A footballing fighter, or fighting footballer – whatever you want to call him – Darius Palma is an unquestionably unique kind of athlete.
The combat sports ring and football field are two decidedly different arenas, but Darius hops between the two with remarkable ease, wearing both his Northern Spirit and Altrincham FC colours with pride.
“A lot of people consider footy and Thai Boxing to be a bit of a weird combination,” Darius tells us, his soft Sale accent punctuated by an equally soft chuckle.
“I suppose it is really. But I absolutely love it.”
Peculiar combination or not, it’s clear to see Darius has benefitted from his crossbreed training program, adopting a fight style that’s somewhat influenced by football technique. A two-footed athlete, Darius utilises head kicks wherever possible and draws on a surplus of stamina to keep up the pace.
He’s participated in both sports almost all his life, taking his first training session at Northern Spirit at the age of five, and signing his first football contract at the age eight.
“I signed for the Manchester United academy when I was a kid, but I was released four years later,” Darius informs us.
“I went to FC United for a bit after that, but the travelling took its toll. It was taking me two hours to get there every day on public transport. I became unsettled and decided it wasn’t for me. Altrincham FC rang me up pretty much straight away asking if I wanted to come in for a trial.
“As for Muay Thai, I’ve been at Northern Spirit on and off for fifteen years now. They’ve been brilliant with me and I’ve improved a lot in the past year. When Tanko expressed an interest in signing me, Panicos (Yusuf) passed on the message that he was really impressed my performance at Tanko Muay Thai League. I was buzzing. I can’t wait to represent such a legend.”
Whilst juggling Muay Thai and football, Darius also studies B-Tech Sport at Altrincham College and goes running every day – rain, wind or shine. He’s a busy boy, and whilst many in his position might feel the need to wind down with a few drinks, Darius is much more content to sit back and relax than sip on spirits until the early hours.
“I’m not into the party scene really,” Darius admits.
“I like being in control of myself, I guess that comes from playing so much sport. When I do go out now and again, I’ll usually be the designated driver.
“I spend a lot of time with my best mate Kyle, who gives me loads of support. Whenever I have a fight coming up, he comes round my house and gets on the pads or goes for a run with me. He’s started training now too and I’ll be there to help him too.
“We keep each other going.”
Having a comrade like that can make all the difference during preparation for battle. Whilst Darius can count on his best bud and training partners for support whenever he needs it, he also has a number of idols he looks up to when he needs added inspiration.
“Cody (Ditchev) is definitely one of my favourite fighters,” Darius enthuses.
“His technique is crazy, nobody can touch him!
“I also love Fabio Pinca. The guy went to Thailand for Rajadamnern Stadium title and just made it look easy. Who just pops over to Thailand and wins a title? It’s crazy.”
Much like his Muay Thai heroes, Darius has aspirations to compete at the highest levels. He knows it will take time, but he isn’t afraid to put in the effort and is happy to compete against anyone Lisa decides to match him with.
“I’ll get in the ring with anyone – whoever comes forward,” Darius declares.
“This is a big year for me and I’m going to work harder than ever to be the best I can be.”
We believe him. This kid is alive and kicking, and a big future lies ahead.