Emma Courtland: Hey, it's Emma. So way back in February, 2020, before lockdown, before we even really started talking about what Crime Show would be, one of our colleagues at Gimlet, a guy named Matt Nelson, came to us with a story he'd heard at a bar. Matt's the supervising producer at Mogul, mostly his stories are about music, sometimes they're about soccer, but this story was like, it was like a real-life Guy Ritchie movie. That's how he pitched it, anyway. British thugs, underground MMA fighting, a bank heist, just really proper villainy. I didn't really know Matt at the time, so I was like, "Okay, let's hear some tape." And then, well, he brought back a fucking Guy Ritchie movie. And because Matt also sounds like a Guy Ritchie movie—because he's Scottish, not a gangster—he's gonna tell it in two parts. Starting now.
Matt Nelson: Lee Murray walks out for his first UFC fight dressed just like Hannibal Lecter. He's got on the full orange boiler suit, muzzle wrapped around his face. He looks like a total psychopath.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: Please welcome Lightning Lee Murray!]
Matt: His opponent's a guy named Jorge Rivera, a former construction worker from Puerto Rico. Both of them are new to the UFC, and this is their big shot. Their chance to kick the shit out of someone on live pay per view.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: Mario Yamasaki, our referee, and our night is officially underway!]
Matt: And when the fight gets going, Jorge immediately takes charge. He wraps his big arms around Murray and flips him onto the canvas.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: Rivera's got him. Got a body lock on him.]
Matt: The pair are tied up together like some sort of human ampersand, and to be honest, it's kind of hard to tell who's winning. Until Murray grabs a hold of Rivera's arm and, using his thigh for leverage, begins to bend it back further and further and further, until when it's about to snap Rivera taps out.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: It's all over! It's all over! Lee Murray by submission!]
Matt: Then Murray goes absolutely nuts. He leaps onto the top of the cage, fans out his massive muscles, and screams into the crowd, "I'm the man! I'm the fucking man!"
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lee Murray: I'm the man!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: "I'm the man," he says. And he didn't even have to ...]
Matt: The whole thing lasted less than two minutes, but Lee had made a big impression. People were saying that he was a potential superstar, and that he could be the next great champion. So that was Lee Murray's first UFC fight. But despite all of these predictions of greatness, it would also turn out to be his last.
Matt: Just two years later, in 2006, Lee Murray walked into an altogether different kind of fight. This time, he wasn't competing in the UFC, and he wasn't flanked by a team of trainers. He was joined by a crew of masked men, decked out in boiler suits and body armor, and strapped with shotguns and AK-47s. And this time, Lee Murray was marching towards a much bigger prize: a bank vault stacked with over £300-million, and the chance to pull off the ultimate score.
[NEWS CLIP: An attack that began on Tuesday evening, when the manager of the depot was pulled over by what he thought was an unmarked police car.]
[NEWS CLIP: The gang behind the raid were armed and dangerous.]
[NEWS CLIP: The key questions remain: who are they, where are they, and what will they do next?]
Matt: This is the story of how Lee Murray went from being on the verge of sporting stardom to becoming one of the world's most wanted criminals. It's a journey through blood-soaked MMA gyms, London's criminal underworld and an Ocean's Eleven-style heist that sparked one of the biggest manhunts in the history of the British police.
Matt: My name is Matthew Nelson, and this is Crime Show.
Matt: Back in the mid-'90s, the first UFC pay-per-view shows made their way to Britain on fuzzy VHS tapes.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: The fighting champion. Be forewarned: there are no rules, no judges' scores and no time limits. Anything can happen and probably will.]
Matt: At first, people weren't sure if it was real. In UFC 1 there's this fight where a big sumo guy gets kicked in the face, and the big man's teeth end up in the front row.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: Oh, there's missing teeth there.]
Matt: It looked like cartoon violence, scarcely believable. And when people found out it was real, they were shocked.
Paul Hines: It was like, "Oh my God, they're throwing them in the cage. You know, this is disgusting." It got lumped in with that unlicensed boxing, underground gangsters and gypsies and stuff like that."
Matt: That's Paul Hines. Paul was one of the first British mixed martial artists, or MMA fighters. He told me that, back in the day, there was only one gym where you could go to learn how to become a fighter. It was called London Shootfighters, and you'd find it under an old railway arch on a downtrodden industrial estate in southeast London. Shootfighters was the starting point for the whole UK MMA scene.
