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Looking back at what made ProKick great in 2006

Kickboxing Promoter Billy Murray and the Belfast Lord Mayor Patrick McCarthyBilly Murray is not the boastful sort, writes William Bruce - But the veteran kickboxing man could be forgiven for crowing a little as he looks back on a 2006 that has been the most successful year EVER for his sport - and more precisely for his club.
ProKick Gym has long been considered the spiritual home for the sport in Ireland. A breeding ground for a conveyer belt of champions, its successes are there for all to see.
But this year has been spectacular – even by the club’s formidable track-record.

Champions get honoured at the City Hall by the Lord Mayor of BelfastThe bald statistics speak for themselves. The gym added 11 championship titles to their bulging trophy cabinet – from Irish to World belts. The gym sent fighters to events in 10 countries – including Italy, Switzerland, Canada and the US and Murray also promoted a further eleven kickboxing shows in Ireland and a monthly kids event for kickboxing mad kids. While this would have been enough to occupy the waking lives of normal men, Murray still found time to continue to spread the kickboxing message, striking deals with TV corporations in Australia, the US and Asia to broadcast the events he has promoted over here. This is on top of the coverage he already set up on an ongoing basis with Eurosport.Billy Murray and Chuck Norris at the WCL event in Vegas

Murray also travelled four times to the US of A in a bid to secure America's new fight concept the WCL (World Combat League) which is the brain child of Movie legend Chuck Norris.

Promoter Murray is delighted by the year, but insists on looking forward.

“It’s been a busy one,” he says, finding five minutes before he coaches another class of would-be champions. “I’ve been involved in kickboxing for 30 years as a fighter, coach and promoter and every year I say I am going to slow down a little and not push so hard the following year. But every year there is a new challenge, a new barrier to break, a new kid who comes through the gym with the sort of raw talent that you just know can be moulded into a champion. There is always something more that must be done.

WKN European champion Mark Hennessy the last champion to be crowned in 2006“It’s tough sometimes because until recently kickboxing had been seen as the poor cousin to boxing and of course still we operate without any funding having to self-finance every single thing we do, every last gum-shield we buy. But I think there has been a shift recently. As kickboxing grows in popularity and crosses into the mainstream it is seen as a sport that parents want their kids to be involved in – for confidence and fitness. And we have produced more champions in Northern Ireland than any other sport. This year alone, we have incredible young talents like Mark Hennessey coming through – he’s European WKN amateur champion now. There are many like him in ProKick.

“The sport is being recognised as a force for good and a force for change. I always knew it would be. It’s the others who have been catching up.”

Gary Hamilton stands proud beside his gable-end muralA perfect example of Murray’s force for good is Gary Hamilton. The first world champion Murray produced in his east Belfast gym (in 2003), Hamilton remains the world featherweight champion and will defend that title in Corsica next spring.

Earlier this year, school-children in Hamilton’s native Donegall Road in Belfast were asked to nominate someone they would like to be the subject of a gable-end mural to replace one of the paramilitary ones that had formerly blighted their area. They immediately chose Hamilton and his face now adorns the wall.

Murray and his ProKick Gym’s successes have also been toasted in rarefied company abroad. In November he led an Irish team to compete at an invitation event in the Swiss Alps resort of Villars. It was a team made up mostly of under 12s, many who had never been on a plane or a holiday before.

Over 50 people travel to the Swiss Alps resort of Villars for the first ever kids international kickboxing event.Prokick kids in Villars

However, when the team arrived, it was Murray who was saluted. The British Consulate General Susan Gregory held a lavish reception in his honour at the British consulate in Geneva to mark the work he has done with the youth of Northern Ireland. She was joined in toasting Murray by a select band of diplomats and key business leaders in Switzerland including US Ambassador to Switzerland Peter R. Coneway and Irish Ambassador Joseph Lynch.
The British Consulate General Susan Gregory held a lavish reception in Billy Murray’s honour
Typically, Murray is keen to focus on others.

“It was an honour, of course,” he says. “But really, I was more delighted we could get that team of kids out there. We worked hard to raise the funds to get them along. It was hard but they and their families worked for weeks at different sponsorship trips to fund the flights. It was a trip of a lifetime for them and they loved it. That was the success of that trip.”

Irish President Mary McAleese honours Kickboxers at the Aras in Dublin

Murray also plays down invitations from the Irish President Mary McAleese to lunches in his honour at the Aras in Dublin and to civic receptions by the Lord Mayor of Belfast in City Hall. It’s all about looking forward, not resting on laurels, he says.

“This has been a landmark year for us, don’t mistake that,” he explains. “More champions, more international events, more events at home and an upsurge in membership of our gym and of kickboxing gyms across the country. But we have to keep our foot on the gas. 2007 has to be bigger. We have to produce more champions, compete in more events, increase membership further. The moment we start slapping ourselves on the back, we lose. And one thing I have always been is a winner.”
The Prokick champions of 2006
Billy Murray, remember, held four different kickboxing world titles at four different weights. His 2007 will be something to see!

For more information on kickboxing around the country telephone 028 9065 1074


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