Still the Man: Stan Longinidis

the-manInternational Kickboxer Magazine, Jan/Feb 2014

On October 7 of this year, Stan ‘The Man’ Longinidis was inducted into the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame. While this is no small feat for any athlete, it’s especially rare for a kickboxer. As with his other achievements, Stan is the first.

“I said in front of my parents that it redefines my moment of greatness. I like to think that my former trainer Dana Goodson and manager Mick Matthews were looking down and could see it.”

“It’s the greatest honour ever,” Stan enthuses, “To create a path for others to follow. When I came down off the stage at Crown Casino, I went straight into an interview with SEN (radio). I thanked Jesus for his role in my success. Like Gary Ablett junior did. Someone commented on it and I asked them, ‘Who do you thank for your blessings?’ Everyone else is coming out of the closet for their beliefs these days; so should the Christians.”

Longinidis is one of those rare athletes who successfully transitioned from sportsman to statesman, which is the unspoken criterion making an athlete a contender for Hall of Fame status. Life after kickboxing hasn’t seen him slide into lethargy, or a set of shady associations. He has gone on to become a serious draw-card on the public speaking circuit, addressing schools, sporting clubs and corporate groups.

“It’s more rewarding [than fighting]; to see where my life and my journey has taken me. It’s important to put things in perspective, because everything is about a mind-set. I got my foot in the door [with public speaking] through my sporting success, but it has branched out into things I would never have thought of.”

More than being the world’s best-known former world champion heavyweight kickboxer, Stan has used his ability to convey through speech and power of personality the things he saw from the heights of the accomplishments he attained.

“I get up in front of some of these corporate groups sometimes and you know, they’re thinking, ‘What can this guy – an ex-kickboxer – tell me? Then I ask them things like, ‘How do you measure success? Are you happy; what are you missing? The fact is, wisdom and knowledge is power, but you never know where it’s going to come from. I may say something today and you’ll feel as if I spoke just to you.”

Stan grew up in Altona in Melbourne’s Western suburbs. Life there was tough, but Stan was nurtured by a loving, supportive family.

“I was very fortunate to have wonderful parents. It’s one of the things I like to talk about when I’m speaking to people. It’s not about just being a champion fighter; you need to be a champion person. I had great parents. I know that for a fact. Nowadays, I do a lot of work with fatherless kids. I never married, so I don’t have any kids myself. I was lucky to grow up with parents that loved me and gave me good values.”

Stan also grew up with athletics, distinguishing himself playing soccer as a young man.

“I played for a team called Juventus, and I was pretty good. My dad really never played a big part in it. He played a traditional Greek folk-dancing instrument, and most of his Saturdays were taken up practicing with that. There was an old Italian man in the neighborhood named Mr Lavorato. He thought I was a talent and drove me from Altona to Brunswick to train and play games. He was in a wheelchair. When I scored goals, I used to run up to him! Then, when he passed away, I lost my passion for the game.”

Another game was coming to which Stan could dedicate his considerable energies – and talents.

“I went to a nightclub one night, when I was about seventeen. There was this guy there, getting picked on. Suddenly, he’d had enough and he cleaned up about six guys. I thought to myself, ‘I wanna know who this guy is! His name was George Konstas, and he ran a karate school in the Williamstown hall. It was called ‘Budo Kai Karate’. The way I look at it, [martial arts is like] different churches with different doctrines. George was one of many guys who broke away from Zen Do Kai and went off and started his own schools. There were lots of politics in those days. Bob Jones was in charge, and it was hard to get ahead.”

Bob Jones was to play a pivotal role in the development of Stan’s career.

“My first fight was at a nightclub, Fame, that used to be in Swanston Street [in Melbourne]. I won my fight and afterwards, I was sitting up on one of the balconies with my friends and my five-centimeter gold trophy. In those days, there was no commentary, just two ring announcers, and one of them apologized to the audience for the standard of the fight. It was Bob Jones. Then, years later, he was quoted as saying that kickboxing in Australia was Stan the Man.”

In many ways, adversity makes a champion every bit as much as opportunity.

“You need to be pissed off for success. You need to be pissed off not to achieve what you want. When you’ve decided who and what you want to be, it allows you to start prioritizing things to get you there. I used to lie in bed and think at night, ‘What did I do to get myself there today?”

Ironically, Bob Jones may have been the man to set Stan on the road to international stardom.

“In 1987, during the week of the America’s Cup yacht race, Bob Jones and Ron Stroud organized a kickboxing event. It was a big show, boasting three world title fights. For one of those, they wanted an Aussie to fight an American. I’m not sure if I was given that chance to throw me to the lions, or if that’s how my career took off.

“I fought a man named Santiago Gaza. We fought twelve rounds; it was the first time I had fought with leg kicks. Anyway, I knocked him down a couple of times, but it came out a draw. I was happy; in Australia at that time, we were all amateurs. I would have felt a bit strange winning my first pro fight and being crowned the heavyweight champion of the world!