Paul Hines: We was learning all the real basics, kind of: triangles, guillotines, kimuras. But no one knew what these were.
Matt: A kimura is when a fighter clamps onto their opponent's arm and cranks it in the wrong direction, like winding the hands of a clock backwards. Lock it in properly, and you'll rip through tendons, shred ligaments, before finally, the arm snaps like a toothpick.
Paul Hines: Yeah.
Matt: Word of the gym and this new way of fighting spread around London. And soon, local hard men wanted to come and test themselves—to see if torque and leverage could ever compare to a good old-fashioned punch in the face. None of these guys lasted long. Their arm would get tied up like a pretzel, and they'd never come back.
Paul Hines: They'd leave there, like, almost like concussed. It was brutal. I mean, you had to have a love for the sport.
Matt: So whenever anyone new arrived, the fighters would always ask: is this guy the real deal, or just a fucking poser? And then one day, the gym's doors swung open and in walked Lee Murray. In a lot of ways, Lee had been training to be a fighter since day one. He grew up in Southeast London. It's not a bad area, but the housing estate where he lived, the Barnfield Estate, it was really rough there.
Shaun Assael: Well I mean, the part of Southeast London that I went to, it was just sort of a hardscrabble neighborhood that hardscrabble people try to get out of.
Matt: This is Shaun Assael. Shaun wrote a longform article about Lee for ESPN. He told me that Lee grew up surrounded by violence. His old man was a drunk and used to knock him around, until Lee got old enough to defend himself. And outside on the streets, he also learned that you were either a predator or you were prey.
Shaun Assael: The law in the Barnfield projects used to be the Barney Boys. And they were the local gang, and they'd traffic in a little bit of weed, and, you know, they'd look out for some people and make sure some other people were gonna have to pay their share. And so the Barney Boys were the rule of law there. And Lee came in as sort of a junior Barney Boy.
Matt: Getting into fights was part of the deal when you were a Barney Boy. And it's an area where the young Lee Murray excelled. He earned a reputation for knocking out much bigger guys. And the local kids called him "Alien," because he had big ears, and when he got into a scrap he'd pull the kind of faces that made him look like he was from another planet.
Shaun Assael: You know, he was just a little demonic looking. He had pointy eyes and a pointy head.
Matt: And big hands. A friend of Lee told Shaun that Lee had the biggest fists he'd ever seen.
Shaun Assael: He has huge calcified mounds. Each finger was broken at least once, and as he told me at the time, everything Lee touched broke.
Matt: Those big hands also broke the law. Lee went to prison for the first time when he was 16. He got caught peddling stolen televisions. And he was in and out of prison for the rest of his teens. But then, during one stretch, his life changed dramatically. Lee met this Polish prisoner. The guy was a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and Lee says that the pair struck a bargain: in exchange for Lee teaching this guy to read and write in English, he'd show him how to fight. And that bargain changed everything for Lee. After he got out of prison that time, he became obsessed with MMA. He understood that this was a sport where he could do what he was best at—kicking the shit out of people—and get paid for it. Even better: it was legal. And that's what brought him to London Shootfighters.
Paul Hines: There's certain people that come in that kind of tick all the boxes. He had something about him straight away. You know, like, there was no denying, no denying it.
Matt: Lee wasn't like the other local hard men who got hit once, then pissed off. He wasn't afraid to throw a punch, and he wasn't afraid to take one either. He had a fighter's mentality right from the start.
Remco Pardoel: If you go into the prison in the UK, you have to fight. You have to prove yourself. So violence was normal for Lee. Like, Lee had the mindset, "You die or they die." And there's nothing in between.
Matt: This is Remco Pardoel. Remco's one of Lee's former coaches, and he fought in the UFC. Remco told me that Lee's time behind bars meant that he was just wired differently. And the thought of violence never made him flinch.
Remco Pardoel: Some people take pleasure out of the hurt. If they get hurt, that motivates them to go deeper and farther and harder. Yeah, I'm not a psychiatrist or whatever but, you know, that's the mindset that certain people live in, and that's their reality.
