Monty Betham stood in his corner, mute and expressionless his arms crossed, his mouth wide open and with sweat dripping down onto his high rounded cheekbones looking as if he were carved and sanded from a cut of new kauri. He looked serene and Buddha-like.
He'd just won his third fight as a professional boxer. A first-round knockout against local journeyman Aaron Bartlett. The assumption was the former league star would be beaming on the inside. "Another W!" But the rhythms inside Betham were anything but positive.
Betham was never the sort to scream, "That's what I'm talking about!" after winning in his prime with the Warriors. His mood was never an easy read. But on this day, at Auckland's SkyCity Casino, he was dissatisfied with victory.
"I've never been about doing things the easy way," he said.
"For me, if you haven't worked hard and something that you want comes too easy it leaves you empty. The Bartlett fight, yeah, I won it, but I just felt empty.
"I'd given up too much to be in that situation. I'd trained hard, then the scheduled opponent pulls out and I'm fighting a