“It turns out that Adam ‘Smiley’ Urquidez was there. Smiley was the brother of Benny the Jet, who owned The Jet Centre. He said that he felt he had seen real talent, so they offered me a contract to go to The Jet Centre to train.”

At that time, Stan had become a computer programmer, working for R.J. Glibertson’s, the parent company of Don Smallgoods. He had a guaranteed job and a company car. His future was assured. Taking up the offer at The Jet Centre meant that he would have to put these things aside and go off on an uncertain adventure.

“When I told my dad about it, he said, ‘Son, why do you want to be a kickboxer? The sport has no profile; there’s no money. What happens if you meet a nice girl, you go to meet her parents, what are you going to tell them?’ ‘But Dad’, I said, ‘I want my dream…”

Stan says that he left Australia a boy and returned a man. He went from living with his parents to having to sleep in a dorm with twenty other fighters at The Jet Centre, washing his own clothes and the like. It was all balanced out by the quality of the training, however.

“Before that, training in Australia was as good as it was. But everything was in that old PKA kick-above-the-waist style. And the longer we did it, the longer it held us back. When I got to the US, I was astonished at how advanced they were. They knew how to prepare their shins and things like that.”

The Jet Centre was located in Hollywood and, because of Benny’s own movie connections, there were actors of all kinds training in the gym

“If only I had some of the videos still. There was footage of me holding pads for Chuck Norris. Mr. T as well.”

Stan began fighting regularly in the US and soon became a celebrity himself.

“This was around the time of Crocodile Dundee, so the timing was perfect. People at the fights like Gregory Hines and Jodie Foster used to be like, ‘Let’s get a photo with the Aussie guy!’ I used to have my mum send me all these little koalas to throw out into the crowd. Can you imagine? Me, a wog from the western suburbs!”

A very significant part of what has made Stan’s legacy so strong is the fact that his is a genuinely Melbourne story. While many of Australia’s best-known fighters have gone on to great things internationally, Stan is the only one to have bought that international focus back home to Melbourne. His world title against Denis Alexio is one of the fabled events of Melbourne sports.

“My vision was my moment of greatness. To be great, you need to beat greatness. At that time, Alexio was the man to beat. He had movie deals, corporate sponsors, and all the rest. I needed to beat him to get to the top of the heap.

“He had been laughed out of Las Vegas; they thought the sum he asked to fight me was absurd. Why was he asking for so much? And that posed the question, how would I lure him to Melbourne? It was never about fame or money; it was always about achieving the dream. And that was the question; how much will you sacrifice and how bad do you want it?”

“To make it happen, I sat down with Christopher Chronis and my manager. We figured out we needed thirteen thousand paid ticket holders to pay him what he wants. How do we do it? In addition to that, Alexio gave us a set of conditions. The first was that we fight three-minute rounds. At that time, it was all two-minute rounds. He thought I would break under duress. Second, he had to OK two of the three judges. The referee was a mate of his, and lastly, we had to wear foot-pads, because he was worried about the leg kicks.

“I spent forty grand on a training camp in Olinda. I had sparring partners coming up that I was paying fifty dollars a round. But that was okay, because they needed three hundred dollars for medical bills every time. I walked in to fight a guy with 55 wins, for 55KOs. I was stepping into the ring, not getting a single dollar.”

The fight will go down in history as one of the most anticipated – and one of the shortest in kickboxing history. It took only six seconds – and one well-placed leg kick – to make Stan the champion of the world.

“I felt like God said, ‘You’ve done the hard work – let’s make this the easiest fight you’ve ever had.” It came from the will of wanting to succeed and wanting my moment of greatness. Not because it was a ‘Rocky’ fight; it was everything that happened behind the scenes. Twenty years later, people still come up to me and say ‘you owe me $200’. I say, ‘I made it happen for you and I got nothing.”

After this observation, Stan leans in and proves why he bought the sport of kickboxing to prominence in Australia, which is the reason he was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Everyone starts with a dream seed; a vision. If you work hard enough, you can make it come to fruition. My dream was to become ‘the’ kickboxer. To do something that no-one had ever done. I wanted to put a face to the sport.”

To illustrate his point, Stan returns to a story that begins in his days as a computer programmer working for R.J. Gilbertsons.

“I was in the office and I saw the footballer, Terry Daniher, washing the windows. This was in the days before footballers were fully professional athletes and had to have ‘day jobs’. We got talking and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I wanted to be the first Australian world kickboxing champ. He said to me, ‘If you believe it and work hard, you can make it.’

“Two months ago, I was in a coffee shop near my house, and standing in front of me in the queue was Terry Daniher. I said to him, ‘Excuse me, Mr Daniher’, and explained who I was. Then I explained that in two weeks, I was being inducted into the Sporting Hall of Fame. He said that he did remember and when he had read about me in the paper or seen me on the television, he would say to himself, ‘I wonder if that kid remembers…’

At this point, it becomes clear that Stan’s is a story about more than winning and losing, which is how most sports are defined. His is a story about desire, perseverance, and a moment of greatness as being the one which provides true, lasting perspective on all the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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