Back in 2002, you could have made a serious case for Tito Ortiz being considered the baddest man on the planet.
The UFC light heavyweight champion was the biggest star in the developing sport of mixed martial arts and had won five consecutive title fights - a record which wouldn't be surpassed until Jon Jones began his era of dominance nearly a decade later.
In July of that year the UFC was holding its first ever event in the United Kingdom and although he wasn't on the card, Ortiz was one of several high profile fighters flown across the Atlantic to help the promotional push for the UK MMA scene that the UFC was desperate to break into.
The Brawl At The Royal Albert Hall passed off without incident. Matt Hughes defended his welterweight title in a classic encounter with Carlos Newton. Hometown fighter Ian Freeman upset the odds and pounded out heavyweight contender Frank Mir. But it was what happened well after the final bell had rung which will make the promotion's London debut one of the most notorious in the history of the UFC.
It was 4am and the nightclub hosting the after-party was closing. The bus which had been hired to ferry everyone back to their hotel was nowhere to be found, so Matt Hughes' coach Pat Miletich found himself in the company of Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Tony Fryklund and a Londoner by the name of Lee Murray.
And what happened next has become the thing of MMA legend.
Lee Murray was just 25 years old at the time but had already gathered a pretty serious reputation as someone not to be messed with. Murray was a streetfighter who had perfected the art of throwing effective punches by virtue of sheer repetition. He had, by his own admission, been in "hundreds" of street fights since he was in his teens and not only was he not afraid of confrontations, he liked them.
Murray thought, not unreasonably, that his years of street brawling could be transferred to the world of mixed martial arts. He enrolled in the famed UK gym London Shootfighters to refine his technique and learn, for the first time, the elements of grappling which MMA has at its core. A couple of years prior, in 2000, Murray flew to Iowa to train with Miletich at his famously hard-nosed gym in Bettendorf. The unknown Englishman didn't take long to prove his worth.
Former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler was a training partner of Murray's in Miletich's gym and said to SI.com that whenever the Englishman was hitting pads in the gym, people would stop what they were doing just to watch.
Lee Murray had world-class punching power. Man, he would hit the mitts—pop-pop-POP-POP—and you would stop your workout and look over because it sounded like gunfire.
By the time Murray found himself on the streets of London at 4am in that July of 2002 he was already considered a mixed martial artist of some repute but when a brawl erupted outside the nightclub, the Londoner found himself in a proving ground that he was very familiar with.
As per Matt Hughes' book, as described by Pat Miletich, here is what allegedly happened - though Tito Ortiz denies Miletich's version of events to this day.
Then I looked over and there's Tito directly past me, taking his coat off, going after Lee Murray, and Lee Murray's backing up the alley taking his jacket off. Both their jackets come off, and Tito throws a left hook at Lee Murray and misses, and right as he missed, Lee Murray counters with, like, a five-punch combo, landed right on the chin, and knocked Tito out. OUT. Tito fell face-first down to the ground, and then Lee Murray stomped him on the face a couple of times with his boots.
But, as anyone familiar with the Lee Murray story will tell you, this isn't the most remarkable story to involve him. Not even close.
On February 21st 2006, the largest cash robbery in UK history took place at the Securitas Cash Depot in Kent. A sum in excess of £53 million was stolen in the elaborate heist which, due to the astromnomical amount of money invovled, dominated the headlines.
The gang of thieves - of which Lee Murray was one - immediately became the most wanted men in Britain but as detailed as their planning of the robbery had been, it seemed far less thought had actually gone into what to do with the money once they have it. After all, £53 million in cash is very difficult to hide.
Within 48 hours, a makeup artist had been arrested on suspicion of creating disguises for the thieves. By the following day, police had tracked down two vans used in the robbery - the second of which contained guns, masks and £1.3 million in notes. Acting on a tip the police raided the home of Lee Murray's friend Lea Rusha and found blueprints of the Securitas Depot and £8.6 million. By ten days since the the robbery, five people had been arrested and the net was closing in on Lee Murray - who had been dubbed 'Stopwatch' by UK police, as security footage showed he was tasked with timing the robbery.
With practically everyone involved in the robbery having been rounded up by the police, Murray left his wife and two children behind and fled to Morocco where, due to his father being from the region, he is considered a naturalised citizen and the country has no extradition treaty with the UK.
For a while, Lee Murray lived like a king owing to his ill-gotten gains. He bought a new Mercedes, spent lavish amounts on clothes and gadgets. He spent more than £1 million on buying a mansion, complete with marble floors, a fully functional gym and even a giant mural of himself recording his sole UFC victory, a submission of Jorge Rivera in January 2004.
The lavish lifestyle wasn't to last.
Ever since he had arrived in Morocco, Murray had been under surveillance by the local authorities. His house was searched and found to have drugs in it. Lee Murray was about to lose his freedom. As the judge who oversaw his case put it, Murray was charged with drug possession and "beating and humiliating members of the security forces" who tried to arrest him.
Today, Murray is still in a Moroccan prison and will be for another 20 years or so. Rumours suggest he has even fathered a child while in prison.
The tale of Lee Murray is almost an unbelievable one. He's been stabbed on numerous occasions, he fought Anderson Silva, he knocked out Tito Ortiz in a street brawl and was a major player in the biggest robbery in the history of the United Kingdom. And with all that considered, it still doesn't tell the full story of Lightning Lee Murray.