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Brian McGrath

Brian McGrath poses with the two Japanese title belts he holds in kickboxing.

MISSOULA — He's 32 years old now, so you can't help but wonder why Brian McGrath keeps putting himself in harm's way.

His answer to that question underlines why he is a champion with two prestigious kickboxing belts in his possession.

"To be honest, I don't really feel I have accomplished much," the Missoula native told "I am surrounded by such technical and tough athletes and it is really humbling.

"I just hope to show enough skill, determination and grit to earn the respect of the competitors and fans out here."

"Out here" is way out there if you're going by proximity to McGrath's alma mater, the University of Montana. McGrath has lived in Japan the past four years.

Considering he lost his first three kickboxing matches and busted his jaw in the Land of the Rising Sun, his success since then has been uncanny. In September he won a five-round decision in the World Professional Muay Thai Federation Japan Light Heavyweight championship. Last month he defended his Japan Network Light Heavyweight title with a five-round decision highlighted by a spinning elbow that knocked his opponent down.

In both instances McGrath tasted revenge.

"It is always a challenge to avenge a loss, but to do it when a belt is on the line it is that much more difficult," he offered. "Having a great support network at work, in the gym and at home was key.

"People don't realize it but Japan is one of the top countries in the world for striking martial arts. To be able to compete in Japan and hold two national titles is a dream come true. And my martial art roots in Missoula definitely helped me achieve my goals abroad."

McGrath's title win last month was extra special because his bout was the main event at Korakuen Hall. It is one of Tokyo's biggest attractions and served as a boxing venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of McGrath's success is his humility. Everything the Hellgate alum does boils down to making his parents proud. He says he never would have made it this far without their support and love.

The boxing/kickboxing instructor is also pretty thankful for his supportive friends in Japan. They help fuel him to keep getting better.

"I feel like I'm growing every fight, refining my strengths while acknowledging and working on improving my weaknesses," he offered.

"If you stop trying to improve you will eventually be surpassed."

Definitely good words for all of us to live by, regardless of the endeavor.

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Email Bill Speltz at or follow him on Twitter at @billspeltz.

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