He was beaten up, bruised and busted open long before he ever climbed through the ropes for his amateur boxing debut. But, after 14 weeks of blood, sweat and discreet vomiting, Christopher 'Wait For It' Reive was ready to strap on the gloves for 6 minutes that would change his life...and hopefully help save another.
There's nothing quite like the thrill of hearing your name announced before you make your way to the boxing ring.
Standing backstage going through final preparations, the music starts up and the call is made: "From the red team, Christopher 'Wait For It' Reive" rings out from the speakers above the opening notes of Linkin Park's Faint.
Your heart tries to beat out of your chest.
Stepping out from the curtain, everything goes numb. Sounds fail to register as I make my way to the ring for three two-minute rounds in front of about 1000 people at the I.T. Heavy Hitters charity fight night.
The referee calls my opponent and I to the centre of the ring to give us our spiel and give us the opportunity to touch gloves.
"Have fun, bro," I say through my mouth guard.
We head back to our corners and I take the moment to compose myself. Then the bell sounds, and that goes out the window.
Hearing the sound of the ring bell at the start of your fight is an experience in itself. There's a definite spike in adrenaline as you brace for the next 10 minutes of your life being spent throwing hands.
My approach is fairly straightforward: I have a height and reach advantage, so it's all about the jab. We ease into the bout for about a minute before my opponent closes the gap and tries to fire off some combinations. We both fire away at will.
He catches me with a good, strong uppercut on my chin, landing it underneath my attempted right-hand cross.
My legs wobble and everything goes white.
In 2018, 668 people took their own lives in New Zealand.
Volunteer firefighter Calum Twist shares the figure with about 100 hopeful boxers gathered at Ellerslie's Combat Academy as the nerves shown in their expressions make way for shock.
That's just the official number, Twist says before telling two harrowing tales of attending the scenes of suicides – one of the cases being that of a 12-year-old girl. His voice cracks as he recalls the details and the assembly hangs uncomfortably on his words.
Twist is one of the organisers of the event, raising funds to support Mike King's Key to Life Charitable Trust in spreading their message of hope around the country.
The people he addresses have signed up for a 14-week training programme in Auckland, after which 36 of them will step in the ring. All the while they're doing what they can to help raise funds for the Trust through fundraising online, seeking donations of items to be auctioned off or trying to sell tickets. A Wellington fight night is also held.
Under the watchful eye of coaches and UFC stars Dan Hooker and Shane Young, the hopefuls step onto the mats to show their levels of ability and fitness before being divided into teams. There are people from all walks of life signed up - builders, painters, IT professionals, and members of the media just to name a few.
Before getting underway, the hopeful fighters are told of the safety measures in place should they get a fight. To step in the ring, everyone must wear headgear and a mouth guard, men must wear a groin guard and women a chest protector. All fighters must be blood tested for Hepatitis A, B, C and HIV. Opponents must be within 5kg of one another. Any fighter over 40 years old must be medically cleared by his or her doctor.
It's an important aspect of the event, particularly with charity boxing bouts coming under fire in recent times following the death of 37-year-old Kain Parsons, who sustained a brain injury during a charity fight in Christchurch in November. At that particular event, head protection was not a compulsory piece of equipment and Parsons did not wear headgear.
After discussing the safety element of the journey, Twist puts The Police's 'Roxanne' on.
"Who knows how to do a burpee?" he asks. Someone drops to the mat before pushing himself up and jumping.
"Now, every time you hear the word Roxanne, that's one burpee."
It's only the warm-up, but 3min12sec and 27 burpees later, breathing is heavy, sweat is flowing and some of the fighters mutter about how they never want to hear the song again.
The assembly splits in two. One group heads to the heavy bags where they rotate between going all out for 30 seconds punching and working on the assault bikes – exercycles that work your arms and legs. The intensity of the combination quickly takes its toll on the group, as many duck outside for air or sneak off for water. In the foyer, a line for the bathroom grows as the faint sound of vomiting creeps out through the door.
The other group is put through some footwork exercises, learning the basic steps they'll need in the ring. After about 30 minutes, the two groups switch; the combination of the heavy bag and assault bike strikes again.
After completing both drills, the assembly sits on the mats to hear whether they'll train with Hooker's red team at his Combat Academy on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, or Young's blue team at City Kickboxing in the mornings.
"Christopher Reive," Hooker eventually calls out before handing over a red wristband.
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
The opening weeks of training are about one thing – muscle memory. If you haven't done any form of boxing before, it can come as a shock to the system. Throwing jabs for the best part of an hour, the team's stamina is tested from the get-go. Before the session is over, Hooker runs us through some cool-down drills, which include having to hold your arms out wide and rotate them, with squats thrown in for good measure.
