It was 1936. Joe Louis, a powerful and rising heavyweight boxer from Detroit, had become a source of pride for the black population of the United States.
As a result, Hannibal and Nellie Murphy, of 709 Riverside Drive in Albuquerque’s South Valley, named their fourth son after the tall young fighter.
Today, Joe Louis Murphy can look back on an eventful life: Air Force veteran, insurance agent, nightclub owner, actor, husband and father. He has survived cancer, stroke, brain tumor, heart attack and, most recently, COVID-19.
It is for his seven decades of contributions to boxing, however – fighter, referee, judge, promoter, trainer – that he will be honored Nov. 19 in Roswell as an inductee into the New York Boxing Hall of Fame. -Mexico.
Plans for Murphy to attend the event had to be scrapped when the 86-year-old was diagnosed with COVID early last week. His daughter, Sandi Kay Shelby, said her father was not hospitalized, had been treated with Paxlovid and was doing well.
While in hospice care and using a walker to get around, Murphy continued to train young fighters.
“Oh, I love boxing,” Murphy said during an interview at his West Side home in Albuquerque. “I think it’s one of the greatest sports in the world.”
Shelby, one of Murphy’s four children, is filming a documentary about his father’s life.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” she said. “He reminds me of a Black Forrest Gump. He did it all. He has memories of everything that happened in Albuquerque.
It wasn’t quite a given that young Joe would follow his famous namesake into the fighting game. But this process evolved quite naturally.
He and his three older brothers, he recalls, fought all the time – never, however, in the house. Hannibal Murphy was a big man, strong, and did not complain.
“He was like, ‘No, no, go outside,'” Murphy recalled. “’You can fight all you want, but not in the house. Get out of here.’ So we made a ring in the mud.
Murphy said his three brothers — John, Clarence and Edward — boxed intramurals at Albuquerque High. Only he, the only left-hander of the bunch, got into the sport for real, first appearing on the pages of Albuquerque newspapers as a 16-year-old amateur, winning a collection of titles.
At 18, he joined the US Air Force. While stationed in Reno, Nevada, he launched his professional boxing career. After his release in 1958, he returned to Albuquerque and continued to fight – a career that was cut short when he was drafted into active duty by the Air National Guard and sent to Vietnam.
The boxrec.com online boxing record repository shows Murphy with a record of 13-11-3 with four wins by knockout, mostly as a welterweight (147 pounds). It’s almost certainly incomplete. He remembers three fights at the old Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque with local rival Joey Limas, winning two and losing one – the latter result he still disputes. Only the two wins are listed on boxrec.com.
As a boxer, Murphy said, Limas “didn’t faze me. (But) he was a good man.
Murphy retired as a boxer in 1966 at the age of 30. But he immersed himself in the sport again as a referee, judge and as an occasional training partner for his childhood friend Bob Foster.
Foster’s family had moved to the Valley from South Texas. Bobby was a lanky kid who, as a newcomer, was a target for bullies. Murphy, six years older, became Bobby’s protector and, no doubt, taught him some self-defense.
Taking these and other lessons to heart, Foster became a world champion and, arguably, the greatest lightweight boxer of all time.
This long friendship fell apart when, in 1982, Foster married Murphy’s ex-wife, Shelby’s mother. Patricia Foster died by suicide in 1984.
“It tore their friendship apart,” Shelby said, saying that even though she’s reconciled with her stepfather, she’s still trying to figure out how he fits into the story she wants to tell.
When Foster died in 2015, fellow Sweet Science enthusiast Murphy attended the funeral.
The Murphy family’s athletic genes flourished outside of the boxing ring, too. Joe Louis Murphy Jr. started baseball at Rio Grande High School and played at Seward County (Kansas) Community College on a full scholarship. His sister, Monique Murphy (now Robinson), played softball on a scholarship to New Mexico Highlands.
Of herself, Shelby said, “I wasn’t the athlete. I was a violinist. I was the sick child who read a lot.
One fight that Murphy admittedly lost came in 1971, when actor Robert Blake came to Albuquerque to shoot an Italian-produced movie called “Ripped Off,” also known as “The Boxer.” Murphy accepted the role of a ringside adversary for Blake’s character and agreed for cinematic purposes to be “knocked out”.
“I was 3 or 4 years old,” Shelby recalled. “I hated Robert Blake because I thought he actually hit my dad.”
But, she said, Blake had told her father, “Please don’t really hit me.”
Much later, Murphy appeared in an episode of the New Mexico-filmed television series “In Plain Sight.”
Meanwhile, he continues to work with young aspiring fighters. What is the first thing he teaches them? The footwork, the jab, the hook? No.
“I try to teach them respect,” he said. “…How to get along with other fighters and other people.”
Zimbalist “Zim” Satcher has been training with Murphy since the mid-90s. He says he got that message loud and clear.
“Being a man, an adult,” he said, “(Murphy) cleaned me up a lot.
Shelby, shaping a career as a documentary filmmaker, has appeared in a handful of movies and TV shows. She once worked with the late Betty White, who she says told her, “Honey, as long as you have life in your body, you can do whatever you want.”
As emotional as she was by that exchange, Shelby said White wasn’t the first person to tell her that.
“One thing my dad always said,” Shelby recalls: “It doesn’t matter where you’re from; it’s what you do with what you know.
With what he knew, Joe Louis Murphy did it all.
New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2022
Banquet: November 19, Roswell
Ronald Kent Brown, boxer
Rocky Burke, boxer, referee
Bill Daniels, boxer and philanthropist
Willie Hall Jr, Coach
Joe Louis Murphy, boxer, trainer, promoter
Florencio “Flory” Olguin, boxer
Jerry Martinez, Founder of NMBHOF
Elba Burke, Lifetime Contributor