Hamline’s World Champ: Zack Koppa

Hamline sophomore Zack Koppa talks about his experience with kickboxing.

Sophomore kickboxer Zack Koppa poses with his gold medal from the 2014 WKC World Championships.

Gino Terrell, Sports Editor

Discipline, respect and humility are three things kickboxing World Champion and Hamline sophomore Zack Koppa said he has learned from the sport that has kept him off the streets.

“I want to be the role model,” Koppa said. “That’s kind of what feeds me everyday to do my job.”

Koppa grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, and is currently the Director and Head Instructor of The Edge Martial Arts, a gym in that town. While he is working there he is also preparing for his next major tournament, the WKC (World Karate and Kickboxing Commission) U.S.A. Nationals in Dearborn, Michigan, this June.

At age 13, Koppa joined the martial arts school. He described himself as an aggressive child who was competitive in everything he participated in. While in school, the values of discipline, respect and humility were drilled into him and they went a long way as he applied them to his life. He said it helped prevent him from going down the wrong path.

“Rules are ultimately for the better,” he said.

He also learned the gift of passing on knowledge to others which is what he does now as the kickboxing black belt trains three generations of fighters at The Edge Martial Arts, including two elders in their 70s.

When it comes to being in the ring himself, he has proven to be the best of the best. Since age 16, Koppa has competed in the adult division of kickboxing, which typically ranges from fighters ages 18-34. In the 132 pound weight division, Koppa has fought in WKC tournaments where his fights consists of two two-minute rounds with a one-minute break in between.

In October of 2014, Koppa was a representative of team U.S.A. at the WKC World Championships in Dublin, Ireland. He did not come on the trip alone to Ireland as he was accompanied by his mentor and instructor from The Edge Martial Arts, Nathan Thorn, who also represented team U.S.A.

When it comes to Koppa’s fight for the gold medal, Koppa said he remembers the fight vividly.

“I wanted it to be clear to every spectator,” Koppa said, “[I was] chopping him down like a tree.”

With the crowd behind him chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” Koppa went on to win the gold medal. At the end of the tournament, he and Thorn went on to combine for two gold medals, two silver medals and a bronze medal at the WKC World Championships.

Although Koppa won a gold medal at the national WKC World Championships, his victory was short-lived as he had to compete in a match the following day when he landed back in Minnesota for the Minnesota Diamond Nationals.

At the tournament, he competed in front of his family members but came into his match taking it lightly as he thought the fight would be a piece of cake. As a result, his careless effort led to a decision loss to a fighter he knew he we was better than. Koppa said it was especially tough because he lost a fight in front of his family, which is why he said he was bitter for days afterwards.

“I love winning but I hate losing more than I like winning,” Koppa said.

In retrospect, Koppa said the defeat taught him to avoid being overconfident and he also learned the value of his health. After his fight, he discovered he had torn a ligament in his toe, which he is still recovering from as he is training for his next tournament in June with his Hamline classes in session.

This June, he will compete in the WKC U.S.A. Nationals from June 5-6. Fighters who finish in the top four of the tournament will advance to the WKC World Championships, which will be hosted in Orlando, Florida, in Nov. of 2015.

After having the experience of fighting in the World Championships last fall, Koppa will aim to experience it again. Koppa said hearing the crowd behind him was one of the highlights of his trip in 2014 as well as being given the opportunity to compete with the best of the best WKC World fighters. He said it showed him how far he has come as a kickboxer.

“Hanging out with national competitors at Dublin [and realizing] I’m that good,” he said.