Christopher Reive looks at the week that was, and the weekend ahead, in combat sports.
First, a message
City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman wants New Zealand sports fans to remember this moment.
The country has had some outstanding achievers in combat sports before, but this era is at a new level.
There are six Kiwi athletes signed to the UFC – the world's biggest mixed martial arts promotion – with four of those ranked in the top 15 of their divisions. Within the next two months, Israel Adesanya will welcome the sixth challenger to his undisputed middleweight championship (July 3), while Kai Kara-France will look to capture the interim flyweight belt (July 31).
In boxing, Joseph Parker has held a heavyweight world title and is in negotiations for another pivotal fight in the division. Hemi Ahio, David Nyika and Junior Fa all fought on the card for the biggest boxing event in Australia last weekend, David Light is a top-15 ranked fighter with two of the four major organisations, and several promising prospects are beginning to make their mark – including Jerome Pampellone, Andrei Mikhailovich and Mea Motu.
"This is a time that should be earmarked and might not be repeated again," Bareman said.
"These are athletes who are representing the whole of New Zealand proudly at the top level. Whether our athletes get to this level again – and all at the same time – I'm not sure if that will ever happen.
"What I really hope people realise is that there's something special happening in the New Zealand sporting fraternity. There's some combat sports athletes that are doing something really magnificent."
Bareman said while his City Kickboxing team have been at the forefront of flying the New Zealand flag on the biggest stages in their sports, gyms around the country are producing plenty of impressive talent. It adds to the importance of local shows, such as King in the Ring – New Zealand's biggest stage for kickboxing – which returns on Saturday night with a middleweight eight-man tournament.
It's shows such as King in the Ring that have introduced the likes of Adesanya to the wider public, and provided the platform from which to launch themselves on.
"Our fighters have shown, in history, that if you win King in the Ring, generally you go on to bigger and better things, which is what makes it so appealing for us to go hard and win the title."
The tournament consists of three rounds, with the finalists competing three times in the night in order to claim the title.
King in the Ring 8-man lineup: Tony Jaggard, Jon Anderson, Oscar Remihana, Charlie Baker, Jorde Cordente, Mike Kapi, Corin Braddick, Zacc Forbes-Smith.
Do gimmicks have their place?
David Nyika's Boba Fett-inspired walkout ahead of his bout at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne last weekend surely divided viewers into two groups: those who enjoy a bit of showmanship, and those who don't.
The 26-year-old is smart when it comes to drawing more eyes to him. He makes himself accessible to the media, is well-spoken and friendly, knows how much potential he has and has the talent to back up his words. So, of course he took advantage of a spot on a massive card with worldwide interest and made himself a talking point by wearing a Boba Fett (A Star Wars bounty hunter played by Temuera Morrison) mask and inspired ring gear.
I'm all for a fighter trying to maximise their opportunity. If you have fans and can bring eyes to an event, you're going to be a desirable commodity to promoters.
During the event at Marvel Stadium, the term 'rabbit punch' came up after Junior Fa's first-round knockout loss to Lucas Browne.
Fa was dropped twice with two heavy shots behind his ear and arguably to the back of his head. In boxing it is illegal to deliberately punch someone on the back of the head as it is extremely dangerous.
For those who aren't familiar with the term, it is known as a 'rabbit punch' because it is likened to the swift process hunters use to kill rabbits with a quick, sharp strike to the back of the head. Blows to the back of the head can cause serious back, head and neck injuries, and can be fatal. Fa luckily did not sustain a serious injury.
Whether or not Browne's blows met the criteria to be categorised as such remains to be seen, with Fa's team appealing the result of the fight over the legality of the blows.
It appears Australian Tim Tszyu is about to get his chance at world champion status, with the WBO ordering undisputed super welterweight (aka junior middleweight) champion Jermell Charlo to defend against the undefeated Australian.
Tszyu has compiled an impressive 21-0 record (15 KO) to earn a top five ranking with three of the four major boxing organisations, though has had limited chances at fellow ranked fighters. His recent wins over Takeshi Inoue and Terrell Gausha gave Tzsyu the opportunity to show why he deserves a world title shot and he did exactly that. With Charlo holding every major belt in the division, it's a fight that makes sense as Tszyu is the most consistently ranked fighter in each organisation.
King in the Ring returns this Saturday featuring a host of the country's top kickboxers both in the middleweight tournament and in the super fights on the card. The event, held at Auckland's Eventfinda Stadium, will be broadcast on TVNZ Duke from 7:30pm.
Offshore, the UFC has a loaded card this weekend featuring two title fights and a rematch of one of the greatest bouts in recent memory (Joanna Jędrzejczyk v Zhang Weili) at UFC 275 in Singapore. The early prelims begin from 10.30am on UFC Fight Pass. The preliminary bouts get underway from 12pm via ESPN, Sky Sport Now and Prime, with the main card available via pay-per-view on Sky Arena, Spark Sport and Sky Sport Now.