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Who'd want to be a punching bag for Ray Sefo? Only a mate from his old neighbourhood.

Sefo is back in his hometown training for a rematch with former K1 world champion Remy Bonjasky, who won their last encounter in 2001.

Tavita Tai grew up with the Sefo brothers Ray and Ron in Morningside and they're still mates. Ray is still the fastest and hardest of them, Tai said before doing training rounds with the Japanese fight star at his Henderson gym this week.

Tai, a former Bay of Plenty league player, isn't too slow himself as he catches Sefo's punches and kicks with pads. But when they were kids and would come out of a Bruce Lee movie it was always Ray who could emulate the kung fu exponent best and he was always super-quick, Tai said.

Does it hurt getting hit by a world top-eight K1 fighter?

"Ask my shoulders," he said as he massaged bruising. He used to fight himself but his knees were gone now, Tai said. He enjoyed building Sefo up to his bouts, despite suffering "many" injuries.

Does he get knocked down?

"When he chooses to do it, yes. Sometimes when he catches me unawares."

Minutes later Tai comes tumbling backwards through the ropes after a flurry of punches and kicks.

Sefo, 35, has just signed a three-year contract for US$3 million ($4.5 million), with tournament appearance money and win bonuses on top of that and said yesterday that it would likely be his last.

He was excited about the chance to fight in New Zealand for the first time since 1998. His promoter, Dixon McIvor, said the bout with Bonjasky at Trusts Stadium would not be happening but for the full support of the K1 organisation in Japan.

A major influx of Japanese media is expected for the Oceania grand prix competition via which five Oceania fighters have a chance to make the big time like Ray Sefo. The March 5 event is to be broadcast live to an audience of around 30 million on pay-per-view, and it goes to a similar-sized free-to-air audience in Japan later the same day.

Feeds will be sent to 100 countries.

Sefo was suffering a virus when he last fought Bonjasky, and the fight was stopped when he suffered a cut to the shin.

Another of his rare losses came last year to the 2005 champion Semmy Schilt. Sefo said yesterday that he had asked K1 for a re-match with Schilt in Auckland but was satisfied with meeting the 2004 champ.

"I didn't want a quick and easy knockout," he said, "I want a good show, a 50/50 fight."

He said he'd lost when he'd been sick, when he'd been injured and because he had not had sufficient preparation. But despite a reputation for entertainment, he didn't believe he'd ever lost a fight because of "show-boating".

Sefo said he was pleased to see the expansion of the sport in New Zealand recognised by the Japanese in bringing the world grand prix qualifier to Auckland.

When he and his friends and brother started, they had to fight for recognition and against opinion that it was too rough.

He was planning a second movie role in Los Angeles in May, Sefo said, laughing about his relationship with martial arts movie star Steven Seagal who, he said, was a friend but not that close because he didn't appreciate the younger New Zealander making in-roads into his territory.

His new deal with the Japanese recognises also just how big a star he is there - K1 has him signed to a nine-year advertising and marketing deal on top of his fight contract.

His contest with Netherlands fighter Bonjasky is one of two "super-bouts" on the Trusts Stadium card, the other pitting Schilt against another former world champ, Peter Aerts, also from the Netherlands.

Aucklanders Jason Suttie, Pola Mataele and Ron Sefo came through Oceania qualifying to make the world grand prix event, as have Peter Graham from Mundine's Gym in Redfern, Sydney, and Paul Slowinski from Melbourne. Mataele will meet Suttie who has beaten him twice in the past. Ron Sefo will face Slowinski.

The veteran Graham will fight Badr Hari, 20, from Morocco. And Cyril Abidi from France will meet Hiraku Hori from Japan, all fights of three three-minute rounds with the possibility of two extras if scores remain tied.

One of the five from Oceania will earn entry to the next-step tournament at Osaka, Japan, from which they can make the top-eight challengers who face the current world top-eight in the season-ending competition in front of a sellout 80,000 crowd at the Tokyodome.

RAY SEFO


Height: 1.83m
Weight: 106kg
Fights: 72
Wins: 58
Losses: 13
Draws: 1
KOs: 47
No contest: 0

Titles:

1997 WKBF World Super Heavyweight
1996 WMTF World Heavyweight
1996 ISKA World Super Cruiserweight
1995 ISKA World Cruiserweight
1995 WMTF World Light Heavyweight