Mike Murray of Colliers remembers being one of the first ‘Tough Guys’

MEMORIES — Mike Murray shows off some of his boxing and karate memorabilia. -- Kim North

COLLIERS — Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Surprisingly, it got its start in the Tri-State Area and an Ohio Valley resident was one of the combatants.

On March 20, 1980, at the Holiday Inn ballroom in New Kensington, Pa., current Colliers resident Mike Murray and North Huntingdon’s Dave Jones were the first pairing at what was billed as “The Tough Guy” contest. As Murray recalls, the 24-year-old Jones won by TKO when Murray’s corner stopped the fight with 8 seconds left.

“He had knocked me down four times and I knocked him down once in the second of three rounds,” Murray, who was 29 at the time of the fight, recalled. “I asked my corner why he stopped the fight and he told me ‘I was tired of seeing you get up (off the mat).'”

Fast forward 37 years and the fight has been transformed into the movie “Tough Guys,” which can be viewed on Showtime.

“I was really stunned when they said they wanted to make a movie about the fight,” Murray said while watching the movie at his Brooke County home. “I thought they were kidding at first, but then everything started to fall into place.”

Murray, who grew up in a foster home, was bullied and teased a lot as a youngster.

“Going through high school I was raised in a foster home where I was bullied a lot because I didn’t have parents,” he said. “In my junior year there wasn’t a lot of time to play sports because my family lived on a farm and I had chores to do while everyone else was playing sports.

“I went out for the wrestling team my junior year at Belle Vernon Area High School,” Murray continued. “I guess I wanted to try and release all my pent-up emotions. I was an average wrestler.”

After 5 years of living in the foster home, Murray moved out and in with his aunt and uncle who resided in Vandergrift, Pa., and the Kiski Area School District.

“I finished my senior year at Kiski and wrestled at 120 pounds,” Murray added.

Following graduation, Murray moved back to Belle Vernon where the kids thought they could take up where they had left off with the bullying and teasing. However, Murray wasn’t about to take anymore of it.

“I was a little bit tougher then and I must have been in 60 or 70 street fights in a three- or four-year year period,” he noted.

“I wasn’t walking away from nobody and that got me a reputation as a tough guy even though I only weighed 140-150 pounds.”

That got Murray into amateur boxing at the Sharpsburg Police Athletic League.

“I boxed for two years there and in New Kensington. I had a 10-2 record,” he continued.

While working as a car salesman, Murray saw a poster for the Tough Guy contest and decided to enter.

“I had a boxing, wrestling and street fighting background, so I thought I would have a good chance because they (the promoters) were pulling guys off the street and out of bars to fight that had no experience at all,” he revealed.

There was one catch, however.

“There were only two weight classes. One hundred and seventy-five pounds and under and 176 pounds and over,” he said.

“I weighed 148 at the time, so I had to fight in the smaller division.”

Unlike today when a fighter can look on the computer to see what his opponent has, Murray had no idea who he would be paired with until the weigh-ins.

“When I got to the weigh-ins I saw a guy get onto the scales and I knew his name was Dave Jones,” Murray added. “He weighed in at 170 and that was a 22-pound difference, but back then we didn’t care about stuff like that, whereas today they whine about a pound here or an inch there.”

The Tough Guy contest was promoted by Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola. Those two, along with Murray and Jones, were enshrined in the Heinz History Hall of Fame with a tremendous exhibit. The shirt Murray wore that night, a ticket stub and program are all part of the exhibit.

Murray went on to win several national karate championships.

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