Jeffrey Murray’s life has been anything but easy, and that’s why he’s using the sport of boxing to now help himself — and others — in whatever way he can. The Pelham native, who now lives in Camilla and trains in Albany, will make his pro debut Saturday night at the U.S. 19 Dragway after a decorated amateur career — and just a few years removed from losing his brother to cancer, watching his father suffer a stroke at his brother’s funeral and nearly dying in a car crash himself. He’s arranged the entire seven-fight show and promoted it, all while training for his own fight. And after it’s over, Murray plans to donate his entire first pro purse to cancer research. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Jeffrey Murray’s life has been anything but easy, and that’s why he’s using the sport of boxing to now help himself — and others — in whatever way he can. The Pelham native, who now lives in Camilla and trains in Albany, will make his pro debut Saturday night at the U.S. 19 Dragway after a decorated amateur career — and just a few years removed from losing his brother to cancer, watching his father suffer a stroke at his brother’s funeral and nearly dying in a car crash himself. He’s arranged the entire seven-fight show and promoted it, all while training for his own fight. And after it’s over, Murray plans to donate his entire first pro purse to cancer research. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

After stellar amateur careers, Albany fighters Roscoe, Warren ready to test pro boxing waters

ALBANY — Terry Roscoe has spent half of his life training and preparing for his pro boxing debut Saturday at Albany’s U.S. 19 Dragway.

For Tony Warren, the journey has been even longer.

Warren and Roscoe will make their pro debuts Saturday, becoming Albany’s first professional boxers and putting their careers on the line in front of several promoters.

Roscoe will fight in a middleweight bout, and Warren will debut in the light heavyweight division. Both Albany boxers signed one-fight contracts and are looking to capitalize on an opportunity they’ve been awaiting for years.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Roscoe, who is 23 years old. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication. A lot of staying focused.”

Roscoe has fought in more than 85 amateur fights since he began boxing as a 12-year-old but said training for his pro debut has pushed him harder than ever before. The Augusta native who moved to Albany five years ago was one of the nation’s top amateur boxers at one time, but a disappointing finish in a national tournament in Texas and a torn rotator cuff sidelined him and nearly convinced him to give up the sport for good.

“We flew out (to Texas) and were out there for, like, a whole week. It just seemed like I let the whole city and everybody down (with a first-round loss at nationals),” Roscoe said. “Then I tore my rotator cuff and was out for a year and a half.”

Roscoe eventually made it back into the ring late last year and has been training non-stop for the past seven months for the biggest fight of his career — and his confidence is bigger than ever.

“The nerves will be there in the locker room and leading up to the fight, but once I get into the ring and see the atmosphere I will be ready to fight,” Roscoe said. “I’m not going to let anybody intimidate me or scare me. That’s not my swagger. I’m not that kind of guy. You are going to have to show me.”

Roscoe now works out in a makeshift gym in the back room of Nyse Bar on West Broad Avenue, but at one time he was trained by Warren and Fred Thomas at Turner Gym. Warren still trains at Turner Gym, which is where he and Thomas were working out Tuesday when he talked about his 21-year career in the ring.

Warren, a 37-year-old native of Memphis, Tenn., who moved to Albany in 1997, began boxing in 1991 and has a career record of 66-9 with 16 knockouts. He rarely loses his amateur bouts but wants to change an image that has stuck with him through the years.

“Most people know me around here as the Fight Night King,” Warren said, referring to his dominance of local amateur fights. “I’ve won a lot of those fights, and I’ve never lost one. Most people know my style of fighting, and they know I’m a winner. They know I don’t lose.”

Warren doesn’t plan on losing Saturday, either.

“Do you want the real deal, man? This is the real deal. I don’t lose. I’m nasty,” Warren said. “This is the nature of the sport. Call it what it is, it’s a gladiator sport. Whoever this guy is I am fighting, I am going to make him feel sorry he ever took the fight.”

The hits just kept coming for Jeffery Murray.

Eventually, the Pelham native started hitting back, and that’s when he found his calling in life.

