Winner dreams of Olympics

Last updated 10:21 06/11/2012

Champion prospects: Naenae coach Billy Graham is predicting a big future for boxers Jared Westrup, left, and Keegan O’Kane-Jones.

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Winning his second national boxing title has spurred Keegan O'Kane-Jones' dream of one day representing New Zealand at the Olympics.

Fellow Naenae Boxing Academy fighter Jared Westrup had to settle for silver in controversial circumstances and is now to take a break from the sport - but his mentor and coach Billy Graham couldn't be prouder.

O'Kane-Jones, who has just turned 15, won the junior 54kg title at the Boxing NZ Nationals in Auckland last month, adding to the 50kg NZ title he claimed in 2011. He's come along fast in the sport and is a good example of how the Naenae Boxing Academy gives young men discipline and focus.

O'Kane-Jones said when he was 12 he was struggling with school and though he played rugby, he was drifting and wanted a change. It was his mum who suggested he try boxing.

He found he was "a bit of a natural" in the ring and, being a good listener, he soaked up Billy's advice. As well as his two national titles, he has two Golden Gloves titles, and a Wellington championship gold in 58kg.

At Auckland he won his first fight then had a bye. Graham said in the final, O'Kane-Jones came up against a taller, skinny boxer "who came to give Keegan the hiding of his life; he came out and threw everything at him but the kitchen sink".

O'Kane-Jones weathered the round one onslaught and followed advice to give it everything.

"He ducked, he weaved, he threw punches at him from every angle."

The Hutt boxer took that round and in the third stayed on top.

"It was no walkover but Keegan is clever and he's fit. He uses his brain in the ring," Graham said.

O'Kane-Jones was picked to go to Tahiti with a team of New Zealand juniors. While he was beaten in his weight by a Tahitian boxer who has attended a junior world championships, O'Kane-Jones was philosophical.

"That's OK, I learned from it."

Not only was it his first international, it was the first for anyone from the Naenae academy. "I was quite rapt when I found that out," O'Kane-Jones said, "it's quite a good rep to have."

The young boxer dreams of representing New Zealand at the Olympics, even better, to be the second Kiwi to take a Olympic boxing gold, following in the footsteps of Wellingtonian Ted Morgan.

Jared Westrup had the hard luck story of the NZ Nationals.

The 22-year-old middleweight had two hard fights against older boxers in the preliminaries before coming up again Kahu Benson, who was fresh from a bye. Benson, a Jamieson Belt winner, with New Zealand titles and Commonwealth and Olympics Games experience, had 198 fights under his belt against Westrup's 29.

Coach Graham swears just about everyone watching believed Westrup had narrowly won but when the result came up on computer, Kahu was awarded the title 25 points to 24.

Westrup was given the tournament's 'Best Loser Trophy' - a huge silver tray.

Graham told him that some of the greatest fighters New Zealand has produced have won that trophy at some time in their career, and with young boxers looking on and seeing whether he could display sportsmanship, "I told him 'put a smile on your face and get through this' and that's exactly what he did."

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Westrup said it was the second time he had lost to Benson by a single point.

"I'd really like to fight him again but [at age 32] he's finishing up."

Westrup has plenty more years of boxing in him. The day he travelled up to Auckland it was his 21st birthday.

After showing so much talent in the ring, one might think he had reason to be nervous telling Billy Graham he wants this year off boxing. He's finishing a diesel apprenticeship, and with a long working week and dozens of theory papers to get on top of, he can't juggle that with training five or six nights a week.

But Graham said he was delighted with the news. He always maintains boxing and fitness is just the vehicle he uses to capture the imagination of young men - many of whom are bored and heading for strife with the law.

While Westrup was never a troublemaker, Graham said he was doing the right thing to lay the foundations for work skills and a solid career.

- Hutt News


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