A professional heavyweight boxer has made a surprise last-ditch bid to represent New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics.
Patrick Mailata, a 25-year-old who won bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, turned to the paid ranks immediately afterwards and has fought four times as a professional.
The man who goes by the ring name "Magic" is unbeaten as a professional and was scheduled to fight again this weekend in the United States but the bout was cancelled due to his wish to return to Auckland from his Las Vegas base in order to push his cause for a late qualification for Tokyo - the Games are due to start in July.
Under changes to the Olympic boxing regulations first brought in for the Rio Games four years ago, professionals with a certain number of fights – Mailata's US-based promoter Ivaylo Gotzev believes it is fewer than five but the Herald has been unable to confirm this – can compete at the Games.
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The Herald has asked the New Zealand Olympic Committee for clarification on Mailata's status. A major hurdle will be the fact that the Asia/Pacific qualifying tournament is currently under way in Jordan. In attendance is Leuila Mau'u, New Zealand's No 1-ranked superheavyweight (+91kg).
After the change to the rules – controversial due to the perceived greater power and quality of professionals compared with amateurs which raises issues of safety - three professionals competed in Rio and all three made early exits.
"From what I understand, a boxer who has boxed professionally for a maximum of four fights can go back to the amateurs and compete at the Olympics," Mailata's promoter Gotzev told the Herald. "By the rules and regulations, he qualifies.
"I know for a fact he will defeat the current national champion of New Zealand. No disrespect to the young man, I'm sure he's strong, I'm sure he's able, but Patrick is far superior and in this day and age that's what it takes; you've got to go with the best athlete you've got and Patrick Mailata should be the choice of New Zealand.
"I'm watching him spar every day with guys like [rising professionals] Joe Joyce and Guido Vianello, and he is supreme, he is the man to win the gold at the next Olympics."
Boxing New Zealand's head of high performance Mark Keddell confirmed Mailata's bid.
"I've been approached by Ivalyo about Patrick's eligibility and I'll be emailing the board of Boxing New Zealand for clarification regarding professionals having eligibility to compete, and I'll also be emailing the NZOC for clarification," Keddell said.
David Tua, who like Mailata is a Kiwi-Samoan, was the last New Zealander to win an Olympic boxing medal when he claimed bronze in Barcelona in 1992.
For Gotzev, a gregarious Bulgarian who also promotes countryman Kubrat Pulev, set to fight Anthony Joshua for the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles in London on June 20, the choice is clear; it's Mailata or no chance.
"I'm willing to challenge your national champion – let's put on the fight and see who's the better man to represent New Zealand. Twenty eight years after David Tua, it could be Patrick.
"He's here in Las Vegas, Nevada, the mecca of boxing, for a reason. We believe in Patrick. We believe he's got the goods to represent New Zealand all the way the top, whether that's at the Olympic Games or as a world heavyweight champion.
"I have represented no fewer than seven former champions throughout the years, I know what I'm talking about. I have the current No 1 contender, Kubrat Pulev ... Patrick is on the same team - we're backing Patrick to go all the way to the top."