Patrick Mailata has the option of returning home to Auckland to wait out the coronavirus pandemic rather than staying in Las Vegas, a city which may be about to be controversially re-opened, but he has elected to stay in order to continue his progression as a rising heavyweight boxer.
The 125kg and 1.98m Kiwi, who turned professional in the middle of last year and now has a 4-0 record, is committed to pursuing his dream despite being a long way from home in the midst of a global crisis.
Mailata told the Herald this period of his life would build character and make him the fighter he wants to become.
He lives in a flat with stablemate Robin Safar, a 27-year-old undefeated Swedish cruiserweight, with whom he has become good friends. Over the past six weeks while the Las Vegas gyms have remained closed, the pair have pushed each other in training under the increasingly hot desert sun. Their daily schedule involves training and recovery and little else.
"Rob and I are in the same boat – we're foreigners who have come here to Vegas to chase a dream," Mailata told the Herald. "We're bouncing off each other and hope to meet our goals one day – to become world champions."
The bright lights of the Vegas Strip are still on but the hotels and casinos are shut. That will change if mayor Carolyn Goodman gets her way. Goodman wants Sin City to get back to operating as normal as soon as possible – physical distancing be damned – an attitude likely to increase the danger to all her constituents, but Mailata is taking a philosophical stance.
"Obviously it's very hard," he said. "You're in a foreign country. Everything is different. But you've got to do your best to mould yourself into what's going on and understand your surroundings. For me it's about understanding why I'm here and why I've chosen to stay during this Covid-19 thing and keep going.
"All the gyms have closed down. For the past six or seven weeks we've just been training at a park and Vegas is coming into summer. It got up to something like 89 degrees yesterday [30C] and you can really feel the heat. When you're in those moments training, it reminds me of why I really want to make this work.
"I feel moments like this really make a man. That's the part I'm excited about – it's how I'm going to come out of this. For me it's enjoyable. I love challenges, I think it makes me a better person.
"We talked about me coming home but I looked at it this way: me coming home and sitting there like everyone else - what am I achieving? I'm not moving. This way I'm still quarantined but I'm still training and I still have my boxing mates here who have the same mindset. That's exactly where I want to be.
"I don't do so well being at home – I really need to take myself away from that environment. I understand what I'm sacrificing but the return makes me understand the value of what I'm chasing."
Mailata's slim hopes of attending the Olympics were dashed by Covid-19 – boxers with fewer than five professional fights can now compete - and while he left it too late to represent New Zealand, he may have instead gone on behalf of Samoa, the country of his birth.
"I've always wanted to go to the Olympics but the reason why I turned professional was that I had no funds and I had to look at my timeframe – how old I'd be if I had to keep waiting.
"I called [promoter] Ivaylo [Gotzev] and told him that was something I wanted to do. I had funds, I'm here in Vegas, I'm training with some of the top guys in the world… all I wanted to do is claim a medal for my country."
That dream appears over, but sparring with such heavyweights as Kubrat Pulev and Joe Joyce gives Mailata confidence that another is still very much alive.
He said there was a possibility he could fight behind closed doors somewhere in the United States in June, but was also interested in appearing on the undercard of a Joseph Parker v Junior Fa fight in Auckland this year should circumstances allow.
"Any opportunity to come home and be part of a great event – I'd love that," he said. "It's good for New Zealand to know they have great fighters and that the country is on the rise as far as boxing goes – and not only boxing, MMA in the UFC too. It's good for our people to really get behind all of their fighters and realise we can do more than just play rugby and netball, that we have warrior blood in us and that we are good at throwing our hands and sometimes our feet."
Mailata looked up to Parker as an amateur, and while Parker, Fa and the undefeated fellow Kiwi Hemi Ahio are all ranked above him as heavyweights he would have no hesitation stepping into the ring with them.
"Any opportunity I'd get to fight them I'd take it. No disrespect to them or their teams… but I'd never shy away from that. Joseph, Junior, Hemi and I are all at different stages of our careers. I'm at the beginning - those guys are looking at the next phase of their campaigns.
"It's just a matter of time. I'm working, I'm patient, I'm waiting, and soon enough the world will know about Patrick Mailata."