Waipukurau youngster Bronson Saunders is slowly but surely carving a niche in the boxing ring after returning with a title from the amateur national championship in Christchurch last week.
Saunders set the tone at the four-day annual event by becoming the first pugilist to win a crown, when he beat Kalai Proctor, of Taupo, in the cadet 36kg, under-15 division.
"It's pretty exciting," says the 12-year-old Central Hawke's Bay Boxing Club member, who only slipped on a pair of gloves two years ago after following a Waipukurau Primary School mate, Marcus Leach, in a bid to stay fit for club rugby.
Saunders also had beaten K Beauchamp, of Canterbury, on the way to the final on Friday last week.
The icing on the cake for the level-headed boy was meeting double Commonwealth Games gold medallist David Nyika who won the Jameson Belt, which dates back to 1927. It is awarded at each nationals to the most scientific senior male boxer. The 23-year-old Aucklander follows in the steps of retired professional Shane Cameron (2001) as only the second heavyweight to win belt.
"He said congratulations to me and all that," says Saunders, impressed with Nyika's overall demeanour.
The youngster, who kept 14-year-old Proctor in check by piling pressure on him every time he took a step back from a solid hit, won back-to-back golden gloves titles (cadet 36kg) in Taupo this year and (cadet 34kg) last year.
The orthodox fighter, who trains under Sam Fuller and Robbie Elmers, harbours Olympic games dreams but still plays halfback/wing in rugby.
He intends to defend his crown when the nationals are staged in Hawke's Bay next year.
Father Peter Saunders says he's had a good year after he got sick before last year's nationals.
"[David Nyika] is a good role model for him to see because he's a good guy," he says. "Bronson saw him go through his routine in the changing rooms and realised how much more he has to do."
The senior Saunders thanks the CHB community for helping raise funds for his son through firewood sales.
Hutt Valley boxer Ryan Scaife also went back-to-back in the middleweight class with a 4-1 majority victory over Giants Hastings Academy fighter Saili Fiso, fighting under the CHB banner.
"It was a good experience and exciting that I made it to the finals to the fight the best," Fiso says of his Commonwealth Games opponent, who he has sparred with. He picked up tips from Aussie trainer Bodo Andreass.
Shirahn Lee also made the 60kg youth final to come away with a silver medal.
Giants owner/trainer Craig McDougall says it was the first time in two decades a Bay team had travelled together.
It was "absolutely sensational on so many levels", McDougall says, and vital to the development of the future of the sport here.
"The team gelled well and loved the experience together," he says, thanking training partners to the supporters, sponsors and whanau.
"We're very excited about next year as Hawke's Bay are hosting the national championships right here in Hastings," he says.