Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Rhyme's all the Rage in the ring

One of the country's youngest mixed martial arts athletes is heading to the world MuayThai champs in Thailand - a competition he hopes will one day lead him to greatness.

Rhyme "The Rage" Loto will be among a group of young Kiwi fighters competing in next month's 2016 Youth World MuayThai Championships in Bangkok.

The 11-year-old Orewa College student has been involved in mixed martial arts, Thai boxing, kung fu and jiu jitsu since he was 5.

He has more than 30 amateur fights under his belt and is the reigning world silver medallist in the 42kg 10- to 11-year-old male category. He hopes for gold this year.

He is quick to name some of the world's top fighters as his role models: Ultimate Fighting Championship star Mark Hunt and pro heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker. Before them, however, were the fighters he saw on TV.

"I used to watch kung fu movies ... all the time. Maybe I decided I wanted to be like that, then. I had lots of role models in the movies."

Despite being involved in combat sport, Rhyme said he had learned valuable lessons he applied to his life outside the ring.

"I've never had a fight at school before. It's taught me more discipline. If I didn't do kickboxing, I'd probably be in another place.

"But I'm not that type of person - you don't go out looking for fights. I'm into stopping them," he smiles.

The Youth World MuayThai Champs is hosted by the Amateur MuayThai Association of Thailand and is considered the Olympics of MuayThai, being the highest level of competition for amateur youth athletes from around the world. Age categories go from 10 to 17.

Trainer Ermehn Lealaiauloto, who is also Rhyme's father, trains his son and other students out of his gym, Hibiscus Coast Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness.

Being Rhyme's coach was the easy part. But being dad was sometimes difficult.

"Putting your son in the ring and seeing another kid fighting him, you're sort of like: 'Ooh'. It touches a few heart strings seeing your son being hit around.

"But I trust him enough and have given him enough knowledge and training for him to be able to defend himself. So as long as he can slip and dodge the moves and give some of his own moves, then I'm quite happy."

Lealaiauloto said the goal was always to improve - not just in the ring, but outside of it as well.

"Maybe one day ... he might end up in the Commonwealth or the Olympics fighting for a medal for New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

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