Lee Roy Murphy: A Life of ‘Solid Gold’

By Brian D'Ambrosio on March 19, 2015
Lee Roy Murphy: A Life of ‘Solid Gold’
“Boxing wasn't easy. It can make you or it can break you. It has broken a lot of fighters.”

Violent crime tarnishes Chicago’s name and has for nearly a century. Murphy was born in 1958 into a world where the core element was survival…

Lee Roy Murphy is similar to many boxers: he comes from miserable social conditions.

What he saw in a pair of gloves was an outlet, an escape, a ticket off the streets.

Murphy – the 1979 Light Heavyweight National Golden Gloves champion and, later, IBF cruiserweight titlist – is a Chicago native.

And that pretty much sums it up.

Violent crime tarnishes Chicago’s name and has for nearly a century. Murphy was born in 1958 into a world where the core element was survival.

“I grew up in the projects and I fought out of the projects,” said Murphy. “Boxing saved my life. I was one of the luckiest ones to make it out of the projects.”

Murphy tallied an amateur record of 157-17 and earned a spot on the 1980 United States Olympic team. When USA boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow due to political reasons, Murphy was robbed of a glorious opportunity.

“I loved the amateurs more than the pros,” said Murphy, who started boxing as a teenager after he beat up a neighborhood bully and figured there would be a rematch.

“The people would come from all over Chicago to come to those fights. You couldn’t get in when the Chicago Tribune had the Golden Gloves. In order to win the Golden Gloves then, you had to win the sixth fight for the championship. When I fought that last fight, the guy hurt me in the first. But I knocked him out in the second. It was cool. You talked to the people. The amateurs was better than the pros.”

“Solid Gold”

In his pro debut in 1980, he fought a guy named Roger Moore.

“I went to school with this guy in Chicago,” said Murphy. “He was talkin’ crazy. Couple of weeks later, he was in the boxing ring with me.”

Approximately five bouts into his career, Murphy was nicknamed “Solid Gold” by trainer-cutman Jim Strickland. “I can tell you that Murphy would have been as possible as Sugar Ray Leonard if the Olympics happened,” said Strickland. “He got robbed of that.”

In 34 career fights, Murphy earned enough to make ends meet.

“As a champ, it gave me a couple of dollars,” said Murphy. “Boxing wasn’t easy. It was hard. It can make you or it can break you. It has broken a lot of fighters. They all feel like they should make all of this money. Some made money, and they did what they wanted to do. But when the money leaves, the friends leave.”

In 1984, Murphy traveled to Billings, Montana, to challenge inaugural IBF cruiserweight champion Marvin Camel in his first title defense.

“I was in Arizona training and working out with Marvin Johnson – boxing every day for eight weeks. Marvin Camel and Marvin Johnson were both southpaws. Nothing is free in boxing – you got to work hard. Strickland would tell me that Camel was easy to cut. I never thought about him being easy to cut during the fight.”

Murphy won the title with a 14th round TKO.

“It was in his home town and home turf. The fans threw cups and things. Police had to escort us out – that’s scary. We had issues getting out of the stadium. I dropped him in the 11th. I think he respected me after I dropped him. I was more aggressive in the later rounds. I respected him, it was his hometown. You had to give him respect.”

After the fight, a famished Murphy still needed to eat dinner; none of the hostility from the arena spilled outside. 

“The people shook our hands in the restaurant and talked to us. There was no problem. They all said it was a good fight.”

Winning brought with it an entirely new set of issues, said Murphy.

“As soon as I held that title, I felt a lot of pressure,” said Murphy. “Some guys need the title to get confidence. And there is a lot of responsibility and you don’t know who wants to beat you up the next day. It’s a win-lose situation when it comes to being a champion in boxing. Everybody wanted to fight for that title.”

In his second title defense, Murphy battled Chisanda Mutti, in 1985, in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The double-knockdown in round 11 is the stuff of YouTube legend.

“Everybody is always talking about it,” said Murphy. “That was a rough fight. This guy was strong. He was strong as heck. At that one point, I couldn’t do nothing. I’m thinking, ‘Why is he throwing all of these punches?’ I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. Mutti was strong. As the fight went on, his weakness was his conditioning. The body shots took away his power. In the end, I was swollen like he was swollen.”

He defended the title three times before losing the belt to Ricky Parkey, in 1986.

“To me, I thought I was over-trained. But I thought I worked harder then after becoming champ. I don’t know what was wrong. Same thing with (Dwight Muhammad Qawi) Braxton. I just don’t know what happened. There was not too much interest, I guess. Mainly, I was burnt out. I had a lot of wars, and I had survived the majority of them. I’m still in one piece. I don’t know if it was me, or my attitude, but there were also a lot of people who didn’t want me to beat Braxton. That was the most pressure I ever felt. There were those who wanted him to fight Holyfield again. And they just threw me to the side, you know.”

In 1987, Murphy’s fought (and lost to) Dwight Muhammad Qawi in France, one of the many countries that Murphy visited during his boxing career. Murphy retired in 1991, fought twice more in 1998, and then retired permanently.

“I got out at the right time,” said Murphy, who works with the Chicago Transit Authority. “I was all around the world twice before I was 20 years old. And none of those countries are going to take care of you like they take care of you in the United States. I’ve seen different countries, different ways of life. Africa, Germany, Russia. It ain’t that good over there.

What makes a boxer a vagrant? What circumstances lead to a boxer finding his pockets penniless?

Murphy never wants to finds out.

One of the men instrumental in shaping him to become a world champion, Matthew Saad Muhammad, descended into homelessness for many years (Muhammad died in 2014).

“Right after I turned professional, Matthew Saad Muhammad, I worked with him for four, five weeks. He hit me with body shot. It was the first time I was hurt. I went to my knees. I really wanted to quit. But he talked to me for 20 minutes. He talked about boxing. He said, ‘be prepared.’ He said, ‘if you ain’t got boxing in mind, it ain’t gonna’ work.’ He said, ‘you gotta’ earn it. If that was a real fight and you quit like that, it would have been over.’ He said, ‘if that happened, people wouldn’t respect you. Take the game seriously.’

“Half of the fighters I know are dead, been killed, or they overdosed. Young Joe Louis, he was a homeless guy, and he was staying somewhere about a seven minute drive from here. We talked and socialized. Real bad. He doing much better than he was a year ago. Drugs, liquor, got put out of the house.”

Murphy, a former Cook County, Illinois sheriff (1986-1993), has never had much patience for law-breaking or cutting corners

“Before I even became a sheriff, guys in the gangs didn’t like me. One guy, I didn’t know he was a big guy in the gang. He was one of the gangbangers, and we had a run in. I knocked him out. Sometimes you fight in boxing or fight in street. He swung. He missed. I knocked him out. I’ve had two street fights in my whole life, and that’s it. When I became a fighter, I didn’t have to go through problems like that anymore. When I was sheriff, I had more respect from people when I didn’t have a gun, more respect when the gun was off than when it was on.”

Chicago: “Ain’t the same it used to be”

In five years, Murphy plans to retire from the Chicago Transit Authority. Not getting caught in the crossfire, literally, is part of his retirement strategy. The murder rate in Chicago is 18.5 per 100,000 residents, which is still three times that of New York City and double that of Los Angeles. Thorny gang problems plague the communities where Murphy lives.

While places like New York and Los Angeles have managed to correct or alleviate their murder problem, Chicago hasn’t. Its 500 homicides in 2012 surpassed far larger New York City’s 419 and slightly bigger Los Angeles’s 299. Twenty-four children were shot fatally during the 2012 academic year.

Murphy said that a strong work ethic distracts him from worrying too much about surrounding social problems. 

“I’ve been working since I was age 14,” said Murphy, who turns 57 in July. “At age 16, I was working for the city of Chicago. Chicago took care of me. It ain’t the same like it used to be.” 

Personal security is a mirage in such tough terrain. Precautions are what allow you to see the light of another day.

“I don’t even like hanging out no more,” said Murphy. “I go to work, I watch television, and I take a shower. It’s rough out there. They killed a boxer who was training at one of the parks, two, three months ago, on the south side. They tried to rob him or something. I don’t know what’s going on. People are getting killed every day.”

Murphy keeps to himself; he shuns eye contact on the streets, and looks sideways to avoid any potential showdown. When you are surrounded by those who need little or no provocation, the very least you can do is not to provide any. 

“People don’t care what they do,” said Murphy. “They know I used to be a boxer, and they still want to try you. Let em’ talk. I keep on walking. I stay home. I keep on walking. I go about my business.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of “Warrior in the Ring, The Life of Marvin Camel, Native American World Champion,” published by Riverbend Publishing.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 1 2 & Prefight

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 3 4 5 6 7

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 8 9 10 11 12 & Postfight

Lee Roy Murphy - Marvin Camel

Dwight Muhammad Qawi vs. Lee Roy Murphy (part 1 of 2)

Dwight Muhammad Qawi vs. Lee Roy Murphy (part 2 of 2)

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  1. Steve Davis 09:33pm, 03/29/2016

    Lee Roy used to be my boxing coach in Chicago many years ago i started with him when i was nine im 45 now i wish i could reconnect with him to tell him how much he made a difference in my still today i talk a lot about him can anyone help me find him cstev.sparks@ yahoo.com


  2. "Rockin" Rodney Moore 12:34pm, 04/08/2015

    I watched murpht during the 80’s and I thought he was a dam good fighter and champion. Just wished he came along a little later like in the 90’s, when cruiser weights started making more money and getting more recongnition. Never the less its great to hear he in doing well.

