Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Boxing: Heavyweight Mason talked up by Fenech

Willie Mason. Photo / William Booth.
Willie Mason. Photo / William Booth.

Former All Black Troy Flavell could have been forgiven for wondering what he had got himself into when attending the final Fight for Life press conference today.

Flavell had just got off a plane from France, where he is based as a professional player for Bayonne, and was rushed to the media call in Auckland to promote Saturday night's Woodstock Honey-sponsored event at the Trust's Arena in Henderson.

There he found Jeff Fenech, a retired three-weight world champion boxer and coach of his opponent, Willie Mason, determined to play the psychological games familiar to many in the professional game. Mason, a former Kangeroos league player now with the Newcastle Knights, wasn't too keen to play along, but there is no doubt the clash between the two biggest fighters on the card has the potential to be an explosive one.

Credit to Flavell too - he coped with the mind games admirably.

Promotor Dean Lonergan got the ball rolling when saying Mason's first request when asked to participate was "for us to pay Jeff Fenech an absolute fortune to train him".

And one of Fenech's first jabs to Flavell was: "People are asking - in boxing if you get knocked out you have to have a month off. Will you have to have a month off [rugby]?"

Flavell didn't flinch in replying: "I'll happily take a month off."

Asked about the match-up between the pair, who are of a similar height and weight - about 1.98m and 120kg, Fenech said: "That's the excitement about heavyweights, if they connect properly there will be a knockout. Hopefully if that happens nobody will be hurt, it's for charity.

"The work that Willie has put in and the improvement that he has shown in the last few weeks, I would honestly say I would let him have a heavyweight fight against a fighter."

Mason added: "That's Jeff [saying that]", before Fenech said: "I'm trying to make him [Flavell] nervous."

Mason's final act was to refuse to take off his shirt for the traditional photo opportunity. "No way," he said. Lonergan wasn't about to argue.

The other protagonist talking a good game was All Blacks hooker Hika Elliot, who has made headlines in Sydney about his determination to floor opponent Paul Gallen, the New South Wales and Cronulla captain.

Elliot, unbeaten in more than 60 karate fights, told The Daily Telegraph: "When I tell people who I am fighting a lot of people say; 'Whoa, he is a bit of a tough nut.' He is. But with my experience in martial arts I am looking for a knockout."

Gallen told the Herald Sun that was the moment the fight got "real" for him.

"Up until that point, for me, it was a charity-based event and I thought we are going to get in there and hit each other but I suppose I looked at it more as a bit of fun and a bit of a project for me to do away from footy," he said.

"But when those comments were made and I saw it ... I wouldn't say it made me angry but it made me realise this bloke is going to get in and he is actually going to try and knock me out."

Match-ups:

Willie Mason v Troy Flavell

Greg Bird v Rene Ranger

Manu Vatuvei v Eric Murray

Paul Gallen v Hika Elliot

Jarrod McCracken v Carlos Spencer

Pro fights:

Lauryn Eagle v Daniella Smith

Joseph Parker v Richard Tutaki

- APNZ

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