Lucy Tui: First Lady of Australian Kickboxing

Lucy Tui and I commentating for 'Eruption' in 2010

International Kickboxer Magazine Vol.18, No.6

For Lucy Sassen Tui, fighting was in her blood; her father had been the New Zealand heavyweight amateur boxing champion in 1954. She was one of nine children, closest in age to her brother, so she found herself joining in with the boys at playtime. “I was very sporty,” she remembers. “I did a lot of athletics while I was at school, and I held the record for the 100-yard dash as a teenager.” This was an excellent base for her martial arts training, which began like so many other kickboxers – in Kyokushin karate.

“I trained for three years in the seventies. After that, I went on to Kung Fu for another two years. I visited Australia for the first time in 1979, and returned to live in Sydney the following year in 1980. I started kickboxing that same year.”

Even for a woman as talented and dedicated as Lucy, there was little opportunity for her to show it. “Kickboxing – any contact fighting sport – was banned in New South Wales for women right up until 2009. I had a few tournament fights, but other than that, there was nothing happening. I had trained for eight years and not even been able to have a fight! Then, a friend of mine, Penny Gulliver, came back from a trip around Europe. She said that if I wanted to fight, I should go to the Netherlands.”

It turns out that Chakuriki, home of the legendary Peter Aerts, was the first gym she walked into. “While I was in Vienna, Austria, I met a guy who told me that Chakuriki was the place to go. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed by how many classes they ran – classes for children as young as six, and classes for women with at least twenty people in a class! After I had been there for a week, Thom Harinck asked if my friend and I would like to stay at his gym and train. I lived in the gym and slept on the changing room floor.

“Thom invited me back to compete in the first all Women World Muaythai tournament, held on June 9, 1990. I fought an Englishwoman and won. It was amazing – Thom in my corner and everything! I was the first person – male or female – to represent Australia in Europe in the sport of Muay Thai.”

When asked about the nature of training under Thom Harinck, Lucy says that “There was lots of repetition – he was really strict; it was intense and very technical. I learnt so much in four months about how to knee and grapple. The sparring was the hardest because it was as if you were in a real fight. We wore headgear and thick shin guards so we didn’t get injured. I remember it was the first time I ever saw anyone lifting weights with a collar around their neck. I used to run through Amsterdam every morning at six am. I wish I had been younger when I did it!”

When I asked what made Lucy shift from fighting to judging, she’s quick to correct me. “I started judging because I wasn’t allowed to fight myself. I started off as the secretary and the treasurer for the New South Wales kickboxing federation, and from there, went on to judge over 3000 fights. Over the last thirty years, I have been both a national and international judge for all sanctioning bodies; A1, WKA, ISKA, WMTA, WMC, WKBF and also K1.” 

“In 1994, I was invited to attend a meeting for the WMTA at Chakuriki gym, Amsterdam, by Thom Harinck. There were 40 countries in attendance. I was the representative for Muay Thai in Australia, and the only women at the meeting. I felt like a fish out of water, because Muay Thai wasn’t allowed in New South Wales at the time. It wasn’t popular in Australia; most gyms were still training kickboxing!”

When asked which comes first, fighting or judging, Lucy’s answer is surprising. “If you become a judge first, you have a better eye for it. After all, the judge is telling the fighters how to do it. One thing I would like to do is start running seminars for judges, referees and officials, to make sure they stay on top of their game. We need to rebuild the standard of judging in New South Wales.”

Lucy has also been responsible for managing some of the Oceania region’s best fighters, including its most successful heavyweights. When I asked who was the most talented fighter she has known, she answered Alex Tui.

“I knew Alex his whole career. He was a smart guy, too – he worked as a geologist, but he threw it all over to become a fighter and then a trainer. In fact, I think one of the highlights of my career was seeing Alex fight Kash Gill at Homebush stadium, Sydney, 1991. Kash was an Englishman; Alex had fought him previously in the UK and lost. So, we organised a rematch and brought Gill out here. It was one of the best fights I’ve seen. Alex knocked him out in the 9th round – it was like a David and Goliath, with Kash Gill a full foot taller!