Matt: There's this old video of Lee doing pad work, putting together all of the new things he'd learned at the Shootfighters gym. His movements are fast and fluid, and every time he unloads a punch you see his muscles ripple and he lets out a roar. And when you watch this video, you start to get what Remco's talking about when he said that Lee was always prepared to go deeper and harder and further. He looks unstoppable and utterly determined. A man fighting for a different life, and a future far away from the Barnfield Estate.
Matt: What's it like to get hit by Lee Murray? How'd you describe it?
Paul Hines: Well, they call him "Lightning" Lee Murray. And if you've ever sort of been buzzed with a good punch, it's almost like an electric shock. Especially when you don't see it coming. It either knocks you out or you feel like you've just took a massive electric shock. You get, like—it's like white noise, and it's like fuzziness. And I remember he hit me with a straight right hand, and it felt like I'd just, you know, been electrocuted.
Matt: After a while, hitting guys in the gym wasn't enough for Lee. He wanted to test himself against the best fighters in Britain, and really find out if he has what it takes to be a champion.
Matt: So Lee took his first professional fight in 1999. Back then, British MMA events weren't held in arenas—and they certainly weren't on television. You'd find them in nightclubs with sticky carpets, the back room of a dodgy pub, sometimes even just outside in a car park. Anywhere there was space for a ring, and a crowd.
Paul Hines: Who doesn't want to watch a fight? Most red-blooded men at that time wanted to watch a fight. And they wanted to see somebody get taken down and get their light punched out. You fuel that with some alcohol and most probably cocaine, and God knows what, you had an atmosphere. As soon as you walked in you could feel it. It was electric.
Jess Laudin: Every time I think about this time, I'm thinking about Snatch. It was literally like that.
Matt: Jess Laudin there. Jess trained with Lee at Shootfighters and fought at the same events. And he wasn't the only person who referenced the Guy Richie movie, Snatch. That's the one with Brad Pitt in it. A lot of people said that these events were just like the lawless, bare-knuckle fights you'd see in that movie.
Jess Laudin: You know, it was packed. Packed to the max. People were literally on their elbows hollering. It was like a bottle that was full and you just shake it up and it's about to explode, that's how packed the place was.
Matt: So packed that there wasn't always much of a divide between the crowd and the fighters. Jess says that you'd be getting ready to fight, and some local hard man would push his face inside the ring and shout ...
Jess Laudin: "You fucking cunt!" All the crowd are like, “Whoo, you cunt! You're gonna get killed!" It was people talking that in the ring. You would go to the event, and you wouldn't be fighting, but your heart would beat.
Paul Hines: I don't know if you can smell adrenaline, but it smelled like that. It smelled like cigarettes, beer, piss, sweat, very high testosterone, kind of bolshy behavior. Men swinging their fucking dicks around. Big talk.
Matt: Lee won his first fight. Knocked the guy spark out. And he quickly became a fan favorite. The king of the sweaty, blood-soaked cauldron of testosterone. And like a lot of the great fighters, he wasn't afraid to talk some shit.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lee Murray: I'd be embarrassed to lose to you. Look how ugly you are! I'm gonna smack you up. You're a pussy, an ugly pussy!]
Matt: Lee soon emerged as one of the best British MMA fighters. But that wasn't enough, because the best fighters in the world weren't in London pubs—they were 4,000 miles away in an old gym on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Jason Reinhardt: His motivation was simply one thing, and that was to be the UFC world champion.
Matt: But just when Lee thinks he's left a life of crime behind, something pulls him back in.
Jason Reinhardt: Yeah, like I said, man, it just went bad after that, man. It just—it went dark.
Matt: Picture yourself holding a £20 note, freshly minted by the Bank of England. Queen Elizabeth stamped on the front, staring serenely up at you. Maybe you fold that note, stick it in your back pocket until one day, maybe you fancy a pint. Out comes the £20, and now it's in a cash register. At any one time in Britain, there's over four billion bank notes floating around just like this. They flow from ATMs to wallets to cash registers. Along the way, they rumpled and torn and frayed. Sometimes this money ends up back at the bank, but not all the time. Sometimes big stacks of cash are taken to what's called a bank depot. They're sort of like giant money warehouses, stacked with walls of bank notes. Hundreds of millions of pounds.
Matt: And I say all this to say: why rob a bank, when you can take down a money warehouse? And Lee Murray's gonna come to that same conclusion. But not yet.
