Tyrone Spong hated that he couldn’t be present to receive the greatest award bestowed upon a Suriname athlete, but also couldn’t have been more honored by whom accepted the honor on his behalf.

The legendary former kickboxing champion and current unbeaten heavyweight boxer was bestowed with the Kankantrie Lifetime Achievement Award, in honor of his contributions to the Suriname community both in and out of the ring. The award was presented earlier this month, while Spong was out of the country helping England’s Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21KOs) prepare for his December 7 heavyweight title fight rematch versus Andy Ruiz (33-1, 22KOs).

In his place to accept the honor was the soul he considers the real MVP, his wife Valerie Spong.

“A strong man is nothing without a strong woman and my beautiful wife Valerie has always been my rock,” Spong (14-0, 13KOs) told BoxinScene.com, shortly after returning to his Miami home after spending the past month in England with Joshua. “She has always been there for me then and through my most difficult and challenging moments.”

Spong has long been hailed as most decorated fighter in Suriname history, a journey which began 20 years ago when he first took up kickboxing as a 14 year old in his native homeland. By age 15, he became the Dutch national champion and turned pro three years later.

Within his first year as a kickboxer came his first world championship, which would lead to numerous Fighter of the Year honors and the distinction as the sport’s top-rated athlete by RingSports Magazine. He was also recently recognized as among the Top 10 greatest kickboxers of all time, amassing a 74-7-1 record along with a brief stint in mixed martial arts (MMA) before setting his sights on the pro boxing world.

“I’m one of the few successful kickboxers to successfully make the transition to boxing,” notes Spong, who remains an unbeaten rising contender.

Combat sports helped Spong rise to fame, but with such prominence handled with dignity and class. Having to fight—figuratively and literally—for what he wanted as a child, the now 34-year old boxer has never abandoned his roots. Through his celebrity status have come his charitable contributions to Hoop voor Kinderen—a Suriname organization dedicated to servicing children in need—along with groups who support children with HIV and children with disabilities.

His philanthropic efforts have extended to orphanages and tending to the homeless, arranging food and holiday gift drives. Children from local orphanages are treated to a day trip to the zoo where they can forget the world for a day and just be kids. 

Spong also made history in bringing the first-ever professional boxing event in his native country, headlining a show last December which came complete with sponsoring 25 children from a local orphanage to attend the show.

It’s perhaps fitting that an award in his honor came at a time when he was away helping another boxer for the next step in his own professional journey. More so, the award’s meaning—Kankantrie is known in Suriname as a sacred tropical tree—perfectly describing the guiding force in his life.

“My wife Valerie accepting the award for me meant everything, because she means everything to me,” notes Spong. “She and our four kids are my strength and inspiration.”

The unbeaten heavyweight last fought in September, scoring a 2nd round knockout of Jayson Minda in Merida, Mexico. A ring return is planned for the early part of 2020. 

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox