Kickboxing in Sunshine with a different edge
Kickboxing is enjoying a surge in popularity and the reasons why are surprising.
Often this is a sport associated with 'the street', with the average punter being drawn to its 'charms' for reasons that could be seen as questionable. On face value, a kickboxing event is a night out not for the faint-hearted - a no holes barred outlet for pent up male aggression.Which it is, let's have no illusions about that.
But it can be much more, as one of the regular fighters, Evan Themalakis, explained, "A lot of people think it's just for blokes, but you will find that peoples' wives and girlfriends come along, and kids too,"
This particular event by Ultimo Promotions was staged at the Westend Market Hotel in Sunshine North, a notoriously tough neighbourhood in Melbourne where being streetwise is a given. So, as a first time punter , I decided to test the currency of Themalakis' word by bringing along my smarty-arty girlfriend, her 14 year old daughter and my 6 foot 7 inch mate, 'Shane'...just in case.
"There's been a lot bad press about violence on the street about young guys getting around looking for trouble," Themalakis says. What with the police weapon confiscation posters on trains, this problem seems to be a real one. The 'on the spot' searches by police seem a little draconian. Yet it does make you wonder if Melbourne is getting nastier, or the cops just need to deal with these incidents of random violence with a little more imagination.
"The great thing about kickboxing events is that it shows people you can get that frustration out in better ways," Themalakis said, adding, "and because it comes from martial arts it also gives you really good discipline, not just with fighting but, in your life."
Fronting up at 9pm at the venue in an area with more warehouses and beaten up white courier vans than trees, you'd hope your GPS got it right. There was plenty of parking and a huge queue spilling out at the main entrance. Most of the ticket holders were men, in their 20s to 30s with the generic smelling n' gelling fashions from Highpoint Shopping Centre. But really this crowd could be coming from anywhere.
The Westend Market Hotel is a spacious venue with pool tables and a large dining area, offering basic meals at healthier prices, "and they're really good and big" said the round counter girl, "I eat them all the time."
The Fight Room itself has a good low ceiling, a fine bank of lights, a big sound system, with surrounding tables and seats for a pricier ticket. The rest are standing, but everyone has a good view of the ring.
If you don't want to see all the fights, the more professional are at the end. A lot of the crowd were there to back up mates in the competition. The first up were oddly paired; the superheavyweight Simon Daou, part of Ultimo Airport West Crew, vs. Jarred Richardson Simon (SPD). Daou was smaller, rounder and bigger; Simon taller and thinner. Daou won that, just, mostly with a heavy locomotive rigour followed by random upward punches, leaving Simon walking stupefied by this surprising loss.
Themalakis was right. The crowd were a real mixed bag: men with wives were there with their prams parked in corners. The cliched fat business man, too, and his trophy wife, with a body more done to it than a fighter has stitches to his head. Looking into the crowd the cross section was much wider than suspected, with my friendly giant, Shane, tipping the crowd's demographic towards The Lord of Rings.
Most of the fighters were first timers, and the night only hotted up by the end. The most exciting being Matt Lytwynenko (Ult Airp W) vs. Terry Tzouramanis (Big Bens). That was a split draw, there were a few that night, with one bloke shouting out "What is this? First Canberra then the AFL grand final! This is boxing ref, boxing! One jaw, one punch and that's it!"
Soon after it was the much anticipated girl-girl fight with Georgia Keady vs. Georgia Bennett, which inspired the announcer Perry Cale to call out to the crowd "both these ladies are mums with kids, so what's stopping any of you from anything!"
That probably got the interchangeable blond and brunette models with round cards thinking, but probably not. At least my girlfriend got fired up, and her fourteen year old daughter now knows there's a bigger fitness world out, other than expensive circus classes in high rent Collingwood.
But we were here to see Evan Themalakis (Ultimate) VS Tass Tsitsiras (Sting) fight. It was a heavy bout with Themalakis coming up on top with a focused pounding patience against a much younger fighter. But Themalakis was making a bigger point, by calling his young daughter into the ring after his victory.
Ultimo's headline act Super Boy finished up the comp. He won, of course, as he should, rounding it all up as a great night of alternative entertainment with no fights in the car park, just in the ring.
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