Matt: Before Lee Murray had any intention of being a bank robber, he wanted to be an elite cage fighter. And by the early 2000s, he was making progress. He won his first three professional fights, and was well on his way to becoming the best fighter in Britain. But the truth was that that didn't mean very much back then. The UK fight scene was small potatoes compared to what was going on in America. That's where the UFC was—the Major League of fighting. It's where the big pay-per-view events went down, and anyone who wanted to be anyone needed to be there. And also, it's where you'd find Pat Miletich.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: UFC lightweight champion of the world, Pat Miletich!]
Matt: Pat was an early UFC champion, and one of the sport's pioneers. And as his career began to wind down, he started training fighters.
Drew McFedries: I called him Master Splinter. You know who that is?
Matt: This is Drew McFedries. Drew's a former UFC fighter, and he trained with Pat.
Drew McFedries: I always called him Master Splinter, because he's like the old dude who's always in the gym telling you what to do. And, you know, you don't really see him in action too often, but when Master Splinter took that gi off, it was hell. Pat was the real deal.
Matt: Pat's gym was in Bettendorf, Iowa, a couple of blocks back from the Mississippi River. It's right in the guts of America—a land of strip malls and shitty diners. The kind of place that doesn't get many tourists. But when word spread about Pat's gym, fighters from all over started to reach out to Pat to ask if they could come to train with the great maestro in the hopes that he could make them a champion.
Pat Miletich: I would tell them, absolutely don't move to Iowa because you don't even know if you're gonna like it here.
Matt: This is Pat Miletich.
Pat Miletich: You don't know if you're gonna like the team. The team doesn't know if they're gonna like you. So—and we don't even know if you can handle the training, frankly.
Matt: In the summer of 2000, Lee arrived at Pat's gym. And as soon as he walked in the door, the other fighters sized him up. Here's former UFC fighter Jason Reinhardt.
Jason Reinhardt: He walked into Miletich camp, and I said that guy is built like a greyhound dog. I said, that guy has no ounce of fat on him, and that is a fighter's build right there. [laughs] And then when he started hitting the mitts, I thought a dang shotgun went off.
Matt: Lee was tough. He'd been fighting since he was a kid, and he'd learned a lot at the Shootfighters Gym in London. But he wasn't the finished article. Lee was all raw energy and power, but to become a champion, he needed more. He'd have to master submission holds, and learn how to break a man without just relying on his fists. Pat was the man who could teach him that,. if Lee could just survive his brutal training program.
Drew McFedries: Pat would come out and he would say, "Hey listen everybody, pay attention right now. If you start bleeding, clean it up. If you get knocked out, leave the room. If you get hurt, something gets broken, it's your responsibility to take care of yourself. Let's train." And he would hit the buzzer.
Tony Fryklund: Fucking blood all over the floor right away. Right away.
Matt: This is UFC fighter Tony Fryklund remembering his first trip to Pat's gym.
Tony Fryklund: And I look up, and it was a slippery, sweaty—and they're beating the sh—I mean, beating the shit out of each other. It was like a hornet's nest. It was fucking crazy.
Matt: It wasn't just a swarm of fists and feet that Lee would have to endure. He'd also have to stand the heat. Ask anyone to recall their experience training in Pat's gym, and they'll talk about the oppressive heat.
Drew McFedries: I mean, the walls would sweat.
Jason Reinhardt: You know, there was so much sweat and so many guys, it'd be like a slip and slide. You'd end up on one end and then be on the other end of the room, you know?
Drew McFedries: I mean, it was—it was intense, man. It was super hot. Guys would come train with us. They wouldn't make it 20 minutes to a half hour. They'd have to leave the room. It was just too hot. And Pat would turn the heat on. Pat would turn the heat on to 98, and it'd be 130 in there.
Pat Miletich: I weeded out the weak, let's put it that way.
Drew McFedries: Yeah, I think it was, if you can't take it, get the fuck out.
Matt: Pat's gym chewed up and spat out a lot of tough guys. That sweaty gym was like the ultimate crucible for MMA fighters. And Lee survived it all, endured everything that was thrown at him. Here's Tony Fryklund.
Tony Fryklund: To watch him, I knew absolutely that he literally lived to be, like, a martial arts superhero. I was like, "Holy fuck, this kid looks serious!"
Matt: Lee went out to Iowa a few times. He'd stay there for a few months, usually sleeping in another fighter's spare room or in a local motel. And over time, Pat and the other fighters got to know him, and got to like him too.
