turned domestic rival Crolla earned him the fight dubbed “The Battle of Manchester”. It was a chance to walk away from boxing with something to show for a hard career.

“After I recovered from the brain scan, I had to fight again,” revealed Murray. “I lost my house after retiring, so I’d lost everything I’d boxed for and was coming off two losses on the trot. I picked myself up, wiped my mouth and got that big fight with Crolla to get the money for my gym and that.

“I’m happy that I turned it around. I think I showed how tough a man I was because it would have been easy to give up and go down the path of getting pissed out my head all the time. I didn’t. I got myself together.

“I had no other way of making money because being a boxer is all I’d ever done. Looking back, and even though it cost me an eye, it was the smartest thing I ever did as I got myself right, set myself up and got myself a gym, which is the best move I’ve ever made.”RISE UP PROMOTION WEIGH INMANCHESTER CENTRAL,MANCHESTERPIC;LAWRENCE LUSTIGWBO INTER-CONTINENTAL LIGHTWEIGHT TITLEANTHONY CROLLA AND JOHN MURRAY WEIGHS INAn all or nothing character, the 31-year-old has calmed down in recent years yet his binges have passed into Manchester folk law. On one occasion, Murray went to the chemist to pick up a prescription only to end up at a funeral before heading out for a three-day bender, the prescription script tucked away in his pocket. Could Murray have gone even further had he reined himself in during his twenties?

“You’re a young lad when you turn over, all your mates are getting pissed and chasing women so you don’t think: ‘Hang on, I’m a 19-year-old professional boxer, so I’m not going out or chasing women, I’ll go for a run instead’,” he answered.

“That wasn’t my mentality. It was ‘anything they can do I can do’. I turned up at the track many a time after being on the piss the night before, and I still beat everyone on the track. That’s why they called me ‘The Machine’. I could always turn up at the gym and put in a session. I’d go to places no one else would go to, pushing myself to the limits no matter how bad I felt. I’d feel like crap—I’d actually want to cry—but I’d do it just so [former trainer] Joe [Gallagher] couldn’t say ‘I told you not to go on the piss’.

“Getting a normal job would have been alright for a few weeks then I’d have been bored out of my head,” said Murray. “That’s how I was back then, I’d get into something for a few weeks then move on to something else. I’ve calmed down now, I’ve found my place in the world.

“I wouldn’t change anything, I think I played it right. I’m a bit older now, I’ve got a family and my kids so I’m happy. I don’t go out as much as I used to, I got it all out of my system. I’m not saying I’ll never go on another bender, that would be a lie, but I won’t do it the way I used to when I’d be out every weekend. I can have a few cans in front of the TV sometimes to chill out without getting on it. I don’t have to go wild any more—swinging off lamp shades and that—because I’m happy with my own company.”

He added: “If I could be in this place in my 20s, I’d have been a lot more successful as a fighter, but you can’t look back. You have to have the best of your youth and enjoy life.”

The switch to training has allowed Murray to reflect on the best way to balance both life and boxing, he hopes that his experiences will flow through to his fighters yet is not keen on the idea of producing a gym of warrior monks.

“Learn from mistakes, have someone you can talk to who is on the same page as you and learn from that,” he said when asked if he tells his fighters to live a totally clean life. “I advise them the best I can. I will bollock them if they’re on the piss when they shouldn’t be and tell them that if they want to do that then not to train with me. I tell them the time when they can do it and when not to.

“If you’ve just had a fight then it is fine, go and see your mates and enjoy your youth a bit, but after a few weeks or a week off it is time to get back in the gym and knuckle down. In boxing, you don’t have much of a life if you don’t take a break.

“When I was training, I’d have fond memories to look back on if I’d been on a bit of a bender. I’d look back, have something to laugh about and then train harder. If I lived like a monk, I’d get depressed and feel really unhappy so I wouldn’t train as hard. It’s about getting the balance just right, like anything in life. If you go too far one way or another that’s when you cock it up.”By "Big" Al StevensonJohn Murray with his European belts and Lonsdale belt he won outright – pic: Al Stevenson

Life on the other side of the ropes is a new challenge for Murray, he misses the buzz of fighting yet has managed to replicate it in training. “It is the next closest buzz,” he explained . “I love to fight and do really, really miss fighting—I’d fight again if my eye was alright. I could have fought until I was 40, just standing in the pocket having a little scrap with someone.

“I do enjoy training people, though. I don’t just work with professionals, I work with kids who are 5-years-old as I’ve set up my amateur boxing team. We put on classes for men, women and kids. I love being in the gym. It is all I’ve known. I’m good at it as well.

“I’ve got amateur kids, it has taken years to get the amateur gym accredited. I’ve got lads ready to fight, we’re just about done and have a nice little team of amateurs. The goal is to get them through the amateurs, do well and then turn them over to win titles as pros, that’s the dream.

“I have some pros, but they’re grown men so I want to develop fighters. I don’t want to go out and rob ready-made fighters then turn them into champions—that’s a bit snidey. I’d prefer to have my own crop of fighters, turn a kid over then move him through the ranks to a title. That shows the quality of a trainer. If I can do that I’ll be pleased with myself.

Chris [Conwell] has got an Area title coming up, Andy [Kremner] is due out soon and [younger brother] Joe [Murray] is out again on October 1st. We’ve got Joe Gallagher’s nephew too, he is sending off for his licence so we’ll get him out as soon as that comes through.”

During his British title run, Murray became so disenchanted with the sport he once told me that he was considering retirement in order to get a career that would last him for the rest of his working life, floating the possibility of joining an office environment. It was never going to happen that way for him—he is a fighter down to the soles of his boots—so the idea was quickly and quietly shelved in favour of fighting on.

“Getting a normal job would have been alright for a few weeks then I’d have been bored out of my head,” said Murray. “That’s how I was back then, I’d get into something for a few weeks then move on to something else. I’ve calmed down now, I’ve found my place in the world.

“That was the thing that finally did it for me when I retired. I never knew where I’d be when I was younger. I was British Champion, but I thought: ‘This won’t last forever’. Not knowing where I’d be in a few years was a big worry for me. I’m just happy that I’ve found my place: I’ve got a home, a family and my missus, plus a job that I like. I’m in a good place.”

Finding his way in the world was always an obsession of Murray’s; he never felt truly looked after by the sport when he was a fighter, often claiming that he was never given the big push that others were given. He hopes that he can help push people on in his new role and is happy with his current trajectory.

“You’ve got to get low before you appreciate the highs,” added Murray. “I’m happy with every decision I’ve made that brought me to this point, the good ones and the bad ones.”

In Part II Murray tells BB what he really thinks about boxing, recalls some of his biggest nights and talks about the eye damage that forced him to retire once and for all.

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