The Ice-Man Darren McMullan shoots from the lip with the Big ProKick Interview by Julie Pettigrew

What got you into kickboxing?

It started from watching a fighting series called K1, it looked like a really good buzz and I wanted to take it up so I joined a gym and made weights to become bigger. Then I came to ProKick and quickly lost about 6 or 7 kilos, in this game you need to be more athletic.

Did you always have an interest in sports?

I wasn`t really into fitness, kickboxing was just something I decided to do on my own. I never had an interest in sports at school and any sports that I had done, running and stuff, I was always good at it because of my height, but I would rather write out lines than bring my PE stuff. That was the mentality I had when I was younger, I was silly.

Do you regret that?

Yes I do. I see Gary Hamilton and some other guys in here, they probably started at the age when I was too busy doing lines and wasting time. I just had no interest then.

Does it make you hungry for it because you`ve missed out for a time?

It does a bit. When I see the younger guys coming into the gym and they`re 15 and 16 I feel a bit of a burn seeing them fire-ahead, it makes you push on a wee bit further. If some of those young guys stick at it till they`re my age there`ll be something special coming outta this gym.

Would things have been different if you`d found sport sooner?

Yeah I think so. I kinda wasted my teenage years a bit, I flunked at school because I would rather bunk-off and just hang about. At that age I knew about sports but maybe it takes someone to explain it, or you need to experience the buzz of winning after training for weeks even months. I never had that when I was younger and maybe I would have enjoyed it. When I was 15 I was put into a juvenile detention centre and wasted my chance at G.C.S.E`s. I`d been at top levels in my classes and it really does annoy me, even to this day. I probably could have went back sooner but...

Would you say anything to kids in a similar situation?

Yes, if I ever have the chance to talk to anyone who`s having a hard time, or just wasting their life away, I explain my situation briefly and try to make them see that no matter how dark the night there`s always light the next day, so don’t give up hope. I never thought like that when I was younger but I never thought I would be doing this either.

I`d also advise kids to stay on at school and not to do what I`ve done, it’s easier than having to move away and start over. My dad still lives in the village where I grew up and now people say `that big guy`s had a wake-up call` and they treat me with respect. I can say I was way-down there and I turned it around, and so can you.

Was the juvenile detention centre a turning point?

Yeah. It wasn`t good and it did break me a bit, but in a good way. I regret what I`ve done to get here but I don’t ever regret the result and I think it`s made me a better person. Some of the people I used to hang about with then are still doing the same things. The guy I was with when it all went wrong has been in jail numerous times - that`s his life and this is mine. I`m proud of the way I`ve turned it around by going to tech and learning a trade. I have a good job with A Cairnduff & Sons Ltd in Newtownards, they`re a third generation family firm and only two or three of us are not related. There`s lots of construction firms that have shut-up shop with the collapse of the economy but my job feels secure and I love working there.

If you damaged your hands fighting would that impact your job?

It would to a certain degree but Cairnduff`s is another stroke of luck. They run to proper regulations, probably more so than bigger firms but they give more leeway to the likes of me if I injure myself. It`s a team and we carry each other when we need to but our boss will push us – get up early, work hard, get stuff done – that`s just his nature, and they`re like family to me.

How many families do you have?

Three, and they all play a big part in my life. I spend most time at work, then kickboxing, then home. I come home about 9pm and am only up for 2 hours before I`m off to sleep, then away in the morn before anyone else is up.

How does your family feel about you stepping into the ring?

My sister joined ProKick before me and gives me full support but at the start my Mum and Dad thought it was brutal. Around that time UFC was out and that’s what they were seeing in the paper. After my first couple of fights they saw how hungry I was for it and that I enjoyed the fitness side of it. Relating back to when I was younger, hanging about the streets drinking beer, it’s a much better way to live my life and makes me feel good about myself, they can see that.

Is your sister a fighter?

No but I`m trying to persuade her. Lyndsay and my brother would have the same need and hunger for adrenaline that I have. She`s running mad, she just went out one day not that long ago and ran 14 miles. She`d never done it before and now she`s signed up for Dublin. We`ll go out training and running together and she`ll push me to try new things, she`s a big support.

And your brother?

I started kickboxing about 6 years ago; at the same time my brother went out to Australia to work and was involved in an industrial accident, Gareth passed away and it was a pretty hard time for us all. I kinda expected that one day I would mentally snap and not be able to cope anymore but I think coming to ProKick helps. A lot of my friends ask how can I still laugh, joke and smile but when I walk through that door I feel better, I know as soon as I break a sweat, as soon as I hit those pads a couple of times nothing else matters except why I`m here, pushing myself, learning , increasing my skills.