For those who can't keep their arms up, holding a plank is the punishment. Unfamiliar with the workload, my left arm falls quickly back to my side. I struggle through a plank.
Things are kept relatively similar through the opening couple of weeks and after a fortnight there's a noticeable improvement.
Getting the basics under our belt, it's not long before we square off for jab-only sparring.
Something completely new to me, I get through my first matchup unscathed. The next gives me a bleeding nose. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first in the team to be busted open in training. It's an abrupt welcome to the world of combat sports.
Within a few weeks, we also replace our cool down routine with body sparring – where we attempt to get through our opponent's guard and punch their stomach, sternum or sides. I go home with thick, dark bruises lining my hips, garnering concerned looks from my wife.
"I'm fine," I assure her.
There's something strangely enjoyable about being humbled in a sparring session, and it becomes a part of the process I look forward to ahead of each training session. Sparring is the best way to track your progress both offensively and defensively, as well as your stamina and fitness levels.
Cardio becomes a big part of our training, and our Monday session becomes a designated fitness assault with kickboxer Rod McSwain. He takes us through a wide variety of drills to get us prepared for how demanding our fights will be; from working on the punching bags and assault bikes, to pad work and body weight exercises. As was the case at team selections, the first session with Rod has me sneaking out between reps to gather myself. Hooker is there observing the class, and as I walk past him back onto the mats he quotes the famous Ivan Drogo line from Rocky IV: "If he dies, he dies."
Something about that sticks with me, and I keep it in mind as a sort of motivator; a reminder to give everything I have when each session begins. Some days it's easier than others though. Everyone has good days and bad days. On the latter, it can be hard to front for an hour of being beaten up, and it's those days that you can end up simply putting up your guard and becoming a punching bag. It's a part of the process where the team element comes to the fore and serves as a reminder for why we signed up for this journey in the first place.
Around the halfway point in our training, we step up from jab-only to full sparring with bout announcements imminent. It's not quite so much of a shock to the system after having done a little bit of contact work already in training, but I quickly learn taking a straight right hand to the chin isn't the most comfortable situation to find yourself in.
There's a buzz around the gym six weeks out from fight night, with bouts to be revealed the following week. It's a week of training I miss due to traveling to Atlanta to cover Israel Adesanya's interim UFC middleweight title bout.
I make sure I'm awake to watch the live bout announcements, despite them being made in the early hours of the Atlanta morning.
Mike King reads the list of names.
"Chris Reive, you're fighting Ashton Ball."
I officially land a spot on the 20-fight card, and my anxiety kicks into double time.
Okay, so this is actually going to happen; I'm actually going to get in the ring and fight a guy.
Returning to training after spending a week in Atlanta, there's a noticeable decline in numbers. With only about half of the people signed up actually getting fights, some of those who missed out take a step back in their approach to training.
Those of us who will be stepping into the ring take things up a gear in our preparations. Sparring gets more physical and more focused, and the cardio sessions get more intense.
Over the course of the first 10 weeks of the journey, one thing has become clear – you are much less likely to get seriously hurt if you know what you're doing; funny how that works. Having good form on your punches makes a massive difference in terms of power and covering your chin to protect against a counter strike, while a strong defensive wall allows you to absorb punches with little damage.
With fight night fast approaching, I learn as little as possible about my opponent. The event has an app with a little bit of information about each fighter so I do some quick scouting on there and find I have a height advantage of about 18cm. Being 192cm, having a height advantage doesn't surprise me all that much, but given the weight limitations on fights, it makes me wonder if the 5kg max gap will be an issue.
Just over a week out from weigh-in, I decide to take the safe route and ask one of the organisers for an update. I weigh 90kg; Ashton weighs 83kg.
I have 10 days to drop three kilograms to be sure my fight stands.
Part of the reason I signed up for the event was to get a better understanding of combat sports, so of course, I was going to have to cut weight at some point. Might as well get the whole experience, right? It's one thing I have no idea about, but luckily plenty of people around me are willing and able to help.
Initially, I begin intermittent fasting – only allowing myself to eat within an eight-hour period before fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day. With weigh-ins on the Friday, I begin water loading on the Sunday beforehand; drinking 5L a day over three days, before dropping back to 3L on Thursday.
Dramatically upping my water intake, it's no surprise that I'm a much more frequent visitor to the bathroom. It did a job though and I dropped 2kg by the Thursday.
To be safe, I hit the sauna on Thursday afternoon. Several 10-15 minute stints in the hot box later, I leave the sauna feeling surprisingly good and confident of making weight based on the amount of sweat I watched drip from my hair onto the floor.