Pat Miletich: You know, he was very, very polite. Had very good manners. I mean, he acted like a schoolboy around us. You know, he was very humble.
Matt: But there were little hints that there was more to Lee, and that there was a side to him the other fighters just didn't know.
Pat Miletich: I mean, he bought my wife and I a wedding present of fine china. [laughs] My wife comes from a wealthy family in Montreal. You know, I'm a poor kid from Iowa. And my wife says, "What's this guy do for a living?" And I said, "I'm not quite sure, besides fighting." And she goes, "Do you know how much this china set costs?" This is like the top china you could buy. Like, this is really really expensive.
Matt: Back in the early days of MMA, a fighter like Lee would barely make enough money to cover his gas, let alone a trip to America or some fine China. The truth was that Lee never gave up crime entirely. Back in London, he was still a part of the Barney Boys, and he was still running the streets. Most of the other fighters didn't know. Had no idea that this polite guy who called everyone "mate" had a secret. Over time, rumors started to swirl around the locker room. People would say, "Hey, did you hear? That guy Lee? He's some kind of gangster."
Monte Cox: When we first were told that he was a gangster, we kind of laughed, and just couldn't believe it.
Matt: This is Monte Cox. Monte's a fight promoter, and he got to know Lee on the Iowa fight circuit.
Monte Cox: I mean, it wasn't until we went to England and saw some of the things in person that we went wow, he really is kind of a gangster. We were all shocked. No one from the gym thought anything like that.
Matt: Tony Fryklund is someone who got to see both sides of Lee's double life. He visited Lee in London and he saw everything.
Tony Fryklund: I mean, dude, we rolled through London, through the streets of London doing his dirty shit. I've done that with fuckin' insane. I've been on the routes. It's fuckin'—it's cray cray cray cray.
Matt: Tony didn't go into details about what exactly Lee was doing. He said that they drove around London and made various stops. Tony was riding shotgun. He never asked what was in the trunk.
Tony Fryklund: Fuckin' his work is—I know it's not fuckin' going to fuckin' Starbucks as a barista. I know. So I know he's gonna go do some shit, that it's in the trunk.
Matt: Listening to Tony, you understand that Lee wasn't just some small-time petty criminal. He was powerful, and he was feared. Tony told me about how he and Lee were driving around one night, the London rain beating down, when they clipped another car's wing mirror. And according to Tony:
Tony Fryklund: Five minutes later, the police pull us over—the bobbies. The bobby lad pulls us over. Lee goes, "Hold on," slams the brakes on, gets out of his car first with a gun in his waist. "Do you know who the fuck I am? Get the fuck outta here!" Cops get back in their car and fuckin' screw. True story.
Matt: For a while, Lee kept zigzagging between his life in London and Pat's gym in Iowa. Back and forth. The monastic life of an elite fighter: train, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Then back to the chaos of London's criminal underworld. The pick-ups and the drop-offs. It takes about 12 hours to get from London to Iowa. It's a journey of over 4,000 miles—enough time and enough distance for Lee to try to be someone else, and to live a different kind of life. I read an interview with Lee where he talks about how training to become a fighter changed him. He said, "MMA was something I had in my life that could get me away from the streets completely." I asked Tony Fryklund about that, to see if that was the purpose of coming to Iowa, if he was trying to escape.
Tony Fryklund: Yes, he wanted to leave that shit. Yes! And that's why he was coming to the States, and that's why he was training with us, and that's why he was being the best and beating some of the best guys that were coming up there, you know?
Matt: So he could get out of that life of crime?
Tony Fryklund: Yup. Yup.
Matt: These two worlds that Lee traversed: the controlled, balletic violence of the UFC, and his lawless life outside of the cage, eventually had to collide. And when they did, it made Lee a star. Because the punch that propelled him to stardom didn't come in a sanctioned fight. In keeping with Lee Murray's roots, it was thrown on the street. Okay, here's what happened.
Matt: In 2002, the UFC held its first pay-per-view show in London. Pat Miletich, Tony Fryklund and a bunch of the guys Lee knew from Iowa were there. After the show, the UFC held a party at a fancy London nightclub called Chinawhite.
Tony Fryklund: In that time, everyone's drinking Red Bull and vodkas, right? Yeah, and the bartender's doing floater shots on top. "Who wants a floater?" Oh, so that's fuckin' good for you, right? So you're putting floaters on top. You're already way too loaded up on Red Bull vodkas.
Matt: So now you've got a nightclub filled with fighters off their face on vodka Red Bull, drunk and bullshitting.
Tony Fryklund: "I'll do this for you. I'll die for you. We're the best, we're the best, we're the best."
Matt: Lee Murray was there, and so was a fighter named Tito Ortiz. Now if you don't follow MMA, a quick synopsis: they call Tito "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," and he was kind of the UFC's first super villain. His gimmick was wearing t-shirts that mocked his fallen opponents. One read: "I've just fucked your ass."
Matt: In 2002, Tito was the reigning UFC lightweight champion, and widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Tony knew Tito from the fight circuit, and wanted to introduce him to his friend, the up-and-comer, Lee Murray.
Tony Fryklund: I bump into Tito. "Hey, Tito. This is my friend Lee Murray." Tito big leagues Lee something fierce. Tito shakes hands, gives him a half-hearted handshake, snubs him, turns around and walks the other way. I go, "Oh, fuck." And Lee goes, "All right, that guy's a fuckin' wanker. Fuckin' pumpkin head, I'll fuckin' smash him." And Lee had a jean jacket on, looking fuckin'—like, he looked fuckin' big in his jean jacket. I remember those jean jackets are kind of short at the waist. So he looked like a matador. Anyway, hours later ...
Matt: Yeah, so hours later, many more voddy Red Bulls down the hatch, the lights come on and it's time to go home.
Pat Miletich: They turn all the lights on and say, "Everybody's gotta go." And out the back door we go.
Tony Fryklund: And there's like three steps that come out under a little archway.
Pat Miletich: And there's—I don't know—150 people out in the alley wondering how the hell we're supposed to get back to our hotel. There's no buses, there's no nothing.
Matt: So all these drunk fighters are milling around. You've got Pat and his crew of guys. Lee's there with his best friend, a guy named Paul Allen. And then there's Tito and his crew of guys. So one of Tito's friends starts horsing around. He grabs Pat from behind and pretends to choke him. Now Tony—who's had a skinful, mind you, sees this and thinks it's serious.
Tony Fryklund: It's our father, it's Pat. It's Coach Pat. my brother, my—what? What? Someone's choking him from behind. Fuckin' start popping this dude's head off. And Pat's like, “No! Tony! Stop stop stop!"
Pat Miletich: And at that moment, the entire alley exploded into a fight.
Matt: So you've got about a hundred guys throwing down at this point. And it's not your regular street fight. Guys are getting dropped with roundhouse kicks and spinning elbows. It's a total shit-show. And across the battlefield, Lee Murray locks eyes with his new enemy: Tito Ortiz.
Pat Miletich: I'm backing up, just trying to get out of the way of everything, and Tito's running right past me from my left to my right, taking his coat off. And I look to my right, and there's Lee Murray backing up, taking his jacket off.
Matt: The jean jacket.
Pat Miletich: Both their jackets hit the floor of the alley at about the same time. Tito threw some combination at Lee, Lee moved out the way of everything that Tito threw at him, and then countered with, like, a five-punch combo.
Tony Fryklund: And fuckin' starts with a fuckin' six uppercut. Starts with a six, and drops a five-piece combo on fuckin' Tito to his face.
Pat Miletich: They were vicious punches. Sounds like a baseball bat hitting a coconut.
Tony Fryklund: And drops Tito down on his face on the cobblestones on all fours.
Pat Miletich: And then Lee put the boots to him. And so I grabbed Lee, and I said, "Lee, stop."
Tony Fryklund: "Lee, get the fuck outta here!"
Pat Miletich: You need to get out of here. So Lee said, "All right, Pat."
Tony Fryklund: Lee gets the fuck outta here. They all take off.
Matt: News of this epic brawl spread through MMA circles, and Lee became this sort of mythical figure. People wanted to know, who's this English guy who dropped the champ? Because if you need a comparison, Lee putting Tito on his arse is the equivalent of a guy thrashing LeBron James in a pick-up game. In the space of six punches, he'd instantly put himself on the map. More victories followed—including Lee's first UFC fight, the one from the start of the show. But next, everyone wanted to see Lee fight Tito in the cage to see if he could drop him in a real UFC fight. It would have been huge, and it would've brought the kind of pay-per-view money that would change his life forever. No more pick-ups, no more drop-offs. But it never happened.
Matt: In the early hours of Wednesday, September 28 of 2005, Lee Murray walked out of another fancy London nightclub, and felt a blow to the head. He thought it was a punch, and he started swinging on his attackers. And he felt more body blows, and he looked down to see an arch of blood shooting out of his chest. He'd been stabbed in the head, and then he'd been stabbed in the heart. He was rushed to hospital where nurses sprinted back and forth with pints of blood, trying to keep him alive.
Matt: The next day, one newspaper ran the headline: "Star's Night of Terror," and told how Lee Murray was in critical condition, fighting for his life. Nobody knows for sure why he was stabbed. Best guess is that it was over some street shit—the shit that he never quite managed to leave behind. So Lee did pull through, and remarkably, he was back in the gym only a few months later. Alex Reid used to train with Lee at Shootfighters. He recalls seeing Lee, still scarred and bruised, jabbing at a heavy bag.
Alex Reid: I remember seeing him in the gym about six months later. And it was, like, quiet, and I was chatting to him. I said, "Lee, how's it going? What's going down?" And I was thinking he looked quiet. It was like his soul was trying to reboot. I wasn't quite sure what was going on. It was like just seeing like he'd been stabbed and died. Funny enough, he had been. [laughs]
Matt: As impressive as it was that Lee was back in the gym, it was hard to believe that he'd ever fight again. The wounds seemed too deep, his body too mottled and scarred. And it looked like the lightning had gone out of those big hands. It begged the question: what would Lee do next?
Alex Reid: And I said to him, "Would you ever, like—would you ever throw a fight?" "Fuck off, Reidy. There's no fucking way. I'd never throw a fight. What are you talking about?" "Yeah, but Lee, just bear with me a second. Imagine, like, you got kids to feed, you got bills to pay, and you could make a lot of money. And, like, why wouldn't you do that, you know?" "Reidy." I said, "What are you gonna do?"
Matt: Lee Murray's response? "Rob a bank."
Alex Reid: "I'd rob a bank." I went, "Lee, you cannot rob a bank in this day and age." "You can if you know what you're doing, Reidy." [laughs]
Matt: Next episode: Lee Murray goes from cage fighter, to bank robber.
Robert Hall: When you look at the plan, it was so simple. You know, you don't break in, you get somebody to take you in. A person is your key to the door, and then you're in.
Alun Thomas: One of these guys stuck a gun in my face and said, "Get down!" And then he just told us to lie on the floor, don't look up, don't say anything.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Paul Gladstone: We know for a fact that this is organized crime at its top level. These are callous criminals, they're professional criminals, they're an organized gang.
Adnan Ghanan: Princes of the city. That's it. Goodbye everything he was dreaming of or he dreamed of.
Matt: This money that was exchanged, I—if I'm understanding this, it came from the robbery.
Adnan Ghanan: I don't know. What do you think, that they came from heaven? Of course, they come from the street to the robbery.
Matt: All right, let's do the credits. Crime Show is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. This episode was written and produced by me. I am Matthew Nelson. I was helped by the Crime Show team. Their producers are Jerome Campbell, Cat Schuknecht and Jade Abdul-Malik. The senior producer is Mitch Hansen, and their host is Emma Courtland. Shout-out to Emma.
Matt: This episode was edited by Devon Taylor and Brendan Klinkenberg. Production oversight by Collin Campbell. Research by Julie Carli. Fact checking by Stephanie Abramson.
Matt: Theme song by So Wylie. Mixing and sound design by Daniel Ramirez. Original music by So Wylie and Bobby Lord. And I got to say that all of the stuff you hear in this episode that sounds like it's sort of by, like, a '90s Britpop band, Bobby wrote all that stuff. And I'm incredibly grateful for him for making this story sound the way it does.
Matt: Special thanks to Caitlin Kenney, Conor Nevins, Rachel Strom, Chris Morrow, and Jonny Monsour. Jonny is the one who screamed "cunt" during the fight scenes. Cheers for that, Jonny. I also want to thank my mate Garret Crowe for telling me about this story that night in the pub. Garret also helped edit this story. Garret, I owe you a beer.
Matt: All right. Be sure to join me for part two. I'll see you there.