From housewife to Muay Thai boxer

VIDEO: Muay Thai boxer's passion for the fight

LUKE APPLEBY
Last updated 12:30 27/02/2014
LUKE APPLEBY/Fairfax NZ

VIDEO: Follow Muay Thai Boxer Gentiane Lupi as she trains and competes in a fight at Te Rauparaha Arena.

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A half marathon wasn't enough for Gentiane Lupi - she went the extra mile and became a Muay Thai boxer - and she has a fight coming up.

Known to some from her acting roles in Second Hand Wedding and Eagle vs. Shark, Gentiane found herself going crazy at home with her children and began to run, each time a little further, before opting for a gym, where Muay Thai was suggested by a trainer. Since then, she's never looked back.

Two years later, she's spending her time training at Wellington's Muay Thai Institute - kicking, kneeing and punching her way towards a title shot in an upcoming fight at Capital Punishment 24.

DETERMINED: Gentiane Lupi at the Muay Thai Institute Gym in Wellington. Photo: LUKE APPLEBY/Fairfax NZ

She certainly looks like she has done the work. After a series of rapid-fire blows to the pads of boxing trainer Dave Corley, he smiles proudly; "She's fit, isn't she?"

He's not wrong - Gentiane has the speed, focus and physique of a professional athlete. She rates herself as being "just a bit more vicious than my opponent" in the ring, and she'll have the opportunity to test that soon enough.

Muay Thai is a vicious but often beautiful martial art sometimes known as the 'Art of Eight Limbs', due to knee and elbow strikes being used as well as fists and feet. Practitioners use quick standing strikes, with kicks particularly damaging, and the body is honed to absorb severe punishment from the opponent.

Fighters entering the ring traditionally will wear armbands and a 'mongkol' headband before the fight, which are thought to protect them from danger. In significant fights, a boxer may perform an elaborate dance in the ring, paying respect to their master, and theirs before them, as well as the opponent.

The sport is growing in popularity in New Zealand, and Gentiane hopes it will continue to attract followers to give Kiwis some diversity in their sporting diet - and she promises those hesitant that the injuries are not as bad as they look.

For now, it's back to the bags and mental preparation for the big night.

*Spoiler alert - if you haven't watched the video yet, and plan to, you should probably do that first - the fight looks much better on camera!

Porirua's Te Rauaparaha Arena is packed as the night rolls around, but Gentiane is her usual, relaxed self. Her loved ones have come to see her before her fight and for a moment she turns back into 'Gentiane the Mum' as her young family crowd around for kisses and hugs.

Trainers Mark Hampton, Jon Williams and Dave Corley are there, giving her one-on-one advice between bouts of pre-match warm-ups and visualisation. She seems prepared, showing only a touch of nerves. As the fight approaches, she spends a few quiet moments facing a wall, in her own world, going over her tactics in final preparation.

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LAST WORDS: Trainer Jon Williams gives Gentiane some final advice. Photo: LUKE APPLEBY/Fairfax NZ

The announcer's voice comes over the loudspeaker and the audience roars into life. Gentiane walks smiling up the runway and into the ring. Her opponent Bay Bee Nansen of Rotorua is the South Pacific Champion and looks just as determined as Gentiane as the referee explains the rules the them while they psych each other out, eye-to-eye.

The first round bell rings out. They fight defensively at first, each trying to find the others' weakness. A few seconds later, shattering kicks and punches are thrown wildly and the women tangle against the ropes, each struggling to overpower the other while delivering crushing knee blows. Gentiane is thrown crashing to the ground a couple of times.

This is the brutal, vivid part of Muay Thai and the audience loves it. Each hit is greeted by a loud audience reaction, and yells from each corner punctuate the volleys.

Both fighters score plenty of hits and the physicality of the event grows increasingly evident - each is heavily fatigued as a round ends, stumbling back for a mouthful of water and a few moments of ice on a thigh.

By the time the final bell rings and they stumble back to their corners, neither looks overly assured of their victory. The referee takes their arms as the announcer thanks them for giving it their all and the audience cheers in appreciation.

A split decision from the judges is called, creating a nervous few seconds as both fighters hold their breath - had Gentiane done enough?

Not this time.

She smiles and hugs her opponent, who offers her a rematch "any time". Gentiane chats briefly to her corner before quietly exiting the arena, scooping up one of her girls as she goes, who promptly complains about being covered in sweat.

In the changing rooms, the mood is sombre and Gentiane has the tape cut from her hands while trainers and supporters console her. Strangers walk up to show their respect for the huge effort she had obviously put in.

As she winds down and the adrenaline starts to dissipate, she turns to her son who, being one of her biggest supporters, is telling her how unfair it was she lost. She just smiles and tells him everyone has to lose some time. No tears, just the will to work on the weaknesses she didn't know she had, and to do it all again.

- The Dominion Post

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