In a span of weeks during the summer of 2004, Murray watched his brother pass away after a bout with colon cancer, almost died in a car wreck and nearly lost his dad to a stroke.

“I prayed and cried. I was hurt,” said Murray, who fell into a deep depression after the incidents and turned to alcohol and drugs. “I couldn’t believe all of this was going on at one time.”

He spent nearly three years feeling both hopeless and helpless, stuck in a carousel of bad decisions that was spiraling out of control and hitting rock bottom in June of 2007.

That’s about the time Murray slipped on the boxing gloves.

During the past five years, Murray, who is now 34 years old, has gotten in the best shape of his life and has emerged as one of the best amateur boxers in the state. He will take the next step in his boxing career Saturday night when he turns pro at Albany’s U.S. 19 Dragway.

Murray’s super middleweight bout against Gary Cotham of Memphis, Tenn., is the main event and will be preceded by six other fights to make up Albany’s first professional event featuring local fighters. It’s a night that will add an exclamation point to a journey that has taken Murray from the lowest of lows to a life with extraordinary purpose.

“It’s almost like this is a movie or something you would only see on TV,” Murray said during a recent training session, reflecting on his journey. “But this is my real life.”

Murray’s real life nearly came to a halt in September 2004 when an 18-wheeler suddenly appeared out of a fog bank and side-swiped him early in the morning on his way home from work.

“It happened in a flash,” Murray said. “All I know is that the cars beside me screeched off the road, and I was like, ‘What’s this?’ By the time I thought that, I smashed right into the semi. It flipped the SUV over and knocked me unconscious. When I came to and the ambulance got there, I told them I couldn’t feel my legs.”

Murray didn’t regain movement in his legs until the ambulance arrived at the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his neck — an injury that could have been a lot worse but still required plenty of rehabilitation.

It was a wreck that nearly took his life, but the pain he felt from coming face to face with the semi was nothing compared to what he was feeling inside on that lonely drive back to Pelham that September morning.

“The accident happened right after my brother passed away,” said Murray, referring to his brother, James Murray, who was a former captain of the Camilla Police Department. “When he died, I was hurt. He was so close at home, I saw him deteriorate from colon cancer. We were there with him, we did everything he needed and asked for, but there was nothing we could actually do to take the pain away. Watching my brother die in front of me at home hurt. I saw him day-to-day deteriorate, and it affected me.”

He sat at his brother’s funeral, overcome with emotion while still nursing his injuries from the car wreck. And then another blow came his way.

“My dad was sitting there and they were having the service for my brother,” Murray said. “While one of the fellow officers was speaking, my dad fell to the side and was stuck, paralyzed. His mouth was twisted, and my sister, who was a nurse, knew exactly what was going on. He had a stroke during the funeral.”

Murray’s father, Jack Murray, had swelling and bleeding in the brain and was given an unfavorable diagnosis from the doctors.

“They were saying he might not come through, but I stayed there with my dad, praying and crying,” Murray said. “He pulled through but has had two or three more strokes in the following years.”

Jack Murray surviving the stroke was a victory in itself during a time full of knockouts for Jeffrey Murray, who fell into a three-year depression and went from a being ripped 180 pounds to ballooning to 240.

“I ended up smoking and drinking,” Murray said. “I turned to drugs. But then basically I said I had enough. I got tired of feeling sorry for myself. I got up and started running and trying to train. I could hardly run a quarter of a mile without gasping, so I put the cigarettes down and kept training.”

That’s when Murray saw a gym in Albany advertising boxing, a sport that he grew up with but always tried to stay away from.

“My dad used to always box,” he recalled. “He used to have my brothers put gloves on and compete against each other, and I was the baby boy. When I would hear that leather popping, I would just cry and cry. I hated boxing.”

But slowly, he learned to love it.

He quickly lost both his weight and his depression and started training at a gym on Jefferson Street, where he worked out for less than three months before he was talked into competing.

And that’s when things really took off.

