The Greek international kickboxing king of the ring March 9, 2008Posted by grhomeboy in Martial Arts.
Tags: Greece, Sports
Michalis ‘Iron Mike’ Zambidis, the Greek athlete who is a household name in Japan and has a string of titles to his credit > Kickboxer Michalis Zambidis, aka Iron Mike, made his name abroad before he became well known in Greece.
The latest superstar of Greek sport is not from the familiar fields of soccer, basketball or track and field, but from kickboxing. Though he only recently hit the limelight in his native land, Michalis Zambidis, aka Iron Mike, is the only Greek athlete who can fill the Peace and Friendship Stadium or the Olympic Stadium (OAKA) for a sport that is not played with a ball.
In Japan, where kickboxing has become enormously popular, Iron Mike dolls, key rings and a PlayStation game are on sale.
Zambidis had already won fame abroad when Greeks got to know him after his series of victories over Turkish athletes. In late 2007, more than 10,000 people from all walks of life bought tickets costing up to 90 euros to watch him fight for nine minutes at the Olympic Stadium (OAKA).
His first sport was gymnastics, followed by karate, boxing and kickboxing. He started competing in professional tournaments at the age of 18.
The competition at OAKA was his 150th, 83 of which he has won by a knockout. There are two contests that he believes to be the most important of his career: «In my first match in Australia, I won the world title from a Turk, in front of hundreds of spectators. If I had lost, I would have been beaten by the best. The standing of the one who loses lends glory to the victor. The other was the first time I competed in Japan. They are the experts. My manager and I approached the top athlete, the Dutch K-1 champion, Albert Krauss. Since it is difficult to get into competitions at that level, we said we’d win by a knockout, and that I didn’t want to be paid if I didn’t succeed. The Japanese liked that. I won by a knockout in the second round.»
Fierce in the ring, Zambidis is quiet and reserved in everyday life. How does he do it? «There’s no room for emotion in the professional sphere. People who know me from the ring are scared to speak to me, while those who know me from elsewhere can’t believe I do a sport like that. I’m tough in the ring but that makes me easygoing in my everyday life.»
No matter how many times the telephone cuts into our conversion, Zambidis always remembers the last word he said before the interruption. He is like the computers he advertises. «I only relax with people who consciously and unconsciously relax me. I go to the cinema a lot. I liked ‘300.’ When I was a kid I had a video cassette of the old film which I used to watch. When the hero died, I was too upset to talk to anyone for hours afterward. I was impressed by his self-sacrifice.»
During the match at OAKA he seemed like an enraged rooster when the Spanish fighter hit him. «I’ve had some hard times in the ring. There have been times when I was ready to drop, the challenge is not to let your opponent know and to get back into the fight.»
Zambidis inspires his fans and draws inspiration from them. «I’ve fought three times in Greece since I became known here. What I want to do is give a flash of inspiration to the spectators.»
His sport may be a tough one, but it is popular with women. «In Australia the spectators are 50-50 men and women, in Japan 60-40. And in Greece there are a lot of women among the spectators.»
His mother worries when he competes. «She gets very anxious. She’s afraid I’ll get hurt but she tries not to show it.» Meanwhile, his father has become knowledgeable about the sport. «First he asks me if I’ve got a DVD of the match and then he asks if I won.»
Zambidis carries a watch and a set of scales everywhere, because he has to eat certain amounts at certain times. «The wrong food or lack of water can do me a lot of harm. It’s rare that I can eat a souffle, but when I do I enjoy every single ingredient.»
He does four double training sessions a week, and he chooses which competitions to take part in. After all, as he says with a broad smile, he is a professional amateur. «You have to enjoy your matches. You need to have inspiration, be good and be keen to distinguish yourself. I now have the luxury of being able to decide when I’ll compete. So I do six matches a year, three in Japan, two in Greece, and one in Australia.»
On only one occasion has he encountered prejudice: «I was competing in Australia with the Turkish kickboxer Gurkan Ozcan in a stadium with 12,000 Greek and Turkish spectators. My opponent had attacked me at the press conference and spoken derisively about Greece. The atmosphere was very tense. The match lasted 12 rounds and I won by a knockout.»
It was a hard road from obscurity to the packed OAKA stadium. «In Australia everyone knew me but very few did in Greece. In Japan they call me by my first name, but when I came home I came down to earth. Japanese kids who don’t know a word of English call me Michael. The best eight fighters there compete once a year. I have three world titles and I’ll compete again in April. But those titles don’t mean much there. The K-1 tournaments in Japan are like the Olympic Games of kickboxing.»
He won’t disclose how much he earns, saying: «I don’t make as much as a soccer player or a professional boxer. For instance, the purse for a heavyweight tournament might be 500,000 euros. For K-1 it’s 150,000-200,000 euros plus the athlete’s salary. The agreement you reach plays a part. Masato, a Japanese kickboxer, and I have the best deals.»
Before each match he makes the sign of the cross and gets inspiration from Stamatis Spanoudakis’s «Megas Alexandros», and says he tries not to think that 10,000 Greeks are coming to the stadium to see him.
When he has time, he relaxes at his house on Andros and reads. «I liked Dan Millman’s ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior,’ and Paulo Coehlo’s ‘Warrior of the Light: A Manual.’» His dream is to set up a gym and pass on his knowledge to those that follow in his footsteps.