By Mike Angove
While the focus is naturally on the globally significant heavyweight clash between Junior Fa and Joseph Parker on February 27, there is a treasure trove of talent on the undercard and I'm not just talking double Commonwealth Games gold medallist David Nyika.
New Zealand combat sports is in a phase where we have a richness in talent we haven't experienced in quite some time. High performance on the international stage from the likes of Parker, Nyika and Israel Adesanya has offered our immensely talented gene pool a glimpse of what could be a viable career beyond rugby, racing and beer. Nowhere is this better reflected than on the all Kiwi undercard which is stacked with international class. While Nyika is already a household name, the likes of Hemi Ahio, Jerome Pampellone, Panuve Helu and Lani Daniels could very well be joining him after the Duco showcase.
Clearly Nyika is the standout, the double gold medallist is audaciously talented and possesses world-class experience at just 25. The upside is he still has much to learn, despite his accolades, and is far from the complete package in professional terms.
Nyika still needs to set his feet and sit down on his shots to put more venom in his attack, he was often on the wrong end of close decisions as an amateur against world-class opponents who applied frenetic pressure in the third round of the short duration fights to out-hustle him.
This will be much harder to do over longer duration of the pro game, which should favour his conditioning and ability to make people miss - provided he can develop the ability to punish them with more authority.
His bout against the rugged Jesse Maio will be a showcase of his talent, Maio can punch and is fit but is unlikely to be able to lay a glove on Nyika, who has just come out of camp with Parker and will be on top of his game.
The second undefeated City Kickboxing heavyweight on the card, Ahio, is ranked third behind Parker and Fa in New Zealand and number 50 in the word by Boxrec.
He is spectacularly talented with brutal power and ridiculous speed. He's small for a modern heavyweight but like Mike Tyson, can destroy with either hand and is very strong.
He was picked out of the street by his father and carted to the boxing gym of legendary trainer Lollo Heimuli eight years ago to keep him out of trouble. With no amateur background he was thrown straight into sparring with a prime Mark Hunt who said at the time, "that kid can whack".
Now 16-0 with 11 KO's Ahio has signed with Lou Dibella and is just coming out of camp with Fa.
The six-foot Ahio will have to overcome the spoiling game of the vastly experienced seven-foot Julius Long who though eminently beatable, knows how to play possum and can whack with his right hand. Like Nyika, Ahio is one to watch, don't blink in this fight.
Another immensely talented prospect coming out of City Kickboxing, Helu is perhaps NZ's most naturally gifted boxer alongside Nyika.
His career stats are deceptive with 12 wins, two losses and a draw. He's been plagued by poor conditioning and a poor match-making early in his career.
As a 19-year-old he was overmatched and beaten by a very seasoned puncher in Jordan Tai after dominating the fight early (Tai had almost 100 kickboxing and boxing bouts) and his loss against Patrick Fergusson was criminal - after dropping the Canadian on multiple occasions he simply ran out of steam.
Now 25, he hits as hard as Ahio and moves like hall of famer James Toney. A natural light heavyweight who could make super middleweight, he has fought at heavyweight and cruiserweight far too often, but now based as CKB, and on a strict conditioning programme, the weight is coming off and his cardiovascular system has improved markedly.
His conditioning will need to be good against the seasoned Nick Charalampous, who is of a similar ilk; naturally a super middleweight who's fought as high as heavyweight. Nick the Greek has only lost three of 22 pro fights, all against Australians at cruiserweight. He is not a power puncher but extremely slick and durable. His defensive savvy was on display in going the distance against world number 14 cruiserweight Jai Opetaia in 2019. This has fight of the night written all over it, and with both fighters defensively adept will be fascinating dance. If Helu is able to cut down Charalampous that will be a turning point in his career.
The unheralded Pampellone quite simply should be on the tip of all Kiwi boxing fans tongues. The raw-boned light heavyweight is measured, powerful and has a style suited to the pros. What's more impressive is that he is only six years into his boxing apprenticeship. Having started as an 18-year-old he's already the best performed Kiwi at the World Boxing Championships, having won three consecutive bouts in Ekaterinburg in 2019. He also took a peak Nyika to a split decision late last year. Coming off a punishing stoppage of Mandela Ale just two weeks ago, expect a powerful performance against Antz Amouta at Spark Arena.
The sole women's fight on the card features the extremely talented two-time New Zealand champion Lani Daniels. Daniels, 32, is the poster child for taking tough fights to get experience. The sublimely skilled super middleweight has only had two losses, both to recently retired light heavyweight world champion Giovanna Peres, and is once again fighting up weight in a heavyweight clash with Alrie Meleisea. This will be a classic fight of boxer versus puncher. Daniels is hard to tag and a sharp counter-puncher while pugnacious Meleisea carries the heavier hands.
As a boxing fan who likes to see a great mix of KO's and slick boxing skill, I can only suggest people ensure they tune in early on February 27th because the undercard is every bit as good as the main event.