When two former Nelson Bays rugby props face-off at Fight 4 Victory this November it is highly likely that both will finish the fight as winners.
Pouesi Fitisemanu and Joni Nacagilevu both made their sporting careers on being big men. Both played in the front row for Nelson Bays but both say they are now too big and need to lose some weight.
They are hoping that training for the charity boxing event on November 5 will motivate them to lose that extra weight and make them healthier.
In fact, not only are their goals from the fight similar, so too are their journeys to it.
Pouesi moved to Nelson in the early 90s after a mate in Auckland announced he was heading to play rugby in the Top of the South.
Pouesi asked if the club, which turned out to be Riwaka, needed a prop. They did, so Pouesi packed up the HQ Holden, drove south and began playing his rugby for Riwaka.
Not long after he met the publican’s daughter and found himself quite happy to stay put. “It was perfect, bach, a boat and a good woman,” he laughs.
He went on to play for Nelson Bays from 1992 to 1996, before playing in Australia and then for Auckland in the NPC in the late 90s. A major knee injury ended his playing days, leaving the big prop “frustrated and angry with sport”.
“It took about two years of actually hating sport. My whole life revolved around rugby, I lived it and breathed it. To have that taken away was frustrating and I probably had a little bit of anger there. Back then, rugby for me was like a release valve too. I suppose, a young islander, you get to the weekend and blow it all out and you start each week fresh.”
Without rugby, Pouesi focused on family and raising his two daughters, but as the exercise stopped the weight piled on.
“When you have a good wife who cooks well and I suppose it’s in our makeup, food is comforting. When I was stressed it was easy to turn to a pie or a sausage roll. Fight 4 Victory is a chance to change that.”
“I was at the last Fight 4 Victory and I was sitting with my wife and said ‘that’s me’. I think it was the next day that I texted Paul [Hampton] and said I was keen. My daughters never saw me play rugby and there was no social media like today, so there aren’t many photos or film. This is a chance to show them that dad isn’t just a couch potato.”
For Joni, the motivations to take part, and the route to Fight 4 Victory, are almost identical.
Joni played 1st XV rugby for Nelson College, played senior rugby in Christchurch before coming home and lacing up for Marist. In 2000, his club form led to selection for Nelson Bays and Joni played four seasons for the Griffins before hanging up his boots for eight years.
“When my girls were born I just stopped playing, keeping an eye on the family and that. After a few years of not playing I just slowly started piling on the weight. From being really involved with rugby to nothing, it got to the point where I could feel my knees wanting to pop from the weight. Doing up shoe laces was also hard.”
Like Pouesi, his kids hadn’t seen dad play rugby until this year when he was asked by his old club to come and play Bs. “I turn up, play a solid 20 minutes and that’s me,” he jokes. “It has been good to be back out there, but hard.”
Joni’s mother recently passed away and he says that, and his growing waistline, convinced him to take up the Fight 4 Victory challenge.
“I’m probably carrying an extra 40-50 kilos. That’s why I’m keen to give it a go.”
Both men said they weren’t nervous about competing in front of a big crowd.
“It’s more the rules,” says Pouesi. “Like, can I put my tongue in his ear? Us front rowers have got a few tricks up our sleeves,” he jokes.
Joni says, while they’ll both be doing everything they can to win, ultimately they’ll be helping each other. “It’s a life-changing event really, either keep on going, same old thing or do something different. Doing this, we’ll be helping each other.
“This is our first step for the rest of our health journey and for me that’s the biggest prize.”
Victory Boxing programme coordinator Paul Hampton says there could still be another fight or two added to the November 5 card, which raises money for the Victory Boxing Charitable Trust.
General admission tickets for Fight 4 Victory 3 are now for sale from ticketdirect.co.nz or the Theatre Royal.