Ex-SBHS track star Bill McMurray became Top-10 professional heavyweight boxer

Courtesy/ESPN San Bernardino High School graduate Bill McMurray (Left) fought or sparred with most of the top heavyweight boxers of the 1960's. Pictured here fighting Sonny Liston in 1968.
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Bill McMurray (at right) was an exceptional athlete who never had time to stay in proper pro boxing condition.

Former San Bernardino High School athlete Bill McMurray once fought heavyweight champions Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, Sonny Liston and was a professional sparring partner for Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Keith McMurray says his father told him to never fight unless he is ready. At 57 years-old Keith McMurray will launch his comeback to professional boxing after a 18-year hiatus. McMurray’s late father, Bill McMurray was among the top track hurdlers in the nation while attending San Bernardino High School from 1952-1954 before going on to produce a remarkable career in pro boxing.

Like his father, Keith McMurray can not claim a championship caliber record. Both were exceptional athletes who become boxers. Keith said his father was a imposing physical presence who was actually projected to be a receiver for the 1960 expansion Oakland Raiders. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Bill McMurray could run the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds.

In a telephone interview from his home in Sacramento, Keith McMurray explained in detail how his father was never prepared for his fights with some of greatest heavyweights of all-time. “My dad fought former world champ Sonny Liston on four days notice. He took a fight with another ex-champ Floyd Patterson on two weeks. Same thing with his fight with another world champion Ken Norton.” Keith said his own career somewhat paralleled his father’s. “I’d often get a call asking if I wanted to fight tomorrow night.” He said boxers need at least two months to prepare for a fight.

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Bill McMurray had to work very hard to win 27 fights and tried just as hard to lose 23. His official record was 27-23, with three draws and 11 knock-outs. His pro career lasted from 1959 to 1971 but he remained a sparring partner until he was 38. Before that he was a undefeated regional army champ. He fought 16 fighters who were ranked in the top-10 in the world. He was knocked out by #1 ranked fighters Earnie Shavers and Eddie Machen. Lost on cuts in the 7th round to Norton. He went the distance with ten world ranked fighters and knocked out #10 George Logan and held #4 ranked Tony Alongi to a draw.

Without a doubt, the biggest fight of Bill McMurray’s career came in 1966 with a TKO win in the 8th round over #3 world ranked Thad Spencer, who was using McMurray as a tune up for a world championship fight with Muhammad Ali. As a 10-1 underdog, McMurray not only spoiled Spencer’s chance at Ali’s title but the win gave him the California State Heavyweight championship and placed him at #10 in the world. But he could only win three of his next 13 fights including losing seven by KO.

“My dad never earned enough money where he could train full-time like the others. He had to support his family by driving a truck 80 hours a week and never trained before most of his fights,” said Keith McMurray, who thought his father flew from Sacramento to Pittsburgh and fought Patterson that night.

He pointed out that his father was a natural left-hander who like others at the time was made to fight right-handed. He said his dad never could punch with his right, relying on his left jab, his immense strength and exceptional athletic ability. By viewing his 1968 fight in Reno with Liston on Youtube, it was obvious McMurrray should not have been in the ring that night. He earned $3,000 for the fight, the biggest purse of his career. There were reports that he fought Liston with broken ribs.

Keith McMurray said he and his father were born in San Bernardino. His father married Margaret Banks, his high school sweetheart and they had four children. Records show Bill McMurray was known as Earnest McMurray at SBHS and SBVC, where he ran track for coaches Jim Brasher and Bill Hoyt. At SBHS, his track coach was Rudy Lanto and his football coach was Garth Huffaker. As a senior at SBHS, McMurray won a decathlon event that included five runs, two hurdles, pole vault, high jump and shot put. The next year at one track event he took 1st in the high and low hurdles, 1st in the 220, ran a leg in the 1st place mile relay, and came in 2nd in both the 100-yard dash and high jump.

His first pro fight was held at the Orange Show Swing Auditorium and he never fought in San Bernardino again. There were discussions of a local fight between he and Jerry Quarry for the state title but it never materialized. Keith McMurray said his dad remained in boxing as a leading sparring partner until he was about 40. Numerous publications tell of McMurray being a very dangerous gym fighter, so good that he was sometimes fired as a sparing partner. Keith said George Foreman fired his dad but was quickly hired by Muhammad Ali, who called McMurray a talented boxer.

Bill McMurray was inducted into the inaugural class of the San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1973. He was later enshrined in the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. Keith McMurray said his father passed this year at age 79, but says he can still hear his father’s voice everyday. “I was there at fights when my father was knocked out. It never bothered me to see it. My father was like a God to me. Very inspiring. He taught me well because he knew about all the mistakes, said Keith McMurray, who admitted that his career was stalled due to time spent in California Youth Authority and lack of training.

“I have to redeem myself. Yes. I’m 57 and my wife is against it. My father trained me since I was 4 and now I’m now able to train everyday, something my legendary father was never able to do. I’m coming back and I’m going to shock the nation.”

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