To be told you will represent your country on the world stage by a decorated war hero is the dream of most athletes.

This was the reality for Northland pair Mihaka Matene and Mystic Rakete, who were told by 96-year-old Maori battalion member Epineha Ratapu that they were selected to represent New Zealand in a world kickboxing tournament in Thailand in March.

"Being told we were going by one of the Māori battalion was amazing," Kaikohe local Matene said.

"Just being in his presence was really inspiring and seeing all his medals on his wall was really cool to see."


Matene, 24, and Rakete, 22, will attend the International Thailand Martial Arts Games and Festival where they will take part in a five-day Muay Boran training camp as well as training in another discipline, Muay Thai.

Matene and Rakete (right) are ready to take on the world when they travel to Thailand in March. Photo / Supplied
Matene and Rakete (right) are ready to take on the world when they travel to Thailand in March. Photo / Supplied

Both fighters were originally based in Northland but when their coach Emilio Johnson moved his gym, Undisputed MMA, to Masterton, the pair made the decision to move down and follow their passion.

Before the move, Matene was working in a job he didn't enjoy, but meeting Johnson and getting into kickboxing gave him a new motivation.

"I fell in love with sport in about one week so when [Johnson] moved to Masterton, I had to go with him."

Rakete, who was raised in Dargaville, said she didn't know much about the sport until her younger brother introduced her to Johnson's gym.

"I started going for fitness mainly, I didn't even like fighting but then after a while got used to it and started to like it."

When Johnson asked whether Rakete would like to move to Masterton to continue training, she said her mother encouraged her to follow her dream.

"She told me, 'it doesn't matter where you go, home will always be here', so I went."


Matene said the style of fighting kickboxing promoted was one he wanted to show his extended family and set an example of how fighting can be channelled into something good.

"I wanted to show them that there was a more positive way of going about it and earning money doing what you love."

After about three years of kickboxing experience, both fighters remain undefeated in their combined seven fights, Matene with four and Rakete with three. Rakete said the sacrifices she had to make motivated her to keep training and getting better.

"Knowing that I've come so far already and I've wanted this for a while and it's right there so I thought, 'why go slow now, you've already gone so far'."

In going to Thailand to compete, the aim was for the pair to get a professional contract and then return to New Zealand and further their training as well as trying to qualifying for the national MMA team, which was a different discipline to kickboxing.

Johnson said it was a big commitment for the pair to move away from their families and compete internationally, but he believed they had what it took to succeed.

"I knew from the start when these guys came to my gym that they had something a lot of the other athletes don't have.

"They've given up their family life to chase their dreams and for someone to commit like that, it says a lot about these two fighters."

Johnson said he hoped the fighters hearing the news of their national selection from a Maori battalion member would motivate them to do their families and country proud

"The way I see it, Mystic and Mihaka are going to battle as well.

"They are this generation's warriors and I wanted to inspire them by showing them how Ratapu's generation have never been forgotten for their service, even when time has gone by."