When it comes to kickboxing in St. Maarten, Marco London has few equals. The multiple kickboxing title holder was recently named Sports Icon for Kickboxing in the second annual Brown Pelican Sports Award.
“I was very honoured when I heard that I was nominated for an award. I did not expect to win and really was surprised when my name was called,” London said. “I was really proud and humbled at the same time. I hope that the award will encourage other athletes to keep working hard in the sport that they practice.”
London has won numerous titles in his lifetime, including the 1993 World middleweight champion Shidokan bare knuckle karate; 1994 World middleweight champion Shidokan bare knuckle karate; 1995 World middleweight champion Shidokan bare knuckle karate (aired on ESPN 2); 1996 World middleweight champion Shidokan bare knuckle karate (aired on PPV); 1996 ISKA Full contact karate kickboxing amateur world champion; 1997 ISKA European super middleweight kickboxing champion; 1997 ISKA European light heavyweight Thai boxing champion and 1997/1998 four successful title defences of both ISKA titles in France, Martinique, St. Maarten and Ireland. He also received an award from the Island Government Tourism Bureau in 2004 for involvement and contribution to sports in St. Maarten and putting St. Maarten on the map internationally through his fights being shown on ESPN worldwide.
London says he is a humble, easy-going person who likes to excel in what he does. He is an engineer by profession after having studied aviation engineering in the Netherlands. He was born in the Netherlands and after graduating from engineering school decided to move to St. Maarten – his father’s place of birth. “By visiting St. Maarten often when I was young, this is where I dreamed of living my adult life. As soon as I finished school, I looked for a job here and came to live here.”
London started his career working as an engineer at Winair in 1991. After nine years, his drive for something different led him to the Fire Department, where he worked as a deputy chief for about seven years. He then worked for Windward Roads for some years and currently works at TelEm as a manager in the technical department.
He began his journey into kickboxing while attending school. London said kickboxing was very popular in Amsterdam/Holland in the 80s. He and some school friends tried out a class one day and he was hooked after that. “It taught me focus and discipline and helped me to release a lot of surplus energy I had at that age. After I started training, my school results as well as my behaviour in school improved a lot.”
In 1983, London joined a club in Bijlmer, Amsterdam, and in 1985, he started competing in Holland at an amateur level and a semi-pro level. This went pretty well and by 1990, he had a record of 13 fights with one loss. During that period, he also started teaching kickboxing at a government sponsored programme to encourage youngsters to do positive things and get them off the block.
Then shortly after moving to St. Maarten in 1991, London ran into Oster Herbert who is a well-known martial artist on the island. “He heard I did kickboxing and encouraged me to start teaching. I started teaching at the tent at Mullet Bay that used to belong to the conference centre in those days. As the class grew, we moved to different locations on the island and many students came and went during those days.”
London explained what he loves about the sport: “What I like about kickboxing is that it trains your complete body. It builds muscles, strength, flexibility and self-confidence, but also respect and humility. The excitement that competition brings also brought me closer to God. The sport helped me to realise I needed spiritual help to achieve my goals and could not do it alone or by depending on people.”
From the time he started competing, the sport became a daily activity; London trained at least six days per week. “Besides training myself, I would teach and train students who were also competing at a lower level. I did it for fun, but I would always be ready to compete. When I won my first Shidokan World title in Chicago in 1993, I really stepped it up and started training like a pro. Besides regular kickboxing training, I would also swim and run. Weight training has never really been something that interested me. During all this training, I always continued to teach students. At a certain point, we had a very large competition team that was notorious in the Caribbean for winning many matches.”
London’s most memorable moment in the sport was winning the European title in kickboxing in St. Maarten. “The whole crowd went crazy during the match and really pushed me to win. My late grandfather who was then in his 80s was also there and I was really glad that I was able to achieve this great title with him there.”
One of his low points was losing the Shidokan world title in 1998. “It was really a low point. That night it seemed that everything was set to ensure I would not win. I had to fight three fights in one night, and the organisation had most of the strong challengers in my pool. During the match, the judges were not scoring anything in my favour while I thought I was landing points. The match was extended three times in one round and in the last round, I slipped and my opponent was able to score with a knee to my head. It was the end of the match and I was not able to even the score. I was really disappointed with that loss.”
London no longer trains as hard and now only teaches and trains three nights a week. “I have some very promising students and when they prepare for competition, I tend to join their daily schedule and will also train five days.” He says St. Maarten has many athletes who train at a very high level and sometimes must work twice as hard as sportsmen from bigger countries who have better facilities and professional coaches.
Asked what the challenges faced by athletes in the country today are, he said, “The biggest challenge for most athletes I think is lack of competition. To compete on a regular basis at a good level, local athletes need to travel to other islands/countries. Due to the high cost, this limits the amount of exposure of our athletes to real competition. Athletes in Europe and the US compete at a very regular frequency, which improves their skill and routine. We do not have that advantage and always have less experience when we compete internationally.”
He thinks this situation can be turned around if more funds are made available and if local facilities are up to par so that teams from abroad can come here to compete and local athletes can travel more often. “This requires a lot of funds for travel and lodging for teams. Most teams in the region face the same issues with regard to the cost of travel and sometimes when events are organised locally, not all countries will be able to come to our island to compete. French islands have special hostels where athletes can stay at a very low price. Curaçao also has a large dorm for football teams that visit at SDK. Building such a facility locally would make it easier to invite teams from abroad. Besides that, funding for local teams to travel to events abroad will also have to be made available through government and private sponsorship.”
His advice to youngsters? “Hard work and dedication beat talent. By being committed and training hard on a regular basis, you can excel in any sport you love. Sport is something that will have a lot of positive side effects; and besides health benefits, it creates teamwork, discipline and lifelong friendships.”
His future goal is to continue teaching and getting his students to reach higher heights than he has reached. “Besides that, keeping young students busy and motivated in doing this sport is also something that I want to continue doing.”
Besides being a kick-boxer, London is a father and a husband. He loves family life and loves spending time with his family.