Kickboxing: Lydia bowing out
World kickboxing champ hangs up gloves and plans to start family
She has been feted by presidents, pop stars, boxing royalty and a host of Belfast mayors - but now Lydia Braniff, one of the leading female kickboxers in the world, has decided the time has come to hang up her gloves.
The Belfast woman, who is reigning world Atomweight champion, is planning to step away from the ring and start a family.
Her retirement will be immediate and she'll retire as undefeated WKN champ.
Motherhood's gain is very definitely kickboxing's loss. In a six-year ring career, the 31-year-old has won Irish, British, European and the world crowns - and thrown in a few defences for good measure. But more than that she has proved to be an inspiration for women everywhere proving they could become a force in a sport that has previously been the preserve of men.
Her coach, former four-time four weight world champion Billy Murray, is in no doubt of her achievements - and unique legacy - and has paid tribute to the most successful female kickboxer Ireland has ever produced.
" Lydia was one of the top three fighters I've looked after - male or female," he said. "She mixed incredible natural ability with unquenchable drive and a desire to be the very best she could be.
"When she decided she wanted to fight competitively she said the world title was her target. And my goodness, she kept that target right in the forefront of her mind. She moved through national and international titles until she took the world crown in front of her home fans at the Ulster Hall in 2005. Many have come and tried to wrench that from her, but none have succeeded.
" It has been a glittering career and one that has greatly advanced female kickboxing worldwide. She's a wonderful asset who has retained grace in a sport that sometimes isn't known for a lot of grace."
He added: "Lydia has managed to become a champ while holding down a full-time job - she's a post woman in Belfast. She deserves all the plaudits that are going to come her way and the sport will be the poorer without her."
Lydia has fought across the world - from France to Canada, from Norway to Switzerland - and has met opponents from as far a field as Mongolia. Yet no-one could match the pint-sized ring terror. Her incredible tenacity in the ring (and her distinctive tattoo) earned her The Pocket Dragon nickname. And no-one was surer of her ability than ring legend Marvin Hagler. When he watched her compete at the Ulster Hall during one of ProKick's legendary KICKmas events, his reaction was simple and his assessment direct. " Damn," he said afterwards to Murray, "that's a helluva little lady. They make 'em different in Belfast!"
Lydia was also one of the party of ProKick trained fighters who met Irish president Mary McAleese when she paid an historic visit to the gym's East Belfast HQ - and the president repaid the invitation when she welcomed Lydia into the official residence in Dublin for a return visit.
Along the way the dynamic ring queen also turned the head of popular reality TV singer Darius. After meeting Lydia he wondered how someone so delicate and shy out of the ring could turn into a tornado inside.
Lydia's most recent ring challenge saw her chalk up victory against German Thai boxing champion Suyin Gelis in a non-title fight in Belfast. She is sad to be taking her bow but says the time is right.
"When I started kickboxing, it was for fitness rather than any competitive side," she said. "But Billy Murray gave me the confidence and belief to head into the ring. He has helped carry me to Irish, British, European and to world glory and helped me retain the world crown."
"I think the time is right for me to bow out and move to my next quest and that is to start a family. I've just turned 31 so now the time is right for my husband, Mark and I to create our own wee champ.
"I'd like to thank Billy, everyone at the ProKick Gym, all my family who have been so incredibly supportive all along the way and also the fans who have been behind me since the first fight and have never stopped.
"It was been a remarkable time but I want to go at the top and at the moment I'm right at the top."
Her husband Mark may well be thankful for Lydia's retirement. On the eve of Braniff's world title he said he'd do the housework for a year if she were to win.
However, with the prospect of a little addition to the family, it's unlikely he's going to get much time to put his feet up and relax!
- Halloween is coming and while the goose is getting fat, the kids at the Prokick gym are getting slimmer.
The young students at Belfast's ProKick Gym have pulled all the tricks out of the bag and are looking for just one treat - the Brooklands Cup.
The cup is awarded every week to the under 13s in the champion training gym.
This week's winner is 10-year-old purple belt Michael Stone.