I Became A Boxing Champion After Serving Four Prison Sentences

I started boxing at the age of seven. The man who taught me, Chizzy, was a legend in the local area and in my first 22 fights, I only lost one. By the age of 16, I’d won the NABCs (National Amateur Boxing Championships) and it looked like I was really going somewhere with boxing.

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The only problem was I was getting in trouble all the time. I was first arrested at the age of ten for theft and then I started getting in trouble for all sorts. At the time, the local newspaper named and shamed anyone who got nicked and my grandfather used to say, “He’s like fish and chips. He’s always in paper”.

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Then when I turned 17, I started to get into the rave scene and started to take recreational drugs. Between the drugs, the alcohol and the clubbing, it became a euphoric feeling every time I went out.

From being close to trying out for the England amateur boxing squad, I kind of went the other way and decided I was going to catch up on everything I’d missed out on and rebel. Without the discipline of boxing, my life spiralled out of control really quickly.

A holiday to Cyprus went sour very quickly. Within a matter of days I was on the run for possession of drugs and was being told that if I got nicked, I wouldn’t get out until I was in my 30s. I was only 18 at the time. I was numb. One of my mates out there had been nicked, so I handed myself in, but didn’t know what to expect. I was only a boy at the time, but was thinking, ‘I’ll leave jail a man’, missing out on my best years. My outlook in life wasn’t great, but I just put my head down and faced the consequences.

Thankfully the sentence in Cyprus was much shorter than I expected, but when I came out of prison I had no intention of trying to break the cycle. I thought ‘that’s my life and I’ll continue to live it that way.’ The more I kept getting nicked and going back to prison, I started getting a reputation locally and thought that was a good thing. In all honesty, the way I was going, I didn’t think I’d see my 30th birthday. I knew, the lifestyle I was living – the drugs, fighting, upsetting the wrong people – something would have to give. It was madness, but I bought into that at the time. I was in self-destruction mode.

By 2004, I started to get a clearer head. I won the welterweight ABAs (while on the run), was on the GB squad and got funding to box. Life was starting to go well. Then something came back from two years previous that I’d done and that got me jailed again.

Not long before my last jail sentence, I met my wife-to-be, Gemma. By now, I was fed up of the way my life was going. I realised that I wanted to do something more positive with it and, at the same time, I didn’t want to lose Gemma. That’s when I decided to go back to boxing, which turned out to be my saviour.

Martin outside the Paralimni, Cyprus prison in which he was imprisoned 15 years earlier

I’m so grateful and so blessed now to have an incredible wife and three kids. I look at them sometimes and think: ‘how lucky am I to have this from the life style I once had?’ They helped me rehabilitate and, thanks to them, I’m a changed guy. They helped me step away from the person I was and be the person that I am today. If it wasn’t for them and boxing, God knows where I’d be.

Back to the boxing. When I turned pro on the 22 September 2007, all I wanted to do was win the British title, which held great prestige. Had someone said to me the day I turned pro that within four years I’d win the Prizefighter tournament, become British, Commonwealth and WBA intercontinental champion, then go to Germany and fight for the world title against Felix Sturm, coming away with an unlucky draw, I’d have said, ‘No f**king way’. I’d have been happy with just being British champion. Without a shadow of a doubt, sport can transform lives. Boxing did that to me and it’s done it to many, many others. I’m living proof that’s the case.

I’m 35 now and I’m often asked what I’ve learned doing four prison sentences. The answer? It’s definitely not worth it. There’s far more to life to being in jail. The majority of people in a jail cell right now, will tell you that exact same thing.

It’s very humbling for me to now be able to go to prisons and share my life story and experiences. I’ve been behind bars, so the inmates can relate to me, knowing I’ve been in their situation. There comes a point a point in everyone’s life where there is a chance to change. The point I try and get across with these inmates is that their chance to change is the minute they walk outside their cell door for the last time and out of that jail. It’s just about trying to inspire them to act upon that moment positively. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but it genuinely feels good being able to help them.

Martin Murray’s autobiography Sinner and Saint: The Inspirational Story of Martin Murray is available now

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird, wonderful and transformational life experiences. If you’ve got a story to share, email ukblogteam@huffpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.

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