By Larry Kelley
The Westerly Sun
PAWCATUCK — Doug Holland spent most of his adult life beating himself up with alcohol and drug abuse.
After meeting a woman who would become his fiancée, the Pawcatuck resident decided to turn his life around four years ago.
The 31-year-old replaced addiction to drugs and alcohol with a passion for Muay Thai kickboxing after his fiancée, Brianna Wallace, a karate second-degree black belt, introduced him to martial arts.
Today, instead of beating up himself, he’s dishing out punishment to opponents in the ring as a promising amateur kickboxer.
He’s 4-1 to date and will face his biggest test Feb. 26 on a prestigious Lion Fight card, which includes two Muay Thai international professional championship bouts, at Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Fox Theater.
“I got a late start in kickboxing, but I said I’d give myself eight to 10 years to make something happen in kickboxing,” Holland said. “I’m four years into it. I’d like to become a United States amateur champion, fight on the international amateur level and become a pro. The fight at Foxwoods will be a defining moment for me.”
Holland encountered numerous defining moments growing up. Most of the moments turned negative because of his poor decisions.
Holland believes to understand where he is now — a well-conditioned 6-foot-2, 240-pound kickboxer who has performed in front of 2,000 fans — others might appreciate the story from wence he came.
He flunked off the Westerly High football team, transferred to Chariho, dropped out of school, and left for West Virginia with his girlfriend. They had a son when Holland was 17.
“I had a couple of good games for Westerly but stopped going to practice,” Holland said. “I didn’t have time to do the athletic thing because I was too busy doing destructive things.”
By age 27, Holland ballooned to 330 pounds thanks to his undisciplined lifestyle.
Soon after he met Brianna, Holland’s life took a 180 degree turn.
“It was the pivotal point in my life,” Holland said. “She convinced me it was OK to leave the past behind me.”
One of the stipulations for Holland to pursue martial arts was to get sober.
“I never thought I had the resources to afford joining a martial arts club,” Holland said. “I quickly found out that if you stop paying for drugs and alcohol you find money to do other things.”
Three years after going sober and tipping the scales at 330 pounds, Holland won an in-house kickboxing tournament at Pride Martial Arts in South Kingstown.
Holland trained to shape up to 240 pounds. Soon he entered local amateur kickboxing tournaments and found immediate success.
“After I trained with my fiance for a while, I attended my first kickboxing card at Westerly Armory,” Holland said. “I loved it and wanted to be part of it.”
After winning the Pride Martial Arts in-school tournament, Holland worked as a cornerman for a fellow member in an amateur fight.
“I went from the honor of being a teammate’s corner to saying ‘I’ve got to get in that ring.’”
Holland sparred once a week, the maximum allowed at Pride, but he crammed more training in by dropping in at other area dojos to spar three to four nights a week.
“I fell in love with it,” Holland said. “Nothing in the world takes you out of every other element than sparing. I’m at peace in the ring. It’s ironic that punching and kicking gives me peace. But when you’re in there, you absorb the moment and everything else goes away.”
Holland watched a Lion Fight card at Foxwoods two years ago.
“I saw a great heavyweight fight and said to my friend, ‘I’d like to fight that guy,’” Holland said. “One day I’m going to be in that ring. Ironically, he (Greg Muldrow) is my opponent next month at Foxwoods.”
Muay Thai kickboxing originated in Thailand. It is a combat sport that uses stand-up striking. It is known as “the art of eight limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.
“I’d say my kicks are the most dangerous weapons I have,” Holland said. “You have to remember I carried 330 pounds on these legs. I’m shaping up my boxing skills and I have a lot of heart. I’ll never give up.”
Holland’s fights are five two-minute rounds. He went the distance in his only loss to Joe Taylor, a WKA world champ and New York Golden Gloves champ who was fighting in front of nearly 2,000 fans in his hometown in Binghmaton, N.Y.
“His legs were pretty much torn apart at the end even though he outpointed me,” Holland said.
Andrew Cornell, a Westerly native who owns Pride Martial Arts and is a ranked amateur kickboxer, is Holland’s cornerman.
“Doug’s biggest strength is is the incredible amount of heart and determination he shows in the ring,” Cornell said. “He simply will not give up.”
Holland’s story inspires Cornell and his fellow Pride teammates.
“His journey has inspired others to make changes in their own life,” Cornell said. “He has proven that it’s never too late to change the direction of your life if you surround yourself with a great team and put in the hard work.”
Holland figures his days are too busy to think about drifting back on his old habits.
He wakens around 5 a.m. to get ready for his production supervisor job at Doncaster’s Precision Casting plant in Groton.
After work, he lifts weight three afternoons, eats and goes to the dojo for training at night. He takes his daughter to karate class two nights a week.
“Sobriety is a decision I make every day,” Holland said. “It’s a work in progress. The addiction will never go away, but I’m reallocating it, replacing it with the gym and training.
“In the past, the only thing I fought was myself with my destructive lifestyle. For the first time recently, I feel comfortable in my own skin.”
Doug Holland works out at Pride Martial Arts in South Kingstown. Holland has lost 90 pounds since taking up martial arts.
Grace White/The Westerly Sun