Fighter Profile: An Interview with Zsolt Moradi
Firstly, tell our readers more about what your role is within WAKO these days and what other projects you are involved with…
Zsolt: I have always wanted to give back to the sport, even during my career as a competitor. Now I am happy that my No.1 priority is still around the sport, which formed me to the person and who I am today.
I am currently the Chairman of the WAKO IF Athletes Committee. It means that I lead the Committee, which represents the athletes of Kickboxing all over the world. Briefly, we create and support initiatives regarding athlete development and education Worldwide. We are the link between the centre of our organization, the athletes and WAKO. You can meet the Committee and its work at the Athlete Corner interactive exhibition at every WAKO World Championships. From 2019, I have proudly represented the athletes in the WAKO IF Executive Board of Directors as well.
Finally, I am one of the Ambassadors of Peace and Sport Organization under the patronage of Prince Albert II of Monaco and a member of its famous “Champions for Peace” community, where I support the peace movement through sport as a tool by representing Kickboxing.
From what we understand, retiring from fighting wasn’t a choice you wanted to make at the time but rather one you had to make. Can you explain why you retired and your feelings on the matter now?
Zsolt: Well, actually it was my decision but I believe that I had to make it for my health’s sake. I had an accident on Friday, June 13 2003, where one of my cervical vertebra was shattered. (Since then 13 is my lucky number.) Three days after the accident I had a 12 hour long, lifesaving surgery and then, fortunately, I fully recovered from it in about 6 months. Since then I have lived with a titanium implant in my neck. The next year, in 2004, I won my first junior WAKO world champion title, so this accident made the difference in my life and also in my sports career. In 2017, right after winning my 10th WAKO title in my hometown, Budapest, I had pain in the same place in my neck and therefore went for a medical check-up to investigate the cause. As the result of competing for more than 20 years in combat sports and aggravated by accident and surgery, I was diagnosed with slipped discs, which caused the pain.
I tried to fix the problem with special therapeutic gymnastics for six long and difficult months but unfortunately, it did not bring the expected result at all. After winning the most senior WAKO World Champion titles at the age of 30, I made the decision to not take the risk of another surgery. I simply did not want to take the risk of not being a healthy man for my family and future kids. This was the logical decision then and I still think that it was the best one as well. Health comes first all the time.
I still miss the competitor years and always look for possible sport challenges. Being a retired athlete at the age of 32 is not a lucky life situation, but I try to manage and handle it. However, I will always be a competitor inside.
You had a phenomenal fighting career with so many highs, what were your standout memories?
Zsolt: You will be surprised to hear this but I remember all my defeats more clearly and better than my victories. I learnt the most from my mistakes in my lost fights and it always made me a stronger and better fighter.
I loved my first WAKO World Championships in 2005 in Szeged, Hungary, where I competed as a debutant in the senior national team in front of the Hungarian audience. Breaking the ice and winning my first WAKO World Champion title in 2007 in Coimbra, Portugal is a memorable event for me. Then there is my victory at the WAKO World Championships 2009 competing for the last time in -79 kg, which is a unique one. Most of the big guns competed there in that year and I am quite sure that you know the names as well: Stella Neri, Harald Schmidt, Emanuil Dimitrov and Robbie McMenamy. What a Championships it was! My best one maybe is my last one in Budapest, Hungary, where I broke the record of the number for the most senior WAKO world titles. That was a memorable one for my family and for Hungary as well.
In the US, a really special memory is being the very first European fighter to win the overall Grand Champion title in 2008, especially because I won against the great and young Raymond Daniels in the final. I am also happy to throwback to winning the 2 biggest fighting tournaments' - the Irish Open and the US Open overall Grand Champion titles 3 times, and the list goes on…I cannot choose only one favourite, but it’s been good to remember all of them.
However, the most standout moments for me were the ones I was sharing with my coach, Istvan Kiraly, standing at the top of the podium of all the WAKO World Championships, listening to the Hungarian National Anthem, looking into his eyes and pointing at him. All 10 times I shared these moments with him I appreciated all the nice and difficult times we spent together in order to reach our goals to win. For the short moments like these, I always felt that it was absolutely worth it to sacrifice everything.
Are you still an active part of the Kiraly Team now?
Zsolt: Due to performing in a Sport reality TV show for 2 months at the beginning of this year and with the Covid-19 situation, I had to skip 6 months - the longest time by far without Kickboxing since I was 8 years old - but I have just started back at kickboxing training. Despite being retired from competing, I still train with my teammates as much as I can. I try to do sparring twice a week but I also fully support them especially before/preparing for the big tournaments. I am happy if I can help them.
Photo Credit: Em's Photos UK
How has COVID-19 affected things at WAKO and are the adult European Championships and junior World Championships still taking place this year?
Zsolt: Covid-19 has affected every sport in the World but WAKO IF handles difficult situations professionally. Immediately we started to reschedule and work on possible strategies to keep the coaches and athletes informed and motivated whilst rebooting the competition system as soon as possible.
There is an online campaign for kickboxing/combat sports athletes on social media which can you can find on the hashtag #WAKOchallenge, which was born due to the virus. There is another initiative by Top Ten Germany to teach online seminars from home, lead by famous coaches and athletes. I can tell it is very popular and successful. Fortunately, it shows that the athletes are hanging in there, staying positive and training even during this difficult situation. I am sure they will be ready, when tournaments restart. Our task in WAKO is to provide possibilities for our athletes. I am happy to say that as things stand, both of the Championships are confirmed by WAKO to be held this year:
- WAKO Cadets & Juniors World Championships (All disciplines) - Belgrade, Serbia, from 13th to 22nd November 2020** - WAKO Senior & Master European Championships (All disciplines) - Antalya, Turkey, from 5th to 13th December 2020
**Since Zsolt’s interview the Cadets and Juniors World Championships have unfortunately been cancelled**
Our readers would love to know, who was your hardest ever opponent in your fighting days and why?
Zsolt: Certainly, Ray (Raymond Daniels) is one of them. He inspired me to be better, day to day, through almost my entire career. It was enormously difficult to reach his level.
My teammates, who I could not have been a successful fighter without; Krisztian Jaroszkievicz, Laszlo Gombos, Richard Veres and Tamas Imre.. We fought each other 100% hard on every training session, 5 times a week, for about 18 years. Just imagine the tension on our tatami during our sparring. I loved it!
But my hardest opponent was Robbie (Robbie McMenamy). We fought each other in 4 (!) WAKO World Championship Finals. His unique and successful fighting style made me change my fighting style from time to time to be able to overcome his. He is the main reason I realised that no-one can be the best as a kicker or a blitzer but they need to be as complex a fighter as possible to be the best.
Have you got any advice for the younger readers out there who are aspiring to make history in the same way you did?
Zsolt: Well, the formula is clear: set your goals with your coach, even if they seem scary for the first time, stick to them, whatever it costs. With fair play, hard work, discipline, persistence and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people you can achieve your goals and make sure you never stop learning.
What would you say are the 3 key attributes of a successful fighter?
Zsolt: Discipline, persistence and humility. Simply try to be better today, than you were yesterday. All day, every day.
Finally if you could go back and fight again now, would you or are you content with your new direction?
Zsolt: I am lucky because about 15 years before the end of my sport career - when I had the above mentioned accident - I realized that everything ends one day and ever since that, I live accordingly. I take any commitments only with full responsibility. I do not take anything on if I cannot do it 100%. Answering your question, I feel content now. I always did my best, there is nothing I regret or that I missed during my career. Life is too short to not to do your best, so everybody should feel responsible for how they spend their time in life.
Zsolt moradi