Murray won his first Georgia State Amateur Championship after just two tune-up fights. Since that initial state title, he has won two more amateur state championships, racked up a record of 22-6 inside the ring and has never been knocked out.

“Boxing has taken me to a whole ‘nother plateau,” said Murray, who now trains at Tony’s Gym in Albany and lives in Camilla. “When I step into the ring, I step into the ring to win. I train to win. I don’t go into the ring thinking that I will kill the guy with brute force. Boxing is a brutal sport. Somebody is going to get hurt. After each and every victory, I give praise to God and then I pray that my opponent is OK. It’s a sport that I have grown to love.”

And those around the sport have grown to love him, too.

Albany’s Tony Warren, who will also be making his pro debut Saturday night, has sparred with Murray and is convinced he will walk away with his first pro victory.

“Murray is a good fighter,” Warren said. “He is a hard puncher. He has good range and good combination punches.”

Albany boxer Terry Roscoe, who is the co-main event Saturday in what will also be his pro debut, also had nothing but kind words for Murray’s ability.

“He is a boxer, a puncher,” Roscoe said. “He has a lot of pop.”

It was Murray who was inspirational in bringing what is believed to be Saturday’s first-ever pro boxing event featuring a card full of local fighters to U.S. 19 Dragway, and track director Tim Pafford remembers when Murray approached him with the idea.

“When he came to me, I was 100 percent on board with it. I just feel like there is a huge market for boxing in Albany,” Pafford said. “My hopes are for it to do well so we can continue doing this. Nothing would make me happier than to do four events a year with pro boxing.”

The Dragway, which is across the street from the Albany Motor Speedway, can seat between 3,000 and 3,500. Pafford said he has heard plenty of folks around talking about the upcoming fight night and expects a good crowd.

Warren, meanwhile, expects a thrilling end to an evening that so many around the Albany area have been waiting for.

“Whoever (Murray) is fighting, I guarantee you he will knock him out,” Warren said. “That boy hits hard.”

Murray’s success in the ring, however, has always been motivated by his selflessness, which is why he plans on donating his entire purse from Saturday’s fight to a trio of causes — colon cancer, breast cancer and leukemia. He said he has lost several of his aunts to breast cancer, but he has also been touched recently by 3-year-old Brynlee Ethridge, a Newton youngster who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

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Albany’s Terry Roscoe, 23, has more than 85 amateur fights under his belt, but he’ll finally make his pro debut Saturday. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

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Albany’s Tony Warren, right, works out with trainer Fred Thomas at Turner Gym in preparation for his pro debut Saturday. Warren, 37, is local legend, notching 66 wins with 16 by knockout and just nine losses. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

“I’m going off the voice I hear from God,” Murray said. “Wherever He is navigating me to go, I go out on faith. Boxing is a big part of what I am doing. I truly love it, but I know it is something more than boxing that I am supposed to do. I have made a difference in a lot of young people’s lives. I made a lot of mistakes when I was young. It wasn’t in my plan to gear my fight around breast cancer, colon cancer and leukemia. I just woke up and it was on my mind to do something about that.”

When Murray steps into the ring Saturday, there will be plenty on his mind, including his father, who is currently living in a convalescent home and suffering from dementia.

“His thoughts leave every five minutes,” Murray said. “He can’t tell you what he ate for dinner. Some days he will talk about me fighting, and some days he will ask me, ‘Do you have a job?’ or ‘Are you married?’ ”

Jack Murray’s coherency comes and goes, but his son stays right by his side to help him fight the battle.

And when Jeffrey Murray puts on the gloves for his first fight of what he hopes will be successful pro career, he is hoping his father is nearby to watch him take on a different kind of battle.

“If possible, we are going to try to accommodate him ringside,” Murray said about his father, who has never seen his son fight.

Murray then paused for a few seconds as his eyes welled with tears before adding: “Words wouldn’t be able to describe what that would feel like. That would be like a championship fight even though this is just my pro debut. Just to have my dad sitting there, watching me compete …”