The Retirement of Eugene Ekkelboom

 

International Kickboxer Magazine Vol.19 No.1

For a Thai boxer, Eugene’s Ekkelboom’s career started relatively late. It is, however, studded with impressive highlights. He can also lay claim to a remarkable piece of trivia; the only bone he has ever broken is his nose. Otherwise, after sixty-eight fights across a twelve year span, Eugene has emerged from every encounter more or less unscathed. When asked about it, he replies,

“I put it down to good genetics. I’m not quick or fast, and I’m not much of a puncher. I’m more like a diesel motor: good for a million kays!”

It seems that now, however, Eugene feels his race is run. He is shifting out of Thai boxing and into another popular Foxtel sport; speedway motorcycle racing.

“I got into Muay Thai originally when I was racing motocross,” the Perth native says. “I wanted to improve my fitness, so a bloke who I knew was into Thai boxing took me to his gym. I wasn’t a bad motocrosser; I was in ‘A’ grade, but nothing special. After I took up Thai boxing, though, Motocross sort of fell by the wayside.”

Eugene had his first Muay Thai fight at age twenty-one after three months of training. He won, and developed a taste for competition. His trainer, Bill Seth at Mongkon Mai Gym, was partly responsible for the formation of Eugene’s style.

“I’m not flexible, and I don’t have much in the way of punches. My style of fighting very much suits my physique. I’m tall and found I was strong in the grapple. A lot of fighters don’t like grappling, and that really helped me.”  

Eugene is a carpenter, and it is a job he has held down for the full duration of his career. Most fighters of his calibre concentrate full-time on training, but for Eugene, work plays an important part. “About three weeks before a fight, I’ll stop work and just focus on training. I need to work, though. I think that without it, I’d get cabin fever, you know?’

Eugene currently trains at Riddler’s Gym, under the tuition of the very experienced Darren ‘Riddler’ Reece. The training at Riddler’s is more modern, he says. “Lots of the kind of training that is becoming more and popular in the UFC: sprints and resistance work. Darren’s always doing research; reading about new things on the internet.” As far as Eugene’s own attitude to training is concerned, he says that he “Likes routine. Keep it simple. That way, it’s less exhausting. Front kicks and punches.”

“We’re seeing some really good youngsters coming through in WA at the moment,” Eugene enthuses when asked about the up-and-coming talent in Perth. “There is Toby Smith at sixteen years of age. A young guy named Ruan, who is about 190cm tall, but fights at seventy kilos! Another one that stands out is Leno Tuk. I think he’s had five fights or so, but in the ring, he’s so relaxed. He looks like the veteran of one hundred fights!”  

Eugene’s father is Dutch, as the name suggests, and met his mother, an Englishwoman, while travelling through Australia. Mr Ekkelboom, a miner, settled down to work in the town of Tom Price in the Pilbara mining region. Shortly after, Eugene’s birth, however, they moved to Perth. “Mum didn’t like the fighting, but she liked it when I won. Dad doesn’t say much at all, but I know that he’s proud of me.”

The first highlight of Eugene’s career was his first fight in Thailand. “I went to Koh Samui and trained at the WMC camp. It was a good experience; lots of people there, experienced trainers. Unfortunately, I lost the fight on points; the Thai broke my nose, but afterwards, I was completely stoked. It’s something you never forget, fighting your first Thai. That was back in 2000.”

Eugene did a second stint in Thailand, this time training at the Sports Authority Complex in Bangkok. He had a total of six fights while there, and competed in the World Amateur Thai Boxing Games. He finished with a silver medal and very nearly came to blows with another famous Australian, ‘Dirty’ Danny Derdowski. Danny has since made his way up through the weight classes, now holding both the WMC Australian and Oceania titles in the light-heavyweight division.

When asked about his toughest encounter, Eugene credits fellow Australian Derdowski with the accolade. “I was sick the week before,” says Eugene. “I gassed at the end of the second.

“I fought Eugene somewhere in mid-2009”, remembers ‘Dirty’ Danny Derdowski. “We fought at seventy-seven kilos, which meant a lot of weight for me to lose. A week before, I was getting around at about 82. I expected him to start slower, in more of a Thai style, but he came out very aggressively, like he had no time to lose.

“He was an excellent counter-fighter; it was like he had an answer for everything. He was strong in the grapple, and we wore each other down there. After that, it became a points game. Eugene wore me down to a decision, which he deserved. I remember it being the most tired I’ve ever been after a fight.”

Other than Derdowski, Eugene credits Japanese fighter Kozo as his toughest opponent. Kozo was a skilled grappler. “He threw me around and frustrated me – I couldn’t catch him. It was a close fight and he was just ahead. Luckily, I did manage to KO him in the last round.” 

Eugene fought Rayen Simson for the WMC super-middleweight world title on the Champion Versus Champion 2 promotion in Montego Bay in Jamaica in 2009. “That was a real highlight, obviously; Simson had fought Ramon Dekker.” That may be the most famous fight of Dekkers’ career; both he and Simpson knocked each other out simultaneously with a mirror-image of the same left hook.  By the time Simson met Ekkelboom in Jamaica, he laid claim to around 107 wins with ten losses.

Simson was a well-rounded fighter who had developed a broad arsenal of techniques, most of which he threw at Eugene in the first round, catching him with a flurry of punches. The referee intervened and gave Eugene an eight count.

In the second, Ekkelboom appeared to regain his momentum, with the fight becoming an awkward tug-of-war. Eugene landed a number of solid kicks, with Simson scrupulously avoiding any exchange which might have ended up in the grapple. Eugene’s persistent, plodding style paid off when a well-placed kick broke Simson’s arm and the fight was stopped.     

The forced absence of Ekkelboom’s trade-mark dominance in the grapple characterised one of his most controversial encounters; his appearance on Evolution 20, fighting John Wayne Parr for the WMC World Super-Middleweight title. Eugene, clearly the taller of the two, was happy to set the pace with his long-range kicks as he patiently awaited the opportunity to draw the shorter Parr into the grapple. JWP had a ready strategy, however, working hard to tie Ekkelboom up in-close and preventing him from using his knees by guarding with a shin locked across Eugene’s legs. This strategy also saw liberal usage of a controversial holding of the top rope to ensure Parr’s stability.

“Ekkelboom’s style is very frustrating. He tires you out and doesn’t give you the chance to flow. Makes you fight his style, [which is] in the grapple. He’s very different to the Thai style, in that he does it in reverse and throws you out of whack. He’s awkward in the way he positions his body and locks on the clinch. That, and he doesn’t give you any chance to breathe.”

“It was a draw, but I fought him in Queensland,” counters Ekkelboom. “The referee never once called Parr on it [holding the ropes]. I felt I did enough to win.” Fans interested in debating the outcome can find the fight easily enough on Youtube.     

After a career as eventful, let alone successful, many ask why Eugene would want to retire at an age when many fighters of his standard are reaching their peak. “I got to the stage where work took over. I’ve been doing ten hour days, and the cycle of work and training wears you down. It’s also become harder to recover as I’ve gotten older. There’s also the financial constraints to consider. That and the fact I’ve got a girlfriend – it’s nice to be able to spend some time together.”

Fans will have to content themselves now with watching – and discussing – Ekkelboom on the internet, one of the worlds’ most enduring – and durable – Muay Thai champions.

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