a year for the sport in 2005
What a year 2004 has been. After 30 years involved in the sport,
I can honestly say this has been the best ever. It has been a period
of pronounced growth, with gym membership accelerating. It has been
a time when events across the country are counting record ticket
sales and Northern Ireland's place as the centre of the sport in
Europe has been cemented.
This year has also seen growth for the ProKick chain with new champions
crowned, new clubs opening and a visit from a head of state –
not to mention the the regular coverage here in the Spectator. It
has been a year of personal highs with my own successful return
to the ring and several of the fighters I train moving on to new
If 2005 brings half the success of this year, we’ll be toasting
12 more great months. Here’s 2004 remembered in brief.
Clubs throughout the province receive record enquiries from people
wanting to shift the extra pounds put on over the Christmas period
and get involved with kickboxing.
It is estimated to be a 300% rise. Within the ProKick group, there
is also a growth in the number of people wishing to take the next
step and move to competitive action. And Hamilton, hit it off with
Jordan when they met at a Belfast event.
Kickboxing receives the ultimate sanction when President of Ireland
Mary McAleese visits the ProKick Gym HQ in east Belfast. It is the
first time a head of state has paid an official visit to a kickboxing
group in Britain or Ireland.
First outing of the year for Belfast’s world featherweight
champion Gary Hamilton. He takes just
two rounds to demolish Belgian Gregory Colassin at the annual Bash
& Mash event in Bangor. He’s also named Irish kickboxer
of the year by the ProKick group.
‘Next Generation’ show in Belfast’s Park Avenue
Hotel sees 24 of the best novices and first-timers from Ireland
and the Home Nations meet in a ding-dong series of battles. And
young North Down powerhouse Andrew Grimason lifts a British title,
in front of a packed house. Such was the demand for tickets, that
all 500 sold out in less than 24 hours.
Two successful over-seas trips for Irish fighters. First, Gary Hamilton
leads the charge with victory at the annual Post Tenbras Cup in
Geneva. He takes just one round to demolish Swiss hopeful and twice
WAKO world champion Banushi Binak. Then, a six-man Northern Ireland
team defy their lack of experience to return undefeated from an
international meet in Ottawa.
I haul my creaking old bones back into the rising for one final
hurrah. My fight at the Ulster Hall, against old adversary Norm
Graham from New Zealand is the toughest of my career. It raises
thousands for cancer charities.
1970s heartthrob Donny Osmond reveals his love of kickboxing when
he meets one of Irish kickboxing’s veteran figures Gail Hagan.
The coach and former fighter melts when she comes face to face with
her pop idol.
I'm invited to the American K-1 Grand Prix in the Bellagio Hotel
in Las Vegas and find myslef rubbing
shoulders with Mohammad Ali, Michael Jordon and Mike Tyson.
Belfast’s battling postie Lydia Braniff takes the WKN Irish
Atomweight title after a tough battle in Galway. She shows off the
belt to the Hole In The Wall Gang’s Dymphna who drops into
Braniff’s training gym in east Belfast.
New figures show kickboxing in Northern Ireland is becoming dominated
by females competitors. In some cases, gyms are report a membership
split of 60/40 female to male, a turnaround from the 10/90 of just
a few years ago.
Pop Idol Darius Danesh becomes the latest star to jet in to Northern
Ireland and through his support behind the sport.
Europe’s first ever all woman show ‘The Ladykillers’
takes place in Belfast’s Holiday Inn. A capacity crowd sees
Braniff take the British title and former European karate champion
Cathy McAleer take part in her first (successful) kickboxing bout.
A gang of Belfast-based kickboxers are bound for Hollywood glory
after starring with cinema legend Liam Neeson and rising star Cillian
Murphy in a blockbuster film directed by Oscar winner
Neil ‘The Crying Game’ Jordan. The 10 fighters, all
from the ProKick Gym in Belfast, shot their
scenes for ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ last week in Belfast’s
Crumlin Road prison.
It’s Kickmas. Gary Hamilton defends his featherweight title
for a final time before moving to lightweight. Braniff wins a European
title and young powerhouse Andrew Grimason defends his British title,
all in front of a packed house at the Ulster Hall.
Pictures to follow ...........