They were just elementary school punks, tormenting Troy Dorsey for the crime of being little. They couldn’t have known how their harassment might have replotted the boy’s direction in life.
At 5-foot-5, Dorsey never attained the height he wanted, but his quest to defend himself led to a stellar career as a world champion kickboxer and pro boxer, followed by 15 years so far as owner, instructor and role model at Tony Dorsey’s Karate and Fitness Kick-Boxing studio in downtown Mansfield.
At age 51, the Mansfield native is right where he wants to be in his life, sharing his faith, skills and experiences to help build discipline and self-esteem in his young students and healthier living for his adult ones.
On June 7, Dorsey’s achievements in mixed martial arts as a competitor and a teacher will be recognized with his induction into the Masters Hall of Fame, in a ceremony at the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel.
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“It’s always a great honor to be put into a hall of fame,” said Dorsey, who retired from competition in 1998. “I’m humbled and thankful and blessed – and I get to do this for a living, for 34 years.”
The Masters Hall of Fame induction won’t be Dorsey’s first. He also has been inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, the World Karate Union Hall of Fame, the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame and the Martial Arts Digest Hall of Fame. The Digest also named Dorsey its fighter of the year.
Dorsey doesn’t miss an opportunity to give thanks for his success – to his faith, family, friends and trainers. But he might also give a nod to those queasy times on the school playground.
Enter the punks.
“I was small and getting bullied and picked on,” Dorsey recalled. “I wouldn’t fight back, and they knew that. So I continued to get bullied.”
But in the summer of 1974, after suffering through fifth grade, Dorsey signed up for karate lessons. He went into sixth grade prepared like never before.
The bullies showed up, as if on cue. But here the story diverges a bit from the familiar movie premises. He admits he was no Karate Kid; there would be no dramatic crane kick to the head. But he stood his ground.
“I started fighting back – and they moved on to someone else,” Dorsey said. “I’m not saying that I won; it’s just that I fought back.”
But it felt good. Dorsey continued his training in martial arts throughout the remainder of his public school career in Mansfield. As a high school junior, he earned his first-degree black belt in September 1979 and fought his first kickboxing match the next month.
Dorsey graduated from Mansfield High School in 1981, and later that year he teamed with his karate instructor to open a martial arts studio in east Dallas. Dorsey’s brothers Brian and Rodney, both younger, followed him into the sport and also earned black belts and even started their own karate schools.
Meanwhile, Dorsey, wanting to improve his kickboxing by working on his punching skills, joined the Dave Gorman’s Super Pro Gym, the renowned pro-boxing training facility in south Fort Worth. It closed after Gorman’s death, but not before the program turned out a slate of boxing stars, including world champions Donald Curry, Gene Hatcher and Steve Cruz.
Inspired by the gym’s resume, Dorsey segued into boxing.
“Those guys were world champions, and I wanted to be a world champion,” said Dorsey, who also wanted the bigger paydays enjoyed by prizefighters. “As a kickboxer, I was making $300 a match, and those guys were making $300,000.”
He won his first boxing match in April 1985, a second-round technical knockout at Gorman’s Gym. He went on to compile a respectable boxing record of 16 wins, 11 losses and 4 draws.
But his gift was in kickboxing, in which he was nearly untouchable. He retired in 1998, having won 33 of his 35 kickboxing matches. And though five of his boxing losses were by knockout, he was never KO’d in a kickboxing match.
His boxing and kickboxing careers overlapped for a world record moment in 1991, when he became the first fighter ever to concurrently hold world championship titles in karate and boxing.
He also set world records for both the fastest knockout in kickboxing history – nine seconds into the first round – and most punches thrown in a boxing match – 1,527 – a fight he lost on a controversial decision.
He has eight world championship titles – five in kickboxing, two in boxing and one in semi-contact karate.
“No one’s ever been like him,” said Jamie Cashion, a Masters Hall of Fame inductee and executive who was instrumental in getting this year’s ceremony moved to Fort Worth – the first one not held in the Masters’ founding city of Los Angeles. “They say that pound for pound, he’s the best martial arts fighter ever. He had this tenacity, like a machine. He could just take a punch.”
Among his local honors, Dorsey in 1990 was presented the key to the city of Mansfield, which also declared the last week in August that year as Troy Dorsey Week.
Dorsey has lived in Mansfield for all but five years of his life – a stint in Mesquite that ended in 1990. He lives in his hometown now, with his wife, Leslie. They have two daughters, Kendra and Shelly.
Dorsey walked away from his 19-year career in part because of increasing recurrences of deep facial cuts and “because I was 35.” But he welcomed the new chapter in his professional life, which began with the opening of his karate school at 115 N. Main St. in June 1999. He’s watched his enrollment grow to about 325 students, who range in age from 4 ½ to 91.
“This is what I’ve been doing since 1981 – teaching about respect, self-control, discipline and the danger of drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Dorsey speaks from experience, having fallen into excessive drinking and drug use – and pulled himself out.
“I quickly found out there wasn’t going to be anything but hurt and pain involved with doing drugs and alcohol,” he said. “I lost two of my best friends and a family member to alcohol. Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it good for you.”
Several parents, sitting in a viewing area outside a classroom where a dozen children practiced Friday afternoon, said they appreciated Dorsey’s emphasis on students doing well in school and their personal lives. In fact, being a well-disciplined student and child is a prerequisite to testing for a higher-degree belt at Dorsey’s studio.
“They have to do good at school, and do good at home,” he said. “They can’t just be good at karate.”
M.J. Ramirez, a Mansfield Realtor, said his 6-year-old son Jacob’s attitude and focus in his private-school classes improved almost overnight after he signed up for karate.
“After his second lesson, he was named best student of the week,” Ramirez said. By the end of April, he said, “Jacob got best student of the month.”
Stepping out for a break, Joaquin Rodriguez, 7, said he appreciates Dorsey’s life messages. “He doesn’t just teach karate, he teaches about self-respect and having respect for others.”
Joaquin used to get flagged at school for fidgeting at his desk and talking out of turn, said his mother, Brittany Rodriguez. Now he’s a better student, and nearly a model one when scheduled belt tests are approaching.
“Now he knows he has to show discipline at home, and he has to show discipline at school,” said Rodriguez, a criminal justice professor at Tarleton State University. She said both teachers and parents have to sign off on their students’ behavior before each belt test. “If karate is important to them, then they’re not going to be going out on the street and getting in trouble.”
Dorsey has been writing his memoirs for the past year and a half. He hopes the book, his first, will be out in the fall.
He said he has a title for it: “12 Rounds with Troy Dorsey.” The number of chapters in the book is an easy guess.
“The reason I’m doing it really is to encourage people that no matter what they’re going through, they should keep pushing forward, and don’t give up,” he said. “And lean on Jesus Christ, because we all go through hard times. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”