Tony’s determined to show his class on the European stage

April 12th, 2023 9:00 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

Two-time world kickboxing champion Tony Stephenson.

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HIS journey to this summer’s European Games in Krakow has been far from straightforward, but Tony Stephenson takes it all in his stride.

The Bantry man is a two-time world kickboxing champion, but once he gets the green light to represent Ireland at these Games this summer it will represent his finest hour.

Tony lives and breathes kickboxing, like his coach, Ian Kingston. They’ve established West Cork Kickboxing Club as the playground of champions. It’s fitting the club is involved as kickboxing’s journey towards taking its place at the Olympics moves closer. 

These are exciting times for kickboxing after the International Olympic Committee officially recognised it as an Olympic sport in 2021, and the multi-sport European Games offer the opportunity for kickboxing to boost its hopes of Olympic inclusion.

‘This is huge. This will be the biggest competition I have ever competed in, and probably will compete in,’ Tony says, as he steps up his preparation for the European Games (June 21st to July 2nd).

Athletes are still waiting on the official announcement of the team selected for Krakow, but Stephenson (31) looks set to get the nod following his silver medal success at the WAKO European Kickboxing Championships in Turkey last November.

He had to step up two weight classes, moving from his favoured -69kg where he won a world senior title in 2019 to -79kg, as two weight categories were put forward: -63kg (this would demand too much of a weight cut for Tony) and -79kg.

‘It’s not my preferred weight class, but I got silver at the WAKO Europeans and I qualified for the European Games off the back of that,’ Tony explains, but an injury to his right foot, sustained in the final, almost dashed his dreams.

‘I fought a German fighter in the final, and I suffered a nasty injury. It’s called a sweep technique; he kicked my leg that was on the floor,’ Tony says.

‘He had come down weight classes while I went up, so by the time we fought there was a 10- or 12-kg weight difference. When he hit, it was hard.’

When Tony’s ankle injury didn’t heal, further investigation showed a broken bone fragment in his ankle that needed to be removed.

‘I only had surgery three weeks ago because it turns out a bone came off the bone so It was floating, and I needed to take it out. I am back now, the ankle is still a bit sore but I’m back training and moving in the right direction,’ he says.

Off the mat another issue also needed to be addressed: Tony’s Irish citizenship. He was born in Manchester and lived there before his family moved to West Cork when he was three years old.

‘In an Olympic event you need to have a passport from the country you represent, so it was a long process to get citizenship and an Irish passport. I reached out to both Michael Collins and Holly Cairns, and I finally got citizenship a month ago and got my passport last week, so thanks to both for helping me out,’ says Tony, whose focus now is on making sure he is in the best possible shape for the European Games.

‘I am definitely good enough to be there,’ he says, and even though he has to move up weight categories he is confident he’ll pack a punch; his silver medal at the WAKO Europeans in -79kg back this up.

‘I have been in this sport a long time, I am one of the older lads so I have a lot of experience and I’m grateful that I will be able to represent Ireland at this level. The earliest we could possibly be in the Olympics is 2028, that would put me at 36 and I still think I could compete if I was around.’

Kickboxers from 25 different countries will compete at the European Games, standing on centre stage at the Cracovia Hall in Krakow, and Tony will be amongst them, determined to add to an incredible medal haul. 


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