You asked earlier what I`d advise other teenagers, I think at the point where young people are struggling in life, or need to find something to help them cope with stress, I would advise kickboxing, or any sports. I would advise that to anybody because training at the gym helped me come through the death of my brother. It was a very sad time.

My sister coped by doing a bit of travelling, she went out to Africa to do Christian Charity work, and although my brother was a traveller too I think maybe she was just running away for a while. I`ve always said I would like to travel more but I must be a home-man cause I still seem to be here.

Does fighting away from home fulfil your need to travel?

It does in a way. It’s really good to experience different cultures and meet different people. So far I`ve fought in Ireland, Scotland England, Wales, Switzerland (numerous times), Cyprus, Corsica, Germany…there`s probably more. I`m off to France in a few weeks.

Is that for a title?

No, it’s a friendly, two fighters who want to lead up to a title, you have to work your way up the ranks like in football. I`ve had my title shots and just have to keep fighting more people, new people and try to build a bigger name for myself, and get as many wins as I can.

What about your recent fight in Germany?

It was against a guy called David Wachs. I fought him about 20 months ago in Germany with a bit of a controversial loss. I felt I won that fight but the points said David had. I was very hurt by that, it gutted me as it was a first defence and I wasn’t able to defend it. We appealed the decision, me and Mr Murray, and did get a sanctioned re-match by the president of the WKN but it took 4 fight opportunities to compete against David again. He wouldn’t fight me, or pulled out, or was injured. There was always something wrong and I think he was avoiding the fight. Then over a year and a half later he finally agreed to a re-match in Germany, which I didn`t really want after the wrong decision being made there the last time. But I took it `cause I was looking forward to the fight – not in an aggressive way, I wanted to get my title back. Unfortunately things didn’t go my way.

Darren lost in German but close for a second time

Did you feel you deserved to win it this time round?

I did OK, but watching it back I lost on points and I`ll not take that away from David. It`s my fault and I should have done more. After any of my fights, if I lose or win, I`ll look back and Mr Murray always insists you do, to find your mistakes. If you win a fight you might not win it well, it could be a lucky punch, or maybe you were messy or unstylish. There`s always something to work on. One of the good things about the last match was that I wasn`t injured and I`m really looking forward to this fight next week in France, to having another good fight and hopefully walking away uninjured again.

Have you been injured before?

Over the years, fractures and things that have knocked me out of training but nothing major. I`ve lost my last three matches, which is not a good thing to have on your record, but I could say they`re the biggest three fights on my fighting career as an amateur. The first I lost was against Sean O`Neill in King of the Celtics, it was a middleweight fight which is a tough category. I had a perforated eardrum within the first 30 seconds even though I blocked the punch, I was instantly deaf and my balance was gone. I got knocked down a couple of times during that fight and Mr Murray was shouting instructions at me but I couldn`t hear a thing. I couldn`t even tell how loud I was talking while I was trying to say I can`t hear you! I was still fine, still fit and ready, and a natural instinct kicked in. Mr Murray makes us do a lot of self-defence and repetition so that all techniques are auto-pilot.

Are you planning to learn lip-reading for future fights?

No (almost smiles).

Have you had any change in strategy since your recent fight with David Wachs?

Mr Murray changed my game-plan for my last fight, there was something we both noticed and think that’s why I was getting caught. It was a good change and after my last match Mr Murray told me he thought it was my best fight to date. Even though I lost it was a smart fight, I was being tactical, calm, and keeping my distance instead of going like a bull, a wise old man once said; Don't be just a fighter be a thinking (smart) fighter they are harder to beat. Well, maybe he's not that old!

Has this change affected your training?

Yeah it has, now I always try to think ahead. I would advise anyone in kickboxing that no matter how long you`ve been here, no matter how many belts or titles you have, you`re always on that learning curve. You can never be too good because somewhere there`s always someone better, there`s always more to learn.

Do you ever feel you`ve had enough? Or are you in this for the long-haul?

I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

How do you find things are backstage pre-fight?

Our team have had a good lot of fights together and I think everyone`s well switched-on in how to react, train, eat, prepare, and how to get ready at the right time instead of getting ready too soon. When I first started I was really nervous and it’s only in the past year that I’ve lost those nerves. Every fight, at some point I think what am I doing? I`m not an evil person who enjoys going in to smash someone, it’s a sport and a skill and that’s why I enjoy going in, but you can have those wee doubts. As soon as the bell goes it`s onto auto pilot, you just do what you`re there to do. It’s a job says Mr Murray, so go to work and get the job done.

Does it differ much backstage when you`re not going in the ring?

