Timing, though not everything, is vitally important to a boxer — knowing when to jab, when to throw a power punch, when to be aggressive, when not to be, seeing the opening and exploiting it.
Joe Louis Murphy was too weak, too ill to travel to Roswell for the Nov. 19 New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Yet, surrounded by family, he was able to watch himself being inducted (at long last) via streaming.
Timing was paramount. Three days later, Murphy, a talented boxer but more important a steward of the sport on multiple levels for seven decades, died from complications of COVID-19 at his West Side home. He was 86.
Murphy grew up in Albuquerque’s South Valley, named by his parents for rising Detroit heavyweight Joe Louis.
Boxing came easily and naturally for him, an appetite whetted by sparring sessions with his older brothers in a makeshift ring — lines drawn in the dirt — behind their home. Murphy began boxing for real at age 16, winning a slew of titles as an amateur.
His pro record as listed on boxrec.com, 13 wins, 11 losses, three draws, likely is incomplete. In any case, it does not adequately represent the talent and skill he brought into the ring.
Throughout his 11-year pro career, his scientific approach and southpaw stance made him a less than attractive opponent. To get fights, he often was forced to accept bouts in varying weight classes.
After losing five of his first seven listed bouts while stationed in Reno, Nevada in the Air Force, facing for the most part far more experienced fighters, Murphy came back to Albuquerque after his discharge. Fighting in his home state, he was 8-4-2.
Yet, his career in the ring might be the least of his contributions to the sport.
After retiring as a boxer at age 30, Murphy worked as a judge and a referee. Later, he became a promoter and a trainer.
As a trainer, Murphy never turned away anyone for lack of talent. If a young boxer embraced the dedication and respect for the sport that he demanded, that’s all he asked. In return, Murphy gave far more than boxing lessons.
In 2015, Andre Galarza, a 33-year-old married man with three kids, decided he wanted to try his hand at boxing. Murphy agreed to train him.
Galarza found him to be an exacting teacher.
“He won’t let you do anything unless it’s perfect,” Galarza said during an interview for an Albuquerque Journal story.
Far more important and far more lasting, Galarza said, was the imprint Murphy made as a human being.
“Such a beautiful heart on that man,” he said. “Such a respectful individual.”
A month ago, while in hospice care and requiring a walker to get around, Murphy was still training young boxers in his garage. Respect, he said, for the sport and for each other, was always the first and most important lesson.
As important as boxing had been in his life, Murphy was a multi-faceted man. He sold insurance, served in Vietnam with the Air National Guard, owned and operated a Downtown Albuquerque night club. Twice married, he raised four children.
Murphy’s daughter, Sandi Kay Shelby, had been recording footage for a documentary chronicling her father’s life in the months leading up to his death.
“He’s done everything,” she said. “He has memories of every major thing that happened in Albuquerque.”
As an boxer turned actor, Murphy appeared in a film entitled “The Boxer,” starring Robert Blake, and in an episode of the New Mexico-filmed TV series “In Plain Sight.”
Asked during an October interview who he saw as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Murphy passed on Louis, his namesake, and Muhammad Ali. Instead, Jack Johnson was his choice.
But, of Ali, he said, “He broke a lot of barriers.”
His choice for the greatest boxer of all time, regardless of weight class, was Sugar Ray Robinson.
“The most scientific,” he said, “best all around.”
In their lifelong respect for the Sweet Science, he and Robinson shared common ground.