He switched tack to boost his fitness for premier club rugby but the smell of leather and linament, mixed with sweat, took Jerome Joseph-Pampellone's fancy in his first entry into a boxing ring three years ago.
Only last week Joseph-Pampellone took a gargantuan stride to the higher echelons of amateur boxing when he established himself as the top eight pugilist in the globe at the AIBA World Boxing Championship in Russia.
From Wednesday next week, the 23-year-old Aucklander will step into the ring at the Hastings Sports Centre to wow fans at the Hawke's Bay Boxing Association-hosted, four-day New Zealand Amateur Championship for men and women.
"It just shows that I'm still focused on my game and still keen to keep that No 1 spot in New Zealand," said Joseph-Pampellone who is defending his 81kg light heavyweight belt.
The orthodox fighter, who also put his west Auckland gym of Peach Boxing on the global map, had won his first three fights in Yekaterinburg last week before coming up shy on a split decision in the quarterfinal to Benjamin Whittaker, of England.
Craig McDougall, who runs the Hastings Giants Boxing Academy and was instrumental in helping revive the provincial passion with amalgamating clubs again, says that's what hosting the nationals is all about.
"So that we'll all start developing — excuse the pun — heavyweights of boxing for our local clubs," says McDougall, alluding to the enormity of what Joseph-Pampellone has achieved in his 3 x 3-minute bouts.
"It's a huge feat for someone who is pretty young in boxing, too, so we're really excited."
The HB Boxing Association executive member likens Joseph-Pampellone's presence here to having the All Blacks visit the Bay where potential Magpies recognise pedigree athletes "have two arms and as many legs" but have done the hard yards and acquired a desirable mind set to foot it at the elite level.
"Jerome's a pretty composed boxer and a really nice young kid coming into, I guess, in leaps for these young fellows in the wake of the Jedi," he says of a nationals that come on the heels of ones in Hastings in 1920, 1934, 1958 and 2003, bar 1926 in Napier. Fights will be staged from 1.30pm to 7pm each day but from 3pm in the finals on the Saturday.
McDougall says the sole purpose of having a regional sports organisation status is to support and develop not just clubs that are already operating but perhaps help sprout a few more.