Next up on our interview series in preparation for January 29th’s Legacy Fighting Championship event, I talk to Justin Murray of Bushi Ban. Recently referred to as “the best-kept secret in Houston MMA,” Justin himself is still wondering whether that type of hyperbole is warranted. A quiet guy with a penchant for taking his fights to the mat, the 2-0 Murray has stayed busy here in recent months – coming off a win at IXFA just a few weeks ago and immediately looking forward to a matchup at Legacy FC in January, against a BJJ Black Belt no less!
I recently caught up with Justin Murray to see what he thinks about others calling him one of the top up-and-coming fighters in the area, how he feels about others bashing the “karate school” he trains at, and what his life is like outside the cage. Based on what he says, Justin seems like a regular guy with a competitive drive, training to become a cagefighter. Don’t be jealous folks.
First of all Justin, let me give you a big congratulations on your recent win at IXFA over Bryan Garcia. Your opponent looked like a big, tough kid at 170 but you were able to win the fight with an Americana submission! Did the fight go just like you planned it?
Thanks Mike! Bryan was a tough, strong fighter – I am just really glad the result went my way. The fight did not go exactly according to our plans, but it stayed pretty close. I wanted to trade with him a little more, but when the takedown presented itself I decided it would be more prudent to take him down and work my ground game. In the second, I was able to land some good shots and knees to the body to open up the submission. I have now seen the video, and there is plenty of room for improvements, but overall I was very happy with the win.
Your fight with Garcia also showed off other parts of your skill set as well, namely with you attacking in the scrambles with both four-pointed strikes and submission attempts while keeping up a relentless pace. In your estimation, are these the types of things that make you a good fighter?
I think the jury is still out on whether I am good or not, but I do try to work all aspects of the game. Obviously, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I feel my strength lies in grappling for MMA. I like to compete in jiu jitsu tournaments, but at Bushi Ban we focus our ground game more on grappling with strikes. I think that knees, elbows, and just striking in general really opens up the submissions. I owe the relentless pace to my training partners and Jesse Vasquez who push me past my limits every day.
What about outside the cage, why don’t you give our Houston fight fans some insight on who Justin Murray, the person, is outside of competition. Who are you? What do you do as far as interests and occupation?
I am not your stereo typical crazy cage fighter. In fact, I am finding out that most athletes in this sport don’t fit what the casual fan thinks we are. Most of us are regular, respectful people that just have a bit of a crazy drive to compete. I have a Finance Degree from Southwest Texas State, but I work in international aviation for corporate and private operators. Outside of that, I am just a regular guy. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. When you have a full time career, and train 03 hours a day on top of that, it is basically impossible to have any other hobbies. MMA consumes most of my time, and I am blessed to be surrounded by people that understand this.
I noticed you are an Alumni of Texas State University. My brother actually went there so I know a little bit about San Marcos. Tell me, did you party a lot during school? Any memorable moments from that time?
I loved my time at that school, and have many good memories. Like any college student I did my share of partying, and am happy to have gotten most of that out of my system. This allows me to be dedicated to my new interests without feeling like I am missing out on anything. Throughout my college years I was fortunate enough to travel the country playing semi-professional paintball, and I have many great memories with my brothers and friends from that time. Also, you can’t beat hanging out on the river; I still make a couple of river trips each year! I had so much fun there, but at some point you have to grow up and move on to responsible things – like cagefighting.
Let’s talk about training for a second. Your school, Bushi Ban, has made a lot of noise in recent years with guys like Alex Black, Humberto De Leon, and Gerzan Chaw getting a lot of acclaim for their recent bouts. Now Bushi Ban has been around for a long time, with guys like Jesse Vasquez being around since the dawn of Houston MMA. In your opinion, what makes this team strong?
We are a family. I consider those guys you mentioned my brothers, and Master Zulfi, Jesse, and Eric are there to mentor and guide us not just in fighting – but in our lives as well. It is funny; somebody recently said some negative things about us on the interwebs and referred to us as just a ‘karate school’. We don’t take this as an insult at all. We are a karate school, and we all try to live our lives by the creeds of traditional martial arts with honor, respect, loyalty, etc. Don’t take us lightly though. We have excellent MMA instruction from those mentioned, and Master Zulfi gives us many opportunities to train with greats like Professor Liborio from ATT, Mike Swick, Robert Drysdale, Kevin Kearns, and many more. I think our recent results show this. Plus all of the guys you mentioned are fully home grown talent, and are the result of the tutelage provided at our ‘karate school’. I don’t mean to sound bitter, and hope I am not coming across that way, but I would hope that anybody whose family is challenged would do the same.
