After months of adversity in and out of the ring, David Nyika's career is at a crossroads, writes Liam Napier.
An agonising split from his long-time coach forced promising heavyweight David Nyika to train for the world championships in a Hamilton car park.
Every athlete endures adversity. Nyika just copped more than his share.
A month before travelling to Germany, one too many battles with Boxing New Zealand (BNZ) saw Rick Ellis end his eight-year coaching relationship with Nyika.
It was a crushing blow.
Together, they shared good times - Nyika's Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow before moving up to heavyweight. But it wasn't enough.
Ellis singled out BNZ chairman Steve Mitchell, who has since stepped down after three years in the role, for putting up constant barriers, saying the final straw was the refusal of a request for a manager to join their camp.
"I wasn't prepared to do it any more," Ellis said. "Unfortunately for David and myself, that's the way it went. I just got sick of it. He's a gifted, talented athlete but we'll never know how good he is until he gets the preparation he needs. That's going to take more than just me. He's too big for this country.
"Boxing New Zealand hasn't got a national programme. It's ridiculous. We are a club in Hamilton taking on the world.
"As hard as it was, I didn't feel there was anything in it for me any more in regards to getting this kid towards where he should be."
Mitchell rejects any fault on BNZ's behalf, saying Nyika had outgrown his competition in New Zealand and Oceania and needed further opportunities abroad. He also said other members of Nyika's family had left Ellis' gym.
"No influence from Boxing New Zealand should have broken the relationship between a coach and athlete if it was as positive as they promote it. Who is more important, him or the coach?"
Not only did Nyika feel kicked to the curb by his mentor but at the same time, he lost his training base and second home, Ringside gym.
Nyika doesn't have big opinions. He just wants to box. Ellis wanted him to fight for their cause outside the ring. In the end, politics contrived to quash a partnership that stretched back to when Nyika was 14-years-old.
"There was a lot of tension heading into the last few months of our stint together," Nyika told the Herald.
"We had our differences. There were a few bridges burnt along the way and it got to the point where it kind of just imploded."
Nyika doesn't hold anything against Ellis. He understands the pressures on amateur coaches. The fact they don't get paid; don't get recognition for their work.
But, by the end, loyalty was the only thing keeping him at Ringside.
"It challenged me to stay true to myself and my values.
"It definitely shook me up but I've always taken pride in my resilience when faced by adversity such as this. You just have to soak it up and accept that nothing is going to be easy."
Not feeling welcome back at the gym, Nyika took it upon himself to continue working with Bike NZ strength and conditioning coach Shaun Paterson.
When it came to boxing specific training, a car park round the corner from his family home became his ring. He used parking lines for agility training; paved squares under lights for shadow boxing and set up his phone to assess and improvise. All alone.
"It was grassroots, man. I knew every second of those sessions I was in a disadvantaged position but I couldn't see another option. I knew I had the physical attributes, it was just a matter of staying level."
In these moments, Nyika told himself how Cuban boxers rose to the top from nothing.
"If they can do it, so can I. I knew I was at a huge disadvantage given this was four weeks out from the world championships."
From that Hamilton car park to Germany, off he went; defeating the eighth-ranked contender before drawing Russian Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Tishchenko in the quarter-finals.
Despite nullifying the defending champion and winning the bout in most commentators' eyes, Nyika copped a controversial loss, something he has grown accustomed to at major events.
Odds are always stacked against New Zealand, a little-known boxing nation.
That didn't make stomaching the hurt and anger any easier. Usually, Ellis would be there to pick him up. Not this time.
Nyika took this result to heart, so much so the five-time champion opted to sit out the nationals.
"I just needed to take a bit of a breather because these last few months have been pretty tough on me - more emotionally and mentally than physically.
"I'm built to train; fight and punch peoples' faces. When these types of stresses come about, it's a lot more exhausting than any training session. If I tried to push through that, I would've fallen to bits. I'm glad I sat out and I don't think it's going to change my development.
"I'm one of the healthiest people I know mentally and physically. I got myself in a bit of a rut but I knew that time would come and go. I took it one day at a time."
Nyika is in no rush to find a new coach. For now, he is content considering his options, and searching for a neutral gym. In the interim, older brother Josh, a former welterweight, will help with technique and pad work.
"The worst thing I could do right now is jump into something I'm not ready for."
Somewhat ironically, Ellis puts the situation around his former 22-year-old charge, who has fought 67 bouts and lost nine times, in perspective.
"David Nyika as an amateur right now is at a better level than Joseph Parker ever was. Someone needs to realise how good this kid is. There's things that need to be done now to keep him motivated and pushing towards the top. I don't know who is doing that but you can't just leave him out in the cold. He will reach the top - no question."
Which begs the question: where to now for one of New Zealand's best boxing talents?
The prospect of finally making some money as a cruiserweight pro has long been there. It would, in many respects, be the easy option.
Nyika isn't about the easy road, though. His sights are set on a rare televised transtasman event in Auckland in December followed by a return to the British Lionhearts in the prestigious World Series of Boxing (WSB) and then pulling off a Kiwi first at next year's Commonwealth Games by clinching gold in two different weight classes.
Beyond that, competing in his first Olympics holds a certain allure.
The pro ranks will always be there but he wants some genuine advice before diving into that often crooked world.
Making a living from his passion right now is out of the question but with the support of his family, High Performance Sport NZ and sponsors, he can survive.
"I believe the amateur boxing scene in New Zealand is far greater pound-for-pound than the professional arena.
"A lot of the professional fighters were really good amateur boxers. It's basically the foundation of boxing in New Zealand and around the world. There's some real talent coming through here.
"Japan is one country I've always wanted to go to, so it almost seems like fate that I may end up going to the Olympic Games.
"Even if I end up turning professional before then, I may still go because you can qualify as a professional boxer."
From sponsorship to Ringside and the WSB, where he impressed in two undefeated fights, Nyika's career has progressed without him actively pursuing opportunities. Emerging out the other side of this dark period has only strengthened his resolve.
"There's so much uncertainty but I feel like I have to take the good with the bad. What's the sun without rain?
"I can take a lot out of what's happened the last few months. Given my performances at the world champs, I feel my determination really pulled through. I proved to myself I can push through hard times."