Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

The Beast takes top billing on fight card

Manu Vatuvei is shaping up for a charity boxing match - hopefully against one of the All Blacks. Photo / Doug Sherring
Manu Vatuvei is shaping up for a charity boxing match - hopefully against one of the All Blacks. Photo / Doug Sherring

The beast is finally to be unleashed in the boxing ring.

League winger Manu Vatuvei has got the Warriors to reverse their stance on charity boxing and organisers hope to pit him against a current All Black in the Woodstock Honey Fight for Life.

The 29-year-old has endured a difficult season as part of a struggling Warriors' outfit and was dumped by the Kiwis for the first time in his career - but he is the main drawcard in the boxing ring in mid-December in Auckland.

"Manu has always wanted to achieve in different areas and this is a great challenge," says his agent Peter Brown. "It will test him physically and mentally but is also a great opportunity to finish the year on a high."

His prospective opponent has yet to be finalised, but organisers hope to entice a member of Steve Hansen's squad to face off against the man known as The Beast.

"We are hoping to sign up a current All Black," says event promoter David Higgins.

"That would obviously be a fantastic drawcard and a great match. If that is not possible for whatever reason, then maybe a former Wallaby - someone like [former captain] Rocky Elsom could be enticed over."

Vatuvei was set for the charity event last year but the Warriors refused permission. Coach Brian McClennan was unwilling to take any risks with such a marquee player. Brown and co-promoter Dean Lonergan revisited the idea six weeks ago and cooked up a deal that Warriors' coach Matt Elliott has approved.

"We had always resisted in the past," says Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah, "but it was something that Manu had been keen to do and Matt saw it as something that the whole team could get behind. It's a fantastic opportunity for Manu and something that will give him plenty of direction in fitness. He's obviously keen to prepare well and perform well."

Scurrah believes the risk of injury to one of the most valuable players at Mt Smart is minimal. "There are risks in any form of sport or training," he says. "People have suggested to me that all the wrestling drills in pre-season training are just as likely to cause an injury.

"There was no significant injury to anyone who came through last year's event."

Scurrah and the Warriors have also taken heart from the examples of Isaac Luke and Liam Messam, who both competed in the last year's event.

Messam has had a breakthrough year and is thought to have taken a lot of physical and mental gains from the boxing training into his sport.

Vatuvei began training last week under the eye of former teammate, now boxing trainer Monty Betham.

He will train up to 90 minutes daily, four to five times a week, and that will be factored in by new Warriors trainer Carl Jennings when the club begins their pre-season work next month.

The event is raising funds and awareness of prostate cancer. Vatuvei lost an uncle to the disease.

- Herald on Sunday

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