I have to ask, most of the guys getting pub nowadays are lighter, south of lightweight. As a 170+ guy, who do you train with over there that can push you in your weight division? Do you make guys like Alex and Humberto eat a few Jumbo Jacks before you spar or what?
We have some rising stars that aren’t well known yet, like Jose Pecheco, that are able to push me in my weight class. Not to mention I have smaller guys, like Rey and Gooch, who have welterweight strength. Also, I feel I have a tremendous advantage training with people like Alex, Gerzan, and Umberto. There is a lot to be gained rolling and sparing with smaller quicker people. This helps my reaction times, and forces me to be quicker to keep up. I try to make it a point not to muscle the lighter guys, and rely more on speed and technique. I may not be the strongest guy out there, but training everyday with fast, technical fighters has helped me overcome this in the cage and on the mats.
Moving along, your win at IXFA marks your second professional victory after a previous submission win against Patrick Hutton at Legacy FC. You’re now 2-0 as a pro fighter and I’ve heard you labeled as “the best-kept secret in Houston MMA.” How far do you plan to go with this thing?
It is funny to have a label, as I am usually a low key guy who does not get caught up in the promotion aspect, though sometimes I wish I could promote myself better. I have had success on the grappling scene, but had a rough start in my amateur MMA career. Things are finally coming together in the cage and I am starting to feel at home in there. The recognition is very nice, but I prefer to let the fight play out in the cage. This is a sport and competition to me – I try to keep emotion out of it.
As far as goals, I will go as far as I am able. Like everyone else on the scene who trains hard everyday – I would love to fight in the UFC. I have braced myself with the realization that I may not make it, but I have to try. Without this ultimate goal in mind, it would become very difficult to continue the daily grind of running, dieting, lifting, and getting beaten up every night.
I noticed you’re taking on your next fight on a one-month turnaround, against BJJ Black Belt Jordan Rivas Legacy FC, no less. Why did you pick up your next fight so quickly? What are your thoughts on this fight with Rivas?
The fight with Jordan was actually set up before the fight with Bryan. It was a fight I asked Master Zulfi to get for me. I want to compete against the best and work my way up, and according to many people Jordan is one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners on the scene. He is undefeated with wins against some very quality opposition. I couldn’t think of a better opponent to test my skills against at this point in my career. Also, I always love fighting on any card Mick and Andrea are associated with. The Legacy crew takes such good care of the fighters, even when I was an amateur I was treated like a pro.
The fight with Bryan came up with about three weeks notice, and there was plenty of time between the two fights. I thought it would be a good fight for me, and it would help to sharpen my skills before January. Also, Chris Reed from IXFA was one of my early mentors at Bushi Ban, and I jumped at the chance to fight for him. I am very glad I did – the promotion was amazing and Chris and Scott took very good care of us.
On both your amateur and pro record, I notice an affinity for bouts that end with submissions. Do you think this bout will end in a submission as well, or do you plan on standing with Rivas because of his ground skills? Without giving away too much of your game plan away, how do you think this fight is going to go?
This fight will go everywhere. We both are known more for our ground games, but I don’t think either of us are slouches in the striking department. I will say this though, submitting a black belt would be a dream come true for me. I have never trained at a Jiu Jitsu school, or even have an official rank in Jiu Jitsu – so I am basically a white belt. I have defeated a black belt in a grappling tournament by decision, but have never submitted one in competition. In all truth though, when fighting someone as skilled and highly regarded as Jordan – just getting my hand raised at the end is my final goal.
Well definitely good luck in your next fight and your pro career. Do you have any parting words or shout outs you’d like to make to anyone? Any words for your fans and the fans of the Houston MMA Community?
First and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me the ability and a lot of drive to pursue my dreams. I want to thank my parents (all four of them) and family for their support. Even though they would rather that I be involved in safer activities – they still cheer for me to the end. My brothers, as the ‘baby’ of the family they pushed me to be strong and instilled the fighting spirit in me. My girlfriend, who puts up with all the training, and constantly comes up with new delicious and healthy meals for me when I can’t stand diet food anymore. Mick and Andrea from Legacy, Scott and Chris from IXFA, and other local promoters for treating us like professionals and giving us a forum to display our art. Local MMA media like yourself and Barry from TheCageDoor.net for bringing attention to us. Without you guys we would still be fighting in small pavilions in front of a couple hundred people. Jesse, Eric, Alex, Gerzan, Henry, Monica, and everyone else who pushes me daily at Bushi Ban. (I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I doubt you will publish the 05 pages I could write on my training partners). Lastly I want to thank Master Zulfi who is my mentor in and out of the cage. His guidance changed me from a 250 pound out of shape man, into what I am today. I would mention some sponsors here, but I am still waiting on corporate help – let me know if any are interested!