Saturday, October 24, 2015
Though I am largely indifferent to sporting pursuits in general, I despise kickboxing and ascribe blame for my aversion to it, to the great Stan (the Man) Longinidis, at least indirectly. For it was his fame, long before I ever knew of his existence, that contributed in no small measure, to my early adolescent suffering, in the late eighties. My cousin, who at the age of fifteen had already attained the height of six feet, was a fanaticised devotee, a fact I came to acknowledge when, sitting quietly one day, he surreptitiously insinuated himself within my vicinity and landed what is known in technical parlance as a "roundhouse kick," to my left shoulder. "Pow!" he exclaimed. "Stan the Man!" "Stan the what, μουλαροτρίφτη;" I responded indignantly, believing at the time that there could be no worse a curse than to be accused of rubbing down mules.
By way of a riposte, my cousin executed a jab, cross and a jump kick that sent me sprawling. "It's Stan the Man Longinidis, and yes, he's won the championship over Muay Thai champion Four-Eyes!" he offered by way of commentary, as I searched blindly for my spectacles.. For the next year, every time my cousin and I would meet, which was uncomfortably often, I would be successively poked, jabbed, kicked and punched, all in the name of the nebulous Stan the Man.
"Do you know why they call him Stan the Man Longinidis?" my cousin asked me one day as he expertly performed a sidekick upon my personage. "I don't know," I responded, "picking myself off the floor. Maybe because he is a man?" "No vre," my cousin barked, following up with four rapidly delivered punches to my sternum. "Do you know why they call him Longinidis?" I posited that the -idis suffix denoted Pontian descent and that Longinus was the name of the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus Christ on the cross and then believed. An illegal ear tweak and nipple cripple soon disabused me of my misapprehension. "They call him Longinidis," my cousin emphasized with the clipped tones of a Gestapo torturer, "because he can take you out of action for a long time."
To add insult to injury, my cousin felt that my understanding of the art of kickboxing as a condition precedent to my compulsory adulation of Stan the Man would benefit from viewing the recently released "Kickboxer," movie a total of thirty times and its sequels (there are an excruciating four of them) another ten times each. In my mind, my image of Stan "the Man" gradually fused with that of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and when my cousin, in our rougher sparrings accidentally drew blood, his Tong Po-like exclamation: "You bleed like Mai Li. Mai Li, good.." would elicit a convincing Van Dammian/Longinidian: "Nooooooooo.." from my good self. After being compelled to watch yet another Van Damme blockbuster, this time "Over the Top," on the subject of arm-wrestling and possibly the worst movie ever made, I gradually grew dismissive of Stan "the Man", secure in the knowledge that I could probably best him in a thumb-wrestle. When my grandmother, on one of her random patrols in the garden, apprehended my cousin and I making plaster of Paris and smashing bottles in order to fight Muay Thai in the "ancient way," our kickboxing careers abruptly came to an end as she attempted, and almost succeeded in impaling us upon her tomato stakes. Soon after, my cousin, abjuring Stan "the Man's" impeccable mullet coiffure, discovered the New Kids on the Block and imposed upon me a hairstyle akin to that sported by Jordan Knight before becoming obsessed with Kendo. For this, and much else, my grandmother and her tomato stakes are to blame.
All the while, the real Stan "the Man" Longinidis was becoming the champion we all know and love. He is after all, is one of the few fighters to have won World titles in three different styles: International Rules Kickboxing, Full Contact and Muay Thai. Furthermore, on 10 October he became the first Australian from any Martial Arts fighting code to be inducted in the Australian Sports Hall Of Fame. As such he more than deserves our admiration more so because he is one of those brave people who have dared to live their dream. Quitting his day job as a computer programmer, (and I have heard pundits describe his fighting style as 'analytical,') in order to train, he managed to win the North American and USA Heavyweight Kickboxing Titles as well as the Australian Heavyweight title. In April 1990 he became the first Australian to win a World Kickboxing Title when he achieved the K.I.C.K Full Contact Super Heavyweight Title and added another two World Titles to his name in 1991.
I remember Stan's bout with Dennis Alexio, which received widespread coverage in Australia. That match fight lasted for six seconds, with Longinidis dealing the famed Alexio a low kick which broke his leg. For weeks later, my cousin would attempt to re-enact that kick upon my own spindly shanks, all the while ruminating over whether parallels could be drawn between Stan "the Man" and Alexio and Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.
1996, the year Stan "the Man" became the first westerner to fight for and attain the WMC World Super heavyweight Muay Thai Title in Thailand, was a watershed year for me because it was at this moment that I divested myself of my pro-republican views, embracing instead a monarchist position, solely because Stan "the Man" was crowned as champion by the King of Thailand, and I felt that if as a community , we supported the republic, such crownings as these would be rendered null and void. As if in acknowledgement of such consideration, Stan "the Man" persevered, despite a serious knee injury that threatened to end his career, necessitating a complete knee reconstruction in 1997.
Stan "the Man" Longinidis continued to amaze and enthrall my cousin and I until 2000 where he retired after beating Peter "The Chief" Graham in Melbourne, coming out of retirement for one fight in 2003 before leaving the ring permanently. It says much for his professionalism and ethos that at a French martial arts expo in 2000, he was awarded lifetime achievement award recognizing his major influential impact on the early days of the sport, and his status as one of the most famous names and brands in the history of kickboxing. Jean-Claude Van Damme was nowhere to be seen.
What many people do not know, is that Stan "the Man" has acted as a role model and mentor to many younger Greek-Australians. His perseverance, trail-blazing commitment to excellence and willingness to engage with the youth in diverse areas has earned him the undying gratitude of many sections of the community. One of the most proud of these, is the Pontian community and it is for this reason that Pontiaki Estia, (of which Stan's father has been a dedicated and active member for many years, laying the Pontian lyra on a voluntary basis at functions since 1976,) has seen fit to honour one of its greatest and most humble of sons, at a dedicated function in his honour, on 30 October 2015. Given that his achievements were attained in the context of a society that was only just becoming used to migrants assuming a high profile in sport, an entire generation was uplifted and made confident in their own identity by virtue of his victories. For this, and much more besides, the honours Pontiaki Estia seek to bestow upon him are timely and well deserved.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 October 2015