Taking up the fight for charity in Northam

ARE you ready to rumble?

It’s time for the Wheatbelt to get ready for the King of the Hill Charity Fight Night.

Not many people would voluntarily put their hand up to be punched in the face but a few Wheatbelt residents have decided to join some amateurs and professionals to compete in a charity fight night.

The first event of its kind in Northam, it will be held on Friday to Sunday, March 22-24, 2019 with the fight night being on the Saturday at the Northam Recreation Centre.

The event will be a 14-fight show with five charity matches of Wheatbelt locals, five amateur fights and four main events.

Organised by Fighters Combat League Promotions chief executive officer Tommy ‘Gunn’ Keefe, the fight night will raise funds for The Brain Cancer Research Foundation, Cancer Research Foundation, Beyond Blue, Buy a Bale of Hay and Avon Hospice.

Tommy said they selected charities that had a strong connection to the Northam and surrounding communities.

As an ex-professional rugby player and retired professional fighter, combat sports has been a part of Tommy’s life since he was about 10 years old and by using his craft, he has made a career out of helping people improve their fitness, confidence and overcome adversity and hardship to be on a better path for life.

For years, Tommy and his late wife Debbie Keefe Duncan were the driving force behind re-establishing combat sports in the Wheatbelt community.

“Eight years ago we started with four skinny young teenagers with no confidence and were being bullied a lot,” Tommy said.

“We were approached by their parents to see if I could help.

“At first I said no as I didn’t want to teach them to combat violence with violence, but by forcing them to promise not to retaliate with violence, I was able to teach them the right morals that professional athletes maintain through MMA (mixed martial arts) and how to be a substantial person in the community.

“My wife and I have always enforced a no-bullying policy that I still implement today in our club environment.”

Tommy said working with active community members and organisations helped him and Debbie create a “whole new breed of athletes representing our communities”.

“In the past eight years, we have trained over 200 people, helping them change their lives for the better, from drug addicts, victims and aggressors of domestic violence, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) sufferers and ex-prisoners, adults and children,” he said.

“Using morals of combat sports gives them the confidence to live life and be in control while making the right choices and controlling their anger.

“Not all have been successes but we have achieved more wins than failures.”

As well as promoting the physical and mental benefits of combat sports, Tommy said the charity fight was to also shine a light on the prevalence and devastation that illness has on the Wheatbelt community, which Tommy knows all too well.

In February 2017, Debbie lost her battle with brain cancer and Tommy said he wanted to make more people aware that illness can strike anyone at anytime.

“It seems there are more people in the Wheatbelt being impacted by cancer and other illnesses,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what colour you are, your age, gender or whether you’re rich or poor, anyone can get it.

“There needs to better services and more treatment available in the country because not everyone can drive to Perth or long distances for treatment.”

For two Northam locals, Andrew Quin and Louise O’Neill, it will be the first time they get in the ring for a competitive fight.

“The way I look at it is it will be seven minutes of pain for me which is nothing compared to a lifetime of pain that other people endure,” Andrew said.

“My attitude is the worst that can happen to me is I get knocked onto the floor and then the fight is called off, so really if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.

“I don’t think I will get hurt and I don’t believe anything bad is going to happen to me - people might laugh but they do that in life anyway.

“But the aim is to just go out and show people what I have learnt and achieved while having a good time.”

Having been doing combat training for more than a year on and off, Andrew said he has improved his fitness with dropping about 10 kilograms of weight but said the mental journey has been the most challenging.

“I think the physical side of fighting is much easier than the mental part of allowing yourself to be punched in the head and being able to cope with it has been a major hurdle that I have had to get over and it will definitely be the most interesting thing that I will get out of this experience,” he said.

“Also, getting the capacity to hit someone else has been difficult because that is not in my nature.”

As fight night approaches, the nerves have started to creep up on Andrew which he said would only intensify on the night.

“I know I am going to be terrified when the time comes,” he said.

“I hope all the training has been good for me and doesn’t all go out the window - it will be a whole new different feeling when I’m in the ring.

“I think I will go into self-preservation mode and hopefully rely on the skills that I’ve learnt and instincts.”

Also putting on the gloves is Louise O’Neill, who despite her background in fitness from being a health and lifestyle coach, said she still felt like a beginner when she started training.

“I’d say the only thing in my-favour from my job is my fitness level but I am used to a different type of cardio and I know the fundamentals of boxing but everything else has been new,” Louise said.

“Even practising with the mouth guard in and headgear on adds another level to it.

“The nature of boxing isn’t actually that violent which helps with the mental barriers of hitting someone and have someone hit me, because it is a very controlled sport so you have to be completely aware of what is going on around you.”

Louise said the event had created a close community among the fighters and has had a positive impact on some fighters which have been in tough circumstances.

“A couple of people competing have come from Fresh Start, which is a drug rehab clinic, and I think it has been good for them to learn discipline and control,” she said.

When it comes to combat sports, it first starts with a focus on when not to hit rather than when to hit.

“I know some people were worried they might lose it in the ring but that’s why the training is so intensive and Tommy is so careful to make sure people aren’t going to get in the ring for the wrong reasons - it takes a lot of discipline and control to do it,” Louise said.

“I have been able to apply some of the things that I have learnt to my clients which has been great.

“I think boxing is a really good thing for anyone to learn for fitness and the mind, and for women especially, self defence.”

Fighters will vary in age and experience from early teens, to juniors, amateurs and professionals with a variation of combat sports and martial arts fights.

Some retired celebrity fighters set to attend the event include seven time WMC (World Muay Thai Council) champion Eugene ‘Boom Boom’ Ekkelboom, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Champion) fighter Steven ‘The Steamrolla’ Kennedy, Muay Thai world champion Caley Reece and her husband Darren - all of whom are from Perth.

Tommy said he has received great community support including local organisations and businesses Elite Assassinz apparel, the Elite Champion Mixed Martial Arts (ECMMA) Northam, Quin’s Gourmet Butchers, Red Dot Northam, The Hills Cafe Company, the Northam Workers Club, Riverside Hotel with the door still open for more sponsorship.

This story first appeared on Farm Weekly.