Athlone’s Martin Ward (left), winner of the national heavyweight kickboxing belt, pictured alongside his opponent David Hayes and the referee for the fight.

​Athlone’s Martin glad to win national kickboxing title on home soil

Athlone man and Na Fianna Martial Arts School head coach Martin Ward recently won a heavyweight kickboxing belt at a World Kickboxing Organisation (WKO) professional show in Waterford.

Aged 37, Martin said that the victory held a “special significance” for him personally, as well as for Na Fianna and the local community. It has been about six years since he last competed in a show in Ireland.

Ward has competed in World Championships abroad but said that he feels more pressure when competing at home. “It is different when you go out to international events like World Championships, there’s not as much pressure put on you, even though they are massive events. You’re fighting people all around the world and you have a knockout stage and you (have to) keep winning to get to the final, but there’s not as much pressure on you. When you’re here locally, you have tickets and build-up and there’s a lot more pressure.”

The dedicated fighter said that he had a “tough opponent” in Waterford’s David Hayes who held an unbeaten record before taking on Ward. “He was a very tall fighter. He must have been nearly seven foot!,” said Martin with a smile. “It was my first fight to do five rounds and it was a tough fight,” he continued.

After reflecting on the fight, the Athlonian felt that he had been too confident ahead of the fight. “He was very tough and I wasn’t expecting it to be as tough as it was to be honest,” said Martin, who candidly admitted that he didn’t think his opponent would last five rounds.

He added that it was “tough going” preparing for the fight combined with running Na Fianna, being a coach, businessman and a dad to three children.

He completed six weeks of hard training prior to the fight and had to lose a lot of weight as he had to be 90kgs to compete in the fight. Impressively, Mr Ward lost 14kgs in less than six weeks.

He said that he was training every day and that he had never had to cut that much weight before. “I normally only drop down three or four kilos but it’s amazing with the right discipline and training, the changes you can see,” he remarked.

Ward’s major goal is to hold a retirement fight night to mark his last local fight either this year or next year to fundraise for the Irish United Nations Veterans Association. He has chosen to raise money for this organisation as his father Peter died in the Lebanon while serving in the Irish army. Despite this, Mr Ward plans to keep his training up and to enter some tournaments abroad in the future.

Ward proudly paraded his newly-won WKO Irish title belt at one of his kickboxing classes following the win to inspire all young Na Fianna fighters to strive for greatness. He stated: “It gives the students that little bit of a push as well and setting an example and leading from the front.”

Speaking about his motivation, Martin said that what gives him the most motivation is his children being able to see him compete:

“My daughter (Rúa) is so into it. She’s ten years of age and we went over to the world championships,” he said. He added that she loves the sport and she motivates him through her interest.

Mr Ward has been running Na Fianna for the past eleven years and left the Defence Forces over four years ago to pursue this on a full-time basis. Na Fianna Martial Arts School is based in Summerhill Business Park, Athlone with centres in the Roscommon Road, Athlone and Moate.