More than most, boxing is a sport where the harder athletes work the more success they can expect to have. A young Blenheim fighter proved that adage when he won a national title earlier this month. Clay Wilson catches up with him to find out all about his rapid rise in the ring.
There is a glint in the eye of Blenheim teenager Tommy Turoa when he talks boxing, and with good reason.
Since taking up the sport two years ago and having his first official fight in March this year, the softly spoken 16-year-old has won gold at the South Island Novice Championships and South Island Golden Gloves and claimed a rare national boxing title for Marlborough at the New Zealand Youth, Junior and Cadet Championships, which also doubled as the NZ Youth Games.
However, medals and trophies have not been the only benefits of his success. Tommy took up the sport as a chubby 110kg 14-year-old, these days he is 17kg lighter and healthier, tipping the scales at fighting-fit 93kg.
Born and brought up in Auckland, Tommy moved to Blenheim with his mum and younger sister in 2009 and started boxing after going to the Bad Boy Boxing Academy gym with a friend. He soon noticed the health benefits and quickly developed a passion for the sport.
"I was really overweight and a friend got me into boxing, I thought I'd just give it a try and things turned out great. I lost a bit of weight and got fitter, I just started to love the sport."
Despite this, for the first eight months his presence at the gym was sporadic. It took a quiet word from Bad Boy coach James Skipper, who saw his potential, for Tommy to fully commit to boxing and he has since simply gone from strength to strength.
"Tommy would only turn up once every three weeks but, when I saw him, I knew he was a kid with more physical ability than the other kids," said Skipper. "I just pulled him aside and told him he could do well as a boxer . . . he was 14 at the time and bigger than all my [older fighters]. Ever since that talk, he pretty much hasn't missed a training, he's been fully dedicated."
That dedication was clearly evident leading into Tommy's first fight at the South Island novice event. He trained six nights a week for four months, walking across town from his home near A&P Park to the Bad Boy gym in Grove Rd and also running in the morning - something Skipper didn't even know about. Tommy said the training was hard, but also meant he wasn't as nervous as he would have expected before his first bout.
"[The training] was hard but, if you push yourself and commit to it it's worth it . . . I was pretty nervous because it was my first fight but, at the same time, I was really confident because I knew I had done all the hard training."
It was worth it, too. All that hard work paid off when Tommy won his fight in the youth super-heavyweight division, a huge achievement when Skipper explained how the weekend panned out.
"Tommy is a junior, which is for 15- and 16-year-olds, and when we got there his opponent had to pull out. Instead of pulling Tommy out, I put him in the youth division with the 17- and 18-year-olds without telling him. When he went in there, he thought he was fighting a junior and it wasn't until he won I told him the guy he fought was 18."
The experience and success only intensified Tommy's passion for boxing and, in May, he beat another 18-year-old to bag the youth super-heavyweight title at the South Island Golden Gloves and also came home with the trophy for best junior boxer.
Tommy capped off a fine debut year at the start of this month by winning the junior male 81kg-plus national title in Hamilton. Part of the Boxing Canterbury Metro group which took out the overall teams title, he defeated team-mate Harrison Allan with a second-round technical knockout.
Preparing for the nationals meant yet another step up in training, including sparring 21 consecutive rounds against four different opponents three days before the fight. Once again, though, it was all worth it.
"The training for that fight and the buildup to it was a lot harder. Sprint training, pad work and sparring were really intense as well. It was pretty hard work, but I felt great [going to Hamilton] knowing that I'd put in the hard work. I expected to win.
"It felt good to add another title to my collection."
Tommy credits a very supportive family, coach and senior Bad Boy fighters such as Glen Cotton for pushing and encouraging him towards his success. Good bloodlines have probably played their part as well. Great uncle Toro George is a former New Zealand, Australasian and Commonwealth champion in the featherweight division, won bronze at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth and had 36 wins in a 54-fight professional career.
Although a busy boxing schedule means Tommy has little down-time, when he does he spends it hanging out with mates and playing the odd game of touch. But, with plans to attend the national junior and youth trials early next year and defend his South Island novice title in March, the training continues.
Beyond that, there is no doubt he wants to go all the way in boxing and become a professional fighter. Taking that and the appetite this humble teenager has for hard work into account, don't be surprised if you see more of the name Tommy Turoa.
- The Marlborough Express