  3. Lindy Lindell 09:24am, 03/29/2015

    This is a very good piece, Brian.  I’m glad you went to the source.  So many “reporters” are satisfied to look from afar, like a fan, but such resulting pieces invariably fail to capture the texture of the man.  You got Lee Roy pretty good, Brian, capturing him and the ambiguous ways he viewed his career as a boxer and his post-boxing life.
    Murphy had the looks of a great fighter when he turned pro, but by the time he fought Elvis Parks, I think the Chicago boxing cognoscente had given up on his chances of being a “great” fighter.  Of course, Murphy went on to be a champ, but never really a star in the manner of Qawi.

  4. Jethro's Flute 11:45am, 03/20/2015

    Good article.

    Nice to hear of a former champ whose life worked out okay.

  5. Eric 01:02pm, 03/19/2015

    Young Joe Louis, yet another cruiserweight that the Camden Buzzsaw did a number on. Braxton/Qawi, what a tough little hombre.

  6. Kid Balst 10:44am, 03/19/2015

    The job of a Cook County, Illinois sheriff offer no security whatsoever as it is predicated on politics. Working for the CTA is far more secure and will get you a much better pension, etc. Murphy should end up well if he survives the Chicago violence which could be worse than that in Syria.

    That crap hasn’t changed in at least 50 years.

  7. Kid Blast 09:01am, 03/19/2015

    The fight turned into something else in the twelfth when both fighters exchanged several bombs in a neutral corner and then threw lightening fast rights simultaneously. Both landed simultaneously with full force and impact. Both men fell together in a heap hanging on to each other with Mutti landing atop Murphy before sliding to the floor. Glancing at Murphy who was struggling to get up in a corner (and keeping tabs on the progress of both), referee Larry Hazzard began the count over Mutti. Murphy, badly hurt, barely made it up by the seven count. Incredibly, Hazzard proceeded to count out Mutti at the 1:53 mark. Mutti stayed down a full three minutes. Behind on the scorecards at the time, Murphy had retained his title in what can only be described as a surreal fight.

    Neither fighter would ever be the same after this grueling fight. “Solid Gold” would lose his title by TKO to tough Ricky Parkey a year later. Mutti would go 2-4-1 before retiring

  8. Clarence George 08:57am, 03/19/2015

    I think his gloves are on the wrong hands.

    Anyway, I wonder why he didn’t stick to being a sheriff.  He’d be long retired.

  9. Kid Blast 08:56am, 03/19/2015

    The first seven rounds involved incredible seesaw action with both fighters exchanging bombs that had dreamland printed all over them. Neither dominated for sustained periods of time and the fight was a classic ebb and flow war of attrition. The number of punishing head shots both received was frankly alarming. Moreover, both warriors were fast becoming exhausted. Mutti used vicious jab-hook-cross combos that quickly served notice he would not be an easy mark.

    By the eighth stanza, the crowd was up and roaring in disbelief at the all-out action which featured both jackhammer power and wicked speed. Both guys teed off on each other as the momentum continually shifted. Both displayed a total disdain for defense as they concentrated on launching bombs that had uncommon accuracy. First, one landed a menacing three-punch combo and then the other countered with a lethal straight right. It was as if their respective faces were magnets for the rattling shots. It didn’t take an aficionado to know that the damage being inflicted would impact their future.

    In the ninth, Mutti decked Murphy with a volley of vicious shots begun with a left that turned Murphy’s back to him. It appeared he would be taken out forthwith, but somehow, some way, he survived the round.

  10. Kid Blast 08:46am, 03/19/2015

    Along with Luther Rawlings and Ernie Terrell, Murphy was considered the very best amateur to veer come out of Chicago. I saw him fight many times and he was simply fantastic..

    Unfortunately, his all-time classic with Mutt in Monaco which he won, ruined him. That fight was as brutal as it gets and featured a double knockdown which Murphy barely beat. The fight also ruined Mutti.

  11. nicolas 08:04am, 03/19/2015

    Also it probably took a lot of of both men. Murphywould lose his title not long after, and Muti sadlydied at 38 years of age, in 1995.

  12. nicolas 07:56am, 03/19/2015

    I saw the that 12th round stoppage now. What got me was it appeared as if Muti went down really after punching Murphy. Perhaps the view of Muti seeing Murphy going down, took the adrenalin away from Muti, and he went down from the accumulation of punches that he had absorbed. Perhaps this is why some have the myth that had Ali and Frazier gone out for the 15th round in Manila, Ali from exhaustion would have fallen. Though I would say Muti took greater punishment.

  13. Eric 05:06am, 03/19/2015

    The Qawi fight was the only fight I ever saw Murphy fight, and it wasn’t a very good performance put on by Lee Roy. Qawi had a way of intimidating the best of the fighters between 175-195lbs so maybe a bad fight to judge Murphy on. Interesting that Murphy said that Saad Muhammad put him on his knees with a body shot. Qawi said that the hardest he was ever hit was by Saad Muhammad. Considering that Qawi faced punchers like Michael Spinks and George Foreman, that is quite a testament to Saad’s punching power.

  14. ch. 04:15am, 03/19/2015

    I always had a lot of respect for Lee Roy Murphy as a quality fighter, I have even more respect for him now as a man of quality. Thanks for the good story about this man’s life and legacy.

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