Boxing: Elliot to defend code of honour

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In the cacophony of leather smacking into sweaty bodies, one sequence of thuds stands out.

As a smattering of fighters bobs and weaves at the Fierce Fitness Gym in the industrial heart of Onekawa, Napier, the elevated boxing ring perched at the end of the floor catches the eye.

Every time the buzzer goes, those at ground level stop to watch as Hawke's Bay Magpies hooker Hika Elliot trades blows with Toa "Kiki" Leutele.

"Six, two four," coach and Leutele's father, Longden "Rocky" Lolovai, barks below rope level, his eyes flicking furiously from the action to the stop watch. "Good, now three, four, two."

The former All Black nods without looking at his coach, unleashing a flurry of hooks and uppercuts before recoiling into a tight huddle for Leutele's retaliatory jabs.

When Lolovai demands a clinch, the 26-year-old struggles a little.

You somehow get the impression holding isn't part of Elliot's forte but coach Lolovai impresses fighting intelligent is what boxing is all about.

He stops the sparring to brief Elliot on what Shane "The Mountain Warrior" Cameron failed to do against Danny Green recently in the world title fight across the ditch.

A big man, Elliot, his body glistening in a tapestry of tattoos mingled with Maori motifs, almost comes across in the mould of Iron Mike Tyson in his heyday.

During the sparring session, gym owner and former professional fighter Jerry Sergeant quietly acknowledges Elliot has all the raw attributes of a pugilist who could go on to be successful in the big time.

"Look, he moves pretty quick for a big fellah, eh?"

As beads of sweat trickle down his face after a rigorous 15-minute sparring session, Elliot flicks them away to catch his breath before obliging for a photo shoot with some shadow boxing.

The man's a natural, stopping briefly to smile and acknowledge his fellow gym mates before flirting with the camera lens and flash light.

"I'm thoroughly looking forward to it. I've done the hard yards so I'm really good," he says with a grin in the changing room before his undercard fight involving rugby versus rugby league players in the Woodstock Honey Fight For Life against Australian rugby league star Paul Gallen on Saturday night at The Trusts Stadium Arena, in Auckland.

He started working out with Lolovai three months ago, mindful he was expecting a call up to the Maori All Blacks or the All Blacks.

"While I was over in Europe [with the Maori All Blacks] I'd done some skills and a couple of sparring sessions so you saw me tonight and I'm back into the work."

Packing around 115kg, Elliot hopes to trim down to around 112kg at weigh-in time at 11am on Friday against a fighter he hasn't seen much of in boxing terms.

"I know he's a tough customer on the [rugby] league field and loves the biffo so, hopefully, I can stand up to him and show him what the Kiwi boys are capable of."

A Sydney newspaper jounalist didn't shed too much light on Gallen but was keen on picking Elliot's brains.

"They didn't give away too much but asked me about my background and about my martial arts and stuff and how much experience I'd had in the ring with that.

"I think they were trying to get some inside info on where I'm at so they can have some stuff for him," he reveals with a grin.

Elliot likes to think he can give Gallen a good going over, drawing on his speed and strength to put some pressure on him.

A karate black belt, Elliot dabbles in jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and MMA (mixed martial arts).

"My whole family does martial arts and I've been doing it since I was three or four."

While fine-tuning for the Gallen fight, Elliot has his ear on the ground for a cage fight in a similar mould.

"If the opportunity comes my way I'll definitely put my hand up. I hear [fight promoter] Dean Lonergan is trying to organise a cage Fight for Life so I've told him, 'Mate, if you can do that I'll be the first to put my hand up to get into that cage'.

"Martial arts has been a huge part of my family, as a lot of people know, and I started at a very young age."

That background, he feels, gives him a different perspective in the ring and his mental approach to training.

"My hat goes off to a lot of boxers. I know a lot of people rubbish Sonny Bill Williams and his boxing but, mate, he's the New Zealand champion.

"It takes a lot of courage to get into the ring to fight someone so, you know, there it is."

Older brother Steve Elliot is a former world champion in karate, and older sisters Jean and Maria Elliot, were in the top five in the world for their disciplines.

The Chiefs player was never short of advice or sparring partners growing up as a member of the Elliot clan.

"As I said, I think it runs through my blood, fighting, that is." Elliot had no qualms about belonging to a reciprocal arrangement where he had helped younger sister Ata, who gleaned skills while sparring with him in the backyard.

His family's brush with martial arts began when parents Daphne and Lawrence Elliot delved in the ancient Chinese art of tai chi so, progressively, the children watched and developed an affinity with the discipline.

The motivation to fight this Saturday is much closer to his heart than perhaps the public perception of Elliot prancing about like a peacock.

The event highlights prostate cancer as the most commonly registered strain of the fatal disease in New Zealand with 670 men dying each year from it.

Elliot's friend, Jed Collett, a former Hastings Boys' High School mate, died earlier this year from cancer.

"My father was diagnosed with cancer so he's just had surgery to remove it, too, so with further treatment he'll be okay.

"I have a huge passion for men getting their check-ups because, you know, it is a silent killer here in New Zealand.

"I think the statistics is backed by knowing one in three people who have been diagnosed with cancer so in a small country like ours it's a terrible statistics."

His father, an Aucklander, will be at the fight.

"I'm guessing it'll be a pretty emotional experience for him and my family because they know why I'm fighting in this match."

His mother, from Hastings, will be there, too.

Elliot is under no illusion the fight extends beyond the realms of two elite sportsmen because they will be carrying the burden of two rival codes.

"At the end of the day my personal pride is on the line and that's a big thing in terms of 'mano o mano' in the ring.

"It's code versus code and country versus country so it's going to be a pretty huge occasion because a lot of my friends are going to be there.

"A lot of rugby boys are heading to the fight so it's going to be an awesome thing for the spectators as well as us."

Sparring partner Leutele has helped Elliot tremendously in terms of honing his boxing skills at a short notice.

"We're confident we're on track but we have a week to go and she's all on," Elliot says, adding his karate skills make it easier for him to move his big frame relatively easy in the ring.

"That's why I can throw a punch and see it coming."

Coach Lolovai, a former Samoa international amateur and 1986 New Zealand Commonwealth squad member who missed the final cut, is confident Elliot will prevail.

"He's got fitness in rugby but boxing fitness is a little different," says the 52-year-old from Napier who coached son Leutele to a national super heavyweight title which he lost last year.

He'll put Elliot through two more sparring sessions before they jet off at 8am on Friday.

Lolovai said Elliot brought "some sort of skills" so his job as a coach was to weave them into intricate combinations.

"I've had a lot of fights so I know what it takes to win."

Lolovai has trained two champions - his 18-year-old son, Leutele, who has beaten all super heavyweight contenders bar NZ champion David Light, and an Indian boxer, Amrit Singh, who still trains at Fierce Fitness Gym with him.

Singh, he said, upset all the favourites in 65-68kg division two years ago in Rotorua to become the North Island Golden Glove champion.

"He was just an Indian boy who came from nowhere to beat them all."

Unlike other individuals who walk up to the gym to box, Elliot is a breath of fresh air for Lolovai.

"The good thing is he's a professional athlete so he makes my job much easier," says Lolovai who moved down to the Bay from Auckland in 1990 and has been coaching since.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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