A Tribute: Mark Fowler

Tragedy has struck at Andrew Parnham’s Photajaroen (PTJ) Thaiboxing gym in Ryde, Sydney, and the repercussions have been felt around the country. It’s a loss for the sport itself and more negative publicity we don’t need, but worst of all, the Australian kickboxing community has lost a significant member of its social fabric.

“Mark walked in to PTJ pretty much the first month we were open,” Andrew remembers. “He set a really great example as a fighter, but his personality was probably the greatest asset to the gym.” Andrew himself has been involved in Thaiboxing for most of his life, and the name of his gym is an abbreviation of his wife’s family name. “Many of the people at the gym comment on how his personality just lit up the room; they say that when they were new to the place, he was the one who really made them feel welcome.”

Mark had come to Australia as a traveller before deciding, like so many English ex-pats, that he liked the weather and the lifestyle and that he should stay. “Before he came to us, he’d been training at Keddle’s Gym in London, which has a pretty strong reputation. He’d had three fights there. He was a pretty smart bloke, too,” says Andrew. “He had a job of pretty significant responsibility. He was a web producer, which is kind of like a television producer. He’d meet with clients like Nestle, find out what they wanted and then map out the structure of the website so the techie people could put it together. He was a talented, arty guy.”

“As a fighter, he always used to say he had left his run pretty late. He was thirty-five. He felt the gym was like a second home and as a result, wanted to fight for us. At the beginning, we sat down and wrote out some baby-step goals. The long-term goal was to aim for a New South Wales WMC state title.”

Things were progressing positively for Mark; he was invited to fight in the Asian Championships in Iran in April of this year. Unfortunately, he lost his fight on points to a much more experienced opponent. The experience stood him in good stead, however, by putting him on-track for his next big goal; he was fighting for a WMC title against Cheyne Reece from Stuart McKinnon’s Bulldog Gym in Castle Hill.

Mark had met Reece previously when they fought for a WBC state title at fifty-nine kilograms. “That was a really tough fight. Mark was probably edged out in the first and second rounds, but he powered back through the last three to take the win by driving Cheyne down in the clinch and using his fitness against him.”

The WMC title was an even more gruelling affair, fought along much the same lines. “Cheyne’s a southpaw and tends to strike more, while Mark was strong in the grapple and always in peak physical condition. He really excelled when his opponents would tire. This time, Cheyne managed to knock Mark down in the last thirty seconds. He beat the count, but lost on points.”

“Nothing was out of the ordinary after the fight,” Andrew says. “Everything required by the Combat Sports Authority and the sanctioning body was strictly adhered to. The doctors found nothing. His medical history prior to the fight was 100%.”

Mark went into a coma some hours after the fight and was hospitalised. He remained on life support until his parents and his partner could fly over from the UK to say goodbye. “I was more scared of meeting his family and partner at the hospital than anything else before in my life,” says Andrew. “I was surprised, though – they were really good. Mark hung on until his girlfriend came back from seeing her family on the Monday. His parents came with her and they got to say goodbye before he passed.

“There were no hard feelings – they knew it was something he was passionate about. I did everything in my power to get him in condition for the fight beforehand. Once he was in the ring, it was out of my hands.”

The effect of seeing a fighter die in the ring would be awful – losing one of your own fighters is devastating. “My first reaction was to pull all fights,” says Andrew, “but it was the other fighters in the gym who changed my mind. They wanted to fight in his honour. I guess it hasn’t changed my attitude, although I felt a bit funny to begin with. Now we’re back to training.”

Andrew and the rest of the Sydney Muay Thai community were quick to search out the positives in the situation. “After the funeral and the cremation, we held a wake as a celebration of Mark as a character. It was a massive party and lots of the Sydney Muay Thai community turned up for it. A ‘Ram Muay’ was performed in dedication to him and his family. There were 20 of our boxers, along with some of the fighters from Jabout and Bulldog Balmain. His father said to me afterwards that of everything on the day, he was most moved by the Ram Muay.”

“I think Mark’s greatest strength as a fighter was that he was hard-working. He was always giving it one hundred per-cent. He was also a meticulous planner. His brother Nathan helped organise all his strength and conditioning, and all the fighters had to submit diaries. Mark’s were always exact, right down to the repetition and the calorie.”

While Mark was known as a Thai boxer, his unique personality bought a lot to the culture of the gym. “We used to call him ‘Geezer’. He was a pretty flamboyant character; he had all sorts of little eccentricities. He rode a Vespa everywhere, and the other fighters used to give him stick about that – a Vespa is not very tough. He also wore these wide-rimmed, funny glasses. Some of the boys have already got his glasses tattooed on them.

“He was also a sneaker freak. He collected Nike trainers. He had about fifty pairs of Air Max, all of them still in the box. He also loved his shorts; the louder the better. All kind of flouro pink and purple. He must have had 50-odd pairs of boxing shorts. If you go to our website, we’re selling memorial shorts and t-shirts to raise money to help his family pay the funeral expenses.”

Mark ‘Geezer’ Fowler memorial shorts and t-shirts for the assistance of funeral expenses can be purchased at ptjmuaythai.com.au

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