Fight: the Jim Murray Story

BBC Scotland/iPlayer


FOR all the sound and fury in this documentary about the death of young Scottish boxer Jim Murray, the words of the women closest to him, spoken softly as they were, rang loudest.

A mother remembered an exchange with her boy as he left for the fight. “I said good luck, son. He said I’ll be all right mum, I’ll be fine. That was him.” It was to be their final conversation.

A sister, her grief still fathomless 25 years on, recalled a scene in the hospital days later. “We were all asked to switch the machine off together. I think it ended up just my mum and dad because… I couldn’t have done that.”

The film opened with the fight itself. Glasgow was playing host to a British bantamweight championship bout, with Murray the challenger against fellow Scot Drew Docherty.

It was Friday the 13th of October, 1995, and Sky Sports had set themselves up in the grand ballroom of the Hospitality Inn to show the fight live and exclusive across the UK and Europe. The commentator was giving it laldy, as the locals would say, talking of “this proud warrior nation”.

The tone changed quickly as the fight progressed. Murray dropped to the canvas, felled by an earlier blow. We had seen what happened, the headline event, but what was the story behind it? And how, as the film declared at the outset, did this fight change boxing “forever”? This riveting documentary attempted to answer those questions, though it left a few more in their wake.

Murray’s story was a familiar one. The skinny kid from Newmains, Lanarkshire, who used his fists to punch his way through the class ceiling. He liked cars, clothes. He loved his mum and his sister Janie.

As sportswriter Ewing Grahame, a former reporter on The Herald, said: “Boxers by and large come from working class communities. It’s an escape route for a lot of guys but it’s also something that gives them a sense of discipline in their own lives.”

Like the sport it examined, the film was keen to put on a show. Blasts of pop songs studded the story of the early years. It was an unnecessary embellishment, and one of several moments when you wished the filmmakers had opted for a narrator to shape the story.

After contributions from family and friends, the boxing promoter Frank Warren, Gary Jacobs, British and European welterweight champion, and others, the film arrived at the fateful night.

It was set out in unflinching detail: the collapse, the fighting among the boozed-up audience as bottles flew; the MC appealing desperately for the crowd to show some respect; Murray’s family battling their way to the ring, his sister’s dress torn in the fray, her face a mask of terror. In the middle of it all lay 25-year-old Murray, dying. It was shocking and terrible to watch.

The film took a reasonably balanced look at boxing, though with more supporters than doubters. Grahame (who for my money should have been the narrator) said: “There are sports which are as dangerous if not more dangerous and don’t get the negative publicity that boxing attracts. Boxing is an easy target, with two guys hitting each other, as if it was a pub fight which it most certainly was not.” Then you had Docherty’s promoter who said: “How can you defend two men punching one another?”

There was archive footage of doctors explaining Murray’s catastrophic injuries, but no contemporary medical contribution about the dangers of boxing. Nor was there anything like enough detail about the aftermath.

We were told in a caption that the British Boxing Board of Control brought in increased safety measures including MRI scans. What measures? If they had been present on the night, how would they have helped? Another caption said that since Murray’s death there had been four boxing fatalities in the UK (in contrast to the one a year up to 1995). Again, no more details. Had boxing really been changed “forever”?

As an investigation of boxing, Fight had its flaws. But as a portrait of a fighter, and a family, its compassion will stay long in the mind.