Former Kiwi and Warriors league player Manu Vatuvei is standing at what could be considered a career crossroads. Do well in his first professional boxing bout on Joseph Parker's undercard next month and it's likely to be fighting rather than footy for him.
Vatuvei, 32, will fight Dave Letele, also known as the "Brown Buttabean", at Christchurch's Horncastle Arena on December 15.
"This is no experiment," Vatuvei, known as the "Beast", said. "I am seriously considering a long-term [boxing] contract in Australia."
It is understood that Vatuvei has been offered a five-fight contract across the ditch. A victory against Letele will be a non-negotiable but if he does win then future fights against the likes of fellow league-players-turned-boxers Paul Gallen and Solomon Haumono would probably have some public appeal.
Vatuvei was let go by the Warriors last year and played a season for the Salford Red Devils in the north of England. You could say that included in his baggage on his return was an Achilles injury which he is still rehabilitating. He doesn't have a league contract and due to his injury and advancing years is probably unlikely to get one.
"I've just been shopping around," he said. "I leave all that to my manager. I've still got the fire to play the game but anything can happen and this is a great opportunity to get back in shape. I've been out for a while."
For him, boxing could be a means to pay the bills as well as stay in good physical condition. "I'm going to take it one step at a time; I'm going to concentrate on this one and see where it takes me."
Letele, his opponent, is notable for being a former league player and a man who has reduced his weight from about 210kg to his present 110kg, an extraordinary achievement which he uses to inspire others in a similar condition.
He has fought 16 times as a professional, many of them on Parker's undercards. His last fight was early last year, after which he "retired", but a phone call from his friend David Higgins, Parker's promoter, served to convince him otherwise.
"I did retire but the fight against obesity continues every day," Letele said. "I couldn't pass this up – Manu is a legend - I've always looked up to him."
Vatuvei, who fought Olympic gold medallist rower Eric Murray in a corporate bout in 2012, which Vatuvei won, said: "I've only had one fight. Dave's had a lot of experience in the ring. I'm just going to train the house down and hopefully, I can learn a bit more and build from there.
"It's mental toughness – that's what I took out of it," he said of the lessons learned from his training and victory. "I transferred it into league. I used to have a lot of temper moments but I controlled that. Whenever something went bad I could control that and put myself into a good situation. The fitness was part of it. I was at my lightest when I did that fight – I was 104kg. I hadn't been that light since I was 11, I think."
Vatuvei said he would probably step into the Horncastle Arena ring weighing about 112kg and that he had always carried a passion for boxing.
"I've always loved watching it… especially the brother Joseph Parker. I've watched him from when he started and he's turned into a great person, a great man. He can pick himself up and get back to the top again."