The Easter show was the only show that I wasn`t actually fighting in. It was close after the fight in Germany, too close, but it made me available to help out. It was the biggest show since I`ve been here and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to help with pads and stuff. There was half a dozen people milling around me most of the night asking different questions and it felt good being able to tell new fighters something that was gonna benefit them, getting them in the right frame of mind. It was a different sort of buzz from being in the ring.

Would you consider coaching?

No not really, but I do feel good passing on help. Looking ahead it would have to be as a fighter, not a trainer.

How did you get the name Ice Man?

Mr Murray calls me that `cause he said I show no emotion in the ring, before and after the fight. Maybe some people look nervous before and happy after, but he said I just maintain the same expression, (almost smiles).

Can I call you Nice Man now that we`ve broken the ice?

No! (Back to Mr Frosty).

Have things changed much since you first started training in ProKick?

The training has stayed the same, there`s a format but different strategies for different fight cards, some being a bit more extreme than others . If there`s a beginner`s show the training`s long and drawn out. For a show with more experienced people on it, it`s pretty good. The preparation for our KICKmas show was the best, I enjoyed that training most in all the time I’ve been here - there were nine of us and everybody had a title fight. The training was specifically for the nine of us on that show, really intense. I think that everybody in the gym was in the best shape of their lives … although I say that before every fight.

What do you think of the latest New Breed?

I think they`re really good, I can see myself, and a lot of the other current fighters in them. It`s good to see their determination and I think they might be in this for the long-run though you can never really judge. Sometimes after the second or third fight some people have had enough because of work and training. I`m looking forward to watching them all at their next show.

What does Mr Murray think of the new breed?

I think he`s pleased with them `cause he trains them up from when they first come in the door and can`t throw a punch, to being ready for their first fight. I can`t imagine him being anything but happy about their progress. He`s changed some of their lives and he`s changed my life - how would it have been if I hadn’t come here? I`m almost certain that everyone who comes in here has their own different story and many wish they had come here when they were younger. ProKick Kickboxing, for the majority of people I talk to, seems to be a change in lifestyle, it’s a turnaround.

So you wouldn`t give Mr Murray sprints around the block then?

No. I still think he would beat me anyway. I don’t know how he can run that fast. He`s running 6 or 7 miles and doing 6.30 minute miles – my fastest was last week, 6.57 and that was only doing 1 mile. He`s doing 6 of them, and cross-country too.

Can he punch as well?

Yeah he can, but how many years has he been doing this…60?

How do you relax when/if you have time?

I usually take a week off training, maybe a couple of weeks of not being so intense and I just lie-in and let my body recover. I like to go away to music festivals and I`ve one booked for the summer, it`ll be two weeks after the fight. Maybe it’s not everyone`s idea of relaxing, going to hard-core music festivals, but it`s right up my street.

Is it hard to return to training after being off?

No, the only time it`s hard is after the new year, it`s tough after all the rich foods at Christmas. It was terrible coming back once after 3 full weeks of doing nothing, it took almost 2 months of training, and not enjoying it, just to get back to a fighting fit state. I won`t do that again.

Do you have to be fight-ready at all times?

Yes, you don`t know when it`s coming. You can go months without a suitable fight coming up so you always have to be ready.

What’s in your DVD collection/ currently in your iPod?

Nothing I don’t really watch TV `cause I don’t have time. I get home at 9, have a shower and eat which doesn’t leave much time so I’d rather go for a coffee with mates, talk on Facebook, or play a game of pool.

I have more of a music collection though and enjoy making people listen to my music before my fight, (cracks a smile, but it`s an evil one).

Are you reading any books at the moment?

No, no, no. It`s a bit ironic that when I was away in Germany I forgot my earphones and thought what am I gonna do for hours? So I went to the airport bookshop and bought Dambusters which is set in Germany during World War II. I never finished it.

What could keep you awake at night?

Apart from my music? The night before a fight, and nothing else. I generally sleep very well and I put that down to training and working so hard

Describe your ultimate achievement in life?

At the minute I would say having that world title shot in December. Afterwards, when I`ve mentioned that I didn’t win it, and people said that doesn’t matter you still fought for a world title, I`ve realised that I`d overlooked how lucky I was to have that shot `cause the majority of people don’t get those chances. I`m lucky to have the gym, and the trainer I have. It`ll happen again and I`ll hopefully win next time. Just swallow it and move on.

Will you share any great training advice you`ve been given?

When you`re in the ring and can`t do one more thing and Mr Murray looks you straight in the eye and tells you `it`ll be worth it when your hands in the air, keep the win in mind and never give up`. That can be enough sometimes. And Johnny Smith, he tells me to win it in my head first, I`d pass that on.

Anything else you`d like to share?

Just that I`m enjoying training for my next fight and can`t see myself stopping anytime soon…unless an injury stops me, and, I`m looking forward to the future.


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