“Alex and I were a genuine partnership. I was the manager, Alex was the trainer and Tarik [Solak] was the promoter. Between the three of us, we made things happen.” Speaking of her most famous charge, she remembers;

“I first met Mark Hunt when he was training with Alex at the Redfern gym. I saw him fight and I was really impressed. He was a genuine natural. He wasn’t very disciplined, and he used to drink and smoke and what-have-you, but when it came time to fight, he always had what it took. I saw him fight another couple of times, and every time, he won. So I kept watching. He was a good boxer, and a good rugby league player, too. To start with, he used to come to shows with me and help set up. He’d put out the chairs, tables, that sort of thing, and I used to give him a bit of money for helping.

“There was no doubt in my mind that he had outstanding ability but lacked discipline, so I decided it was necessary to have a talk to him. At the time, he was living in a boarding house in Sydney. I picked him up one morning, sat him down and gave him a talking-to. Instead of borrowing money for rent, I offered to organise fights for him and then take it out of his pay. I had a room in my house as well, and I offered that to him, also. But I couldn’t do everything – I had to delegate. I told him he had to go back and train with Alex. So back he went and Alex started training him from then on.

“He was going well, and then he won the K1 Oceania. I told him that I felt if he worked hard and dedicated himself, he might very well go all the way. He hardly believed me. But then, he went to Japan and fought Jerome Le Banner. It was quite overwhelming for him. Things really changed after he won the World GP in 2001. After that, he started to see some real money.”

Lucy counts seeing Mark Hunt win the 2001 K1 GP from ringside as one of the highlights of her long, illustrious career. “The Japanese were difficult to deal with,” says Lucy. “They didn’t like dealing with a woman, so Tarik pretty much took over.” Lucy had established her reputation as an ace manager, however, and became involved with many other fighters. She was also, for a time, managing Peter Graham and Nelson Taione.

Lucy remains active as a judge in kickboxing, although she isn’t managing any fighters at present. “I’ve had a fantastic career,” she remembers. “I think if I had to nominate the top five things, they’d be;

  1. Mark winning the 2001 K1GP,
  2. Alex Tui fighting for a world title against Kash Gill at Homebush stadium, Sydney, in 1991, 
  3. Judging Stan the Man versus Maurice Smith at the Entertainment Centre in Sydney. That was my first time judging a WKA world title.
  4. Travelling to Turkey for Tarik Solak’s A1 tournament in 2006 as both a judge and team manager.
  5. Training at Chakuriki with Thom Harinck and participating in the first all-women’s Muay Thai tournament.
  6. Jason Suttie winning the heavyweight and John Halford winning the middleweight division on KB4, which was my first Foxtel promotion. 

 

The hardest fight of Lucy’s life was just around the corner, however, when she discovered she had breast cancer. “I was diagnosed in February this year” she says. “I had a thrombosis in my leg, and the doctors wanted to put me through some scans. That’s how they found the lump, and it turned out to be cancerous.” Cancer is a distressing discovery for any person, but Lucy dealt with it in her characteristic no-nonsense manner. “I had surgery to have it removed. I’m on tablets now to keep the cancer under control, and I’ll have a CAT scan at the end of the year. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

“I believe that kickboxing, martial arts generally, is all about respect. In my career, I need to pay respect to the people who got me to where I am. Those people are Alex Tui, Dana Goodson, Thom Harinck, Stan Longinidis, Tarik Solak, Jason Suttie, Glen and Jackie Bargary, Paul Demicoli, Mark Hunt, Ernesto Hoost, Michael McDonald, Mick Spinks, Chan Cheuk Fai, Rick Kulu, John Halford, and Joe Nader. I also want to thank all the people who wished me well during my breast cancer scare – that was my biggest fight ever.”

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