For Scott Murray, the owner/founder of Bar Sport in his hometown of Cannock, Staffordshire in the English Midlands, boxing and the hospitality industry have always gone hand-in-hand.
From being around his dad's successful nightclub in his formative years to enjoying a successful campaign in amateur boxing, it seems fitting that Murray now runs his own sports bar and puts on dinner shows featuring boxing greats past and present.
It has been an interesting journey for the English businessman who is fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage. During a recent conversation, Murray entertained me as he told the story of his life and career so far.
“Growing up in my dad's nightclub business gave me the taste for the hospitality industry,” Murray opened with. “My dad, Alan Murray, ran it for 37-years making it the longest-running independent nightclub in the UK.” On hearing my accent, Scott informed me that his father was born in Falkirk, Scotland, and he spent many summers there visiting grandparents during school holidays. Funnily enough, I also grew up not far from there, so the interview was off to a good start.
“I did alright as an amateur boxer,” Murray informed as our chat moved over to the sporting side of things. “I had over 100 bouts and won more than I lost. I won a few county and Midlands area titles, but I didn't think I was good enough to turn professional. I never could quite win an ABA title, and back in the 1980s, that was seen as the standard for anyone turning pro. Also, my dad owning the only nightclub in the area didn't help – too many distractions,” Murray said laughing.
During his 15-year stint as an amateur, Scott was afforded the opportunity to train in Houston, Texas, alongside some well-known names. For many, this may have led to a career in boxing's paid ranks, but ironically enough, the Texas trip planted the seed for Murray to pursue a living in the bar trade instead. “Frank Tate and his trainer Jessie Reid were overusing my local club in Stafford as a base, and they invited me to go back to Texas with them to train for six weeks. I think the intention was for me to turn pro and Jessie to train me. I trained over there with Frank, Orlando Canizales, Iran Barkley, and Calvin Grove. It was one of the first specialist boxing associations – it was called the Houston Boxing Association, owned by a very rich lady called Josephine Abercrombie. They had the best trainers there and a complete management team. It was a good experience. While in Texas, I visited this sports bar, and in the 1980s, the UK didn't have anything like this. No one was doing sports bars. That's what I set my heart on doing.”
After returning to England, the option of turning pro was still available to Murray. “There was a local boxing promoter in my area called Ron Gray. Ron was really good friends with my dad. As well as being a promoter, Ron was also the main matchmaker for Mickey Duff and Mike Barrett – known as ‘The Cartel' back then. Ron wanted me to turn pro, but it wasn't for me – like I said, too many distractions.”
When it came to getting his own sports bar up and running, Murray was focused. “I begged, stole, and borrowed money to get this old, derelict bingo hall in Cannock and converted it. Bar Sport opened in 1998.”
During this time, Murray was also gaining experience hosting boxing dinner shows. “The first show I ever did was in my dad's club. There was a lounge there, and I did a little dinner show with John Conteh when I was 27-years-old. Then I managed to get the premises I have now; it's a huge venue. Our capacity here is about 1200 people with the sports bar, club, and function room called the Premier Suite, where we host all the after-dinner shows. Ron Gray, who I mentioned earlier, started doing little shows with me when we first opened in 1998. Ron had all the contacts, and he approached me to start doing these little shows. We started doing shows with people like Henry Cooper, Charlie Magri, Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt, John H Stracey, and Alan Minter – all these old British champions. They were only small shows – about 150 people.”
The popularity of boxing dinner shows has continued to grow, with many former and current professionals keen to connect with their fans at events like the ones Scott runs. Scott explained how his shows grew and began to attract boxers from further afield. “Ron retired, and I started doing the shows myself. We have gone on to bigger things and attracting world-famous names like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Thomas Hearns. Then I brought Marvelous Marvin Hagler over, and we did a show with him here. That means my venue is the only one in the UK to have all Four Kings under the same roof.”
From the Four Kings to some modern names. “We were the first venue to do a show with Anthony Joshua before he was world champion. He was very green and naive at the time. We've done shows with Tyson Fury, and we were the first in the UK to do a show with Floyd Mayweather – he was hard work to be polite.”
“The nights I enjoy the most, though, are the ones with all the old school fighters,” Murray continued. “We did a night of champions three or four years ago. I brought Ray ‘Boom Boom' Mancini over. At the top table, we had Ray, Barry McGuigan, John Conteh, John H Stracey, and Ken Buchanan. The way we work is we get Steve Bunce and Richie Woodhall to host our shows, so they do the after-dinner speaking and Q&A session then afterwards it goes over to the audience to ask questions.”
As well as regularly filling his own venue, Scott was keen to talk about remaining in contact with his Scottish roots by hosting several shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which acted as benefit evenings for the Ken Buchanan Foundation. “Marvelous Marvin Hagler mentioned that he had never done a show in Scotland, so we managed to get two shows with him in Scotland in September 2019. Those shows we did with him also raised money for the Ken Buchanan Foundation. We also did a great show in Edinburgh, where all the proceeds went to Ken's Foundation. The top table had Ken, Jim Watt, Barry McGuigan, John H Stracey, John Conteh, Richie Woodhall, Steve Bunce, Josh Taylor, and Lee McGregor. It was some show which raised a lot of money.”
I wanted to find out what Scott has planned for this year from looking back at past successes. “Next month, I'm bringing Ray ‘Boom Boom' Mancini over again. We are doing a big event on March 31st called ‘The Italian Job,' which will feature a top table of boxers of Italian descent. We have Ray, Joe Calzaghe, and Enzo Maccarinelli confirmed, and I'd like to bring Vito Antuofermo over if possible.”
Scott also informed me that he has put together a tour to remember a classic fight as it reaches a milestone age this year. “We're bringing Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney over in May to mark the 40th anniversary of their 1982 epic at Caesars Palace. We're starting at my venue then doing a number of shows throughout the UK and Ireland. We have shows for Dublin, Cardiff, London, Manchester, and Liverpool booked, and I am hoping to add Glasgow to that list. It's a proper tour which I am really looking forward to.”
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it was nice to finish the interview with Scott by learning about these upcoming events. The hospitality trade took many huge blows during the lockdown period, but for Scott Murray and his Bar Sport/Premier Suite venue, it seems like there is plenty to look forward to as the popularity and demand for after-dinner shows with current and former boxers continues to grow.
The pandemic and its effect on business were mentioned during our conversation, and Murray drew on his boxing experience to answer my inquiry. “It has had an impact, but I don't think anyone in the hospitality business should feel sorry for themselves. The whole world has suffered. We just have to put our chin down, take a few shots, and carry-on fighting. I liken it to a 15-round title fight, we were opening, we were closing, we'd get up, we'd get knocked down again, but it feels like we're in the final round now, and we're winning the fight.”
There was a slight pause before Scott left me with one final remark, something which underlined how much his boxing background has helped him as a business owner. “Boxing prepares anyone who has boxed for anything in life. It gives you the hope and the optimism to carry on fighting. If you get knocked down, get back up and win the fight like a real champion.”