Exclusive Interview With Former IBF Cruiserweight Champ Lee Roy Murphy: “Oliver McCall Wasn’t Hard To Hit, Dwight Qawi Couldn’t Punch”

By James Slater - 05/21/2024 - Comments

Cruiserweight warrior and a former IBF champ, Lee Roy Murphy had some exciting ring career. But though the man from Chicago engaged in five world title fights, and though he also made a dent up at heavyweight and was a special amateur, Murphy is best known for one fight. For one, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it, epic of a fight.

Murphy’s stupendous slugfest with Chisanda Mutti is the stuff of legend, the ending to the fight quite literally something that seems to have come from a Hollywood script.

Retiring after a good win at heavyweight, this in 1998, Lee Roy walked away with a fine 30-4(23) ledger. Today, aged 64 and sounding about as articulate as could possibly be imagined for a fighting man who went to war multiple times, Murphy is easygoing and a genuine pleasure to speak with.

Here, the former champ kindly takes the time to speak with ESB:

Q: It’s a great pleasure to be able to speak with you, champ! As you of course know, it’s coming up 40 years since you became IBF cruiserweight champion, with you beating Marvin Camel in October of 1984.

Lee Roy Murphy: “Yeah, I remember that fight. He was good, he was tall mostly though. I stopped him on cuts (in the 14th round) but I knocked him down earlier in the fight. I was around 28 or 29 at the time. I had had a good amateur career.”

Q: You won a lot of amateur titles, and you were a big puncher at amateur level, and also at pro level of course. But the Olympic boycott came in 1980. You’d have won a gold otherwise?

L.R.M: “Yeah I had a lot of amateur fights (laughs). 1980, yeah, I would have won gold. I would have. But it was so different out there [in Russia]. The people, some of them barely had anything to eat. It was a whole lot different to America. I didn’t really feel safe when I was there, and I stayed in my room until I had to go fight or go train. I didn’t go outside much.”

Q: Did you find the transition to the pro game easy or hard?

L.R.M: “I just came out of the amateurs and went straight to the pros. I signed with Ernie Terrell and Cedric Kushner and carried it on from there.”

Q: You had some amazing fights, but one fight of your fights really stands out…..

L.R.M: (jumping in) “The Mutti fight.”

Q: Right! You knew what I was going to say. That fight is truly incredible (Murphy and Chisanda Mutti engaged in a real slugfest, before both men went down at the same time in round 12, “Rocky II” style, with Murphy getting up to win to retain the title).

L.R.M: “Everybody likes the Mutti fight. Everybody wants to talk about that fight. He was a good fighter, he was tough. Every time I turned around he was right there. He wasn’t a hard puncher but he was a good puncher. I had to break him down, so I went to the body and that made him start loosening up and wearing down. A lot of fighters, they don’t work on their body shots – but I did. I hit him with everything! It was the same with Young Joe Louis (12th round KO win for Murphy). I hit him with some hard shots and he was still there but I wore him down and I said ‘it’s time to go now.’”

Q: Not to harp on, but the war you had with Mutti is truly special (note: This fight IS a war, Murphy took some real heat, as did Mutti. Both guys went down, Murphy in the 9th, Mutti in the 11th, and British fans, if they take the time to watch this incredible fight on YouTube, will notice how British fight legend Dennie Mancini is constantly bellowing words of advice/encouragement to Mutti throughout). He passed away at a young age, didn’t he?

L.R.M: “He did, he passed. I’m not sure what happened. But even today, when I get recognised, which I do, even though I’m the shy type who doesn’t really like the limelight. And when I get on the bus and people recognise me, they ask me about the Mutti fight and we talk, and then I get off the bus. But that wasn’t no damn ‘Rocky’ fight – we did it for real! Mutti was a good, tough fighter, but at that time, it seemed like everyone had their hands in my pockets. I had to work a job as well as fight. But I can’t complain, I always had a job and somewhere to live.”

Q: When you look back, which fights of yours are you most proud?

L.R.M: “I like the Dorcy Gaymon fight (KO 9 win for Murhpy in a title defence). He was my sparring partner. He was tall. He was a good guy, I liked him. When we sparred, I only really went to his body, and it was the same in the fight. They really wanted him to get a title shot and he got it. I like the Mutti fight, I still watch it now and then. Everyone likes the Mutti fight (smiles).”

Q: They sure do! Is there anyone you didn’t fight, who you wish you had fought?

L.R.M: “No. I’m just glad I never got hurt. When I fought, in all different countries, I always made sure I got examined after the fight. I didn’t want to have any issues the way some fighters have.”

Q: You sound great today, champ, in full health. How tough was Dwight Muhammad Qawi, yet another great you fought? I know he stopped you (in six rounds in 1987).

L.R.M: “I think they wanted the [Evander] Holyfield [rematch] fight for him at that time, for the money. That wasn’t me at my best. At my best, I’d have knocked him out. He didn’t hit hard, I never felt any of his punches. He got the Holyfield fight, and Holyfield destroyed him.”

Q: You went up to heavyweight, too.

L.R.M: “I did, I won the Illinois State title. I sparred a lot of greats also. I worked with [Matthew] Saad Muhammad. He was having some issues at the time – he had money and then he didn’t have money. I know Holyfield, for example, he blew so much money. Some of these guys, they earn so much they don’t know what to do with it. Oliver McCall is the same, we sparred a lot but he would never go past the third round with me.”

Q: You sparred McCall? And who else?

L.R.M: “McCall and me, we worked at the same gym together. He would always quit after three rounds, even though we would set out to do six to eight rounds. He wasn’t hard to hit, and I was hitting him with 16oz gloves. He was another nice guy. I haven’t heard from him in a while, we usually talk quite often. He was different when he sparred me compared to when he fought other guys in fights. I also sparred Lennox Lewis, I went back and forth [from the US to the UK]. They cut our sessions after they found out I was a puncher.”

Q: It’s a real pleasure speaking with you, champ. You should put out a book. You should be far more well known than you are, even though the real boxing fans know all about you….

L.R.M: “My wife says that. But I’m pretty shy. I’m still in touch with the sport, I’ll be travelling, going to some fights in June. I still watch some fights. I have nothing to complain about.”

Last Updated on 05/21/2024