Rob Murray, 67, Philly boxing mentor

Murray
Murray
Posted: June 06, 2012

ROB MURRAY SR. had the same dream as most people who train boxers for a living — to reach the ultimate big time with one of their fighters, a world heavyweight championship.

Rob came close, but never realized his dream. However, Rob Murray made so many contributions to the local boxing scene and the Philadelphia community in general, and mentored so many young men, taking them from the temptations and dangers of the streets into the boxing gyms, where they learned pride and sportsmanship, that it didn’t really matter. His motto, "Put down the guns and put on the gloves," saved many a kid from a wasted life of crime and prison.

Robert Murray Sr., who started hanging out at local gyms as a teenager and guided the careers of numerous Philadelphia fighters as trainer and manager, and who imparted his encyclopedic knowledge of boxing to listeners of the sports-radio show he co-hosted on station WURD-AM for a dozen yearsdied of cancer Sunday. He was 67 and lived in Voorhees, N.J.

In an interview in 2006 with former Daily News boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, Rob expressed his feelings about how boxing could save kids from the street.

"The police aren’t running into gyms looking to handcuff the kids who are boxing," he said. "Boxers are so disciplined, they don’t generally become involved in crazy-type behavior. The way I look at it, if you save anybody, it’s a plus. And boxing has saved so many young people in this city."

In his early years, Rob was an exceptional pool player. Elmer Smith, retired Daily News columnist and former boxing writer, recalled that he first met "Big Rob," as he was called, in local pool halls.

"He was an impressive figure, about 6-5 and 250 pounds," Smith said. "He could shoot with one hand as well as most of the guys in the pool rooms could with two. He made money with that gimmick.

“Years later, when he was guiding the career of [onetime middleweight champ] Bernard Hopkins, I came to appreciate his personal integrity. Rob told the truth, kept his word and he was reliable, traits you don’t always find around boxing gyms or pool rooms.

“He was a devout Muslim, a great father figure to his own two sons and to the young men he mentored in the gyms."

Rob hoped to realize his dream of a heavyweight championship when he brought "Fast Eddie" Chambers here from Pittsburgh and began training him with the heavyweight title in mind. Eddie had an impressive record in the ring, but when he met heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, on March 20, 2010, in Dusseldorf, Germany, he put up a valiant fight but was knocked out in the 12th round.

Chambers, who recently turned 30 and is still fighting, said Rob was "very caring. He was somebody who was always there for you. He had the best sense of humor. He had a great spirit and was always very positive."

Rob Murray was born in Philadelphia to William and Ann Murray. He attended St. John Neumann High School, now Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High, and Dobbins vocational high school, but didn’t graduate. He began hanging around local gyms, including Champs in North Philly, and absorbed everything he could from talking with boxing pros, including Joe Frazier’s manager, Yank Durham.

"They had a great influence on him," said his son Rob Murray Jr., also a trainer and manager. "He met trainers, fighters; he learned by listening to people.

“He had a tremendous sense of humor. He always wanted to help, encourage and inspire people. He encouraged me and my friends to dream big. He had just amazing tenacity for things he was passionate about."

Sultan Ahmed, Rob’s co-host on the radio sports show and retired deputy director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, said Rob was "one solid guy. He was my brother. He was a friend, a comrade, the elder statesman. He took me to school. We laughed together, we cried together."

He said Rob had a phenomenal knowledge of boxing. "He was a walking boxing encyclopedia," Ahmed said. "There was not a question that was phoned in that he couldn’t answer, and he never used reference books."

Rob and his wife, the former Denise Blocker, were married in 1971, when she was 16 and he was 26. "My folks didn’t approve," she said. "They said it wouldn’t last. But I was in love with him and it lasted 41 years.

“He was a hardworking, loving family man. I always prayed to God to give me a husband who would be a good father to my children. And my prayer was answered."

Vernoca L. Michael, CEO of the Legendary Blue Horizon, scene of many of the fights by Murray-trained boxers, said that in the business world she always looked for men who respected women. "Rob did that for me," she said. "He always treated me with the utmost respect."

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Raheem; a brother, William; two sisters, Genevieve and Irene, and a granddaughter.

Services: 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Philadelphia Masjid, 4700 Wyalusing Ave. Burial will be in Northwood Cemetery, West Oak Lane.

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com.

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