Looking back at what made ProKick great in
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
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.
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
Promoter Murray is delighted by the year, but insists on looking
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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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