I meet my opponent for the first time as we face off before jumping on the scales. While some of the face-offs get intense with fighters right in each other's faces, we simply shake hands.
"Hey bro. Nice to meet you," I say before staring a hole through him for the sake of the camera.
We walk to the scales, and Ashton jumps on first. He clocks in a shade over 83kg.
To this point, I've been more nervous about making weight than actually getting in the ring. With family coming from Taranaki to watch me fight, it would be brutal to have the bout pulled the night before.
I step on the scales and the numbers flash before me. My nerves show in the fluctuating digits; I'm shaking, and it's affecting what number I turn in.
I look down. A little over 87kg.
Tomorrow we fight.
After 14 weeks of training, I feel ready to step between the ropes. I've been beaten up in training; bruised and busted open. I've put the work in to make sure my cardio levels are good enough to last the three two-minute rounds.
We arrive at the Barfoot and Thompson Stadium in Kohimarama about two hours before the first bout – a requirement for all fighters as we have to be briefed by organisers as well as referees. We mill around chatting about the night to come and the journey to get to this point. The blue team changed coaches during their training, with Brad Riddell taking over from Young.
Since the bouts were announced, two have been scratched from the card. I am the ninth fight of the night.
While the nerves were coursing through my being the night before, there are no such troubles ahead of my bout. I'm surprisingly relaxed; there are no expectations on me once I step between the ropes, I know I've been taught well enough to hold my own.
Once the fights start, it all moves quickly. Five bouts before your own, you must be getting changed into your gear. Three fights before, you have to be warming up. When the fight before yours starts, you have to be ready to wait near the entrance way in case it ends early.
I get some late pointers from Said Salem, one of the Combat Academy coaching team, as we stand in the wings waiting.
A smoke machine starts up near our feet.
King's words echo through the microphone as the opening notes of Linkin Park's 'Faint' blare through the speakers. It's not until I get to the ring and into my corner that I realise, despite considering about 50 songs before deciding on my walkout music, I did not register what song was playing once I stepped out from the backstage area.
We ease into the bout for about a minute before Ashton closes the gap and tries to hit me with some combinations. We both fire away at will.
He catches me with a good, strong uppercut on my chin, landing it underneath my attempted right-hand cross.
It's a scare, but I regather quickly and swing my way off the ropes.
The bell sounds to end the round.
"Thank f*** for that," I say to coach Hooker. "He almost put me out there."
He responds with something along the lines of "don't worry about that now. He didn't," before telling me to continue working the jab, to stop exchanging when he gets inside and trust my wall.
After the one-minute break, the bell sounds again and we get back into it.
It's surprising how easy it is to drown out the crowd, who are widespread between tables on the ground level and in terraces upstairs. None of the noise they make registers as I go back to working my jab. I throw more feints than actual punches, trying to pick my spots, which does me no favours with the scorers. Compared to the first round, the second is more of a chess match. Ashton comes at me with a few more combinations, tagging around my waist a couple of times before the end of the round.
"You wanted a fight, you got yourself a fight," Hooker says ahead of the final round, before telling me to try leading with my right hand instead of my jab, which clearly isn't working.
The bell sounds for the penultimate time, and the referee calls us into the centre to touch gloves once more. We do so and head back to our corners to begin the final round.
I oblige my coach's instructions and look for opportunities to land my right hand – starting with a power shot to open the round which doesn't find the mark, though I find a bit more success in the final two minutes.
With 10 seconds remaining in the fight, we're spent. We get the signal and stand there for a moment looking at each other - we both know Ashton's won the fight - before firing one more shot each.
The final bell sounds. It brings with it a great sense of achievement.
I feel pretty good about the third round, but know there's no chance I won that fight. The judges feel the same, as Ashton has his hand raised with a unanimous decision win.
After 14 weeks of preparation, the journey is over. Back in the fighters' room, Ashton and I thank each other for the bout over a donut before heading out to catch up with our families and supporters to watch the rest of the night. The blue team takes the overall victory 12-6, but it's an announcement a week later that makes the whole process worthwhile.
After all, this is a charity event and the main goal is to help raise funds for the cause. Through fundraising, sourcing donated items to be auctioned off on the night and selling tickets to the fights, $122,398.20 was raised by the Auckland and Wellington groups combined.
It's money that will help King and the Trust continue to travel around the country spreading a message of hope and raising awareness about high suicide rates and the state of mental health in New Zealand.
While reaping the personal benefits of improved fitness, new skills and getting to cross 'have a boxing match' off my bucket list, at the end of the day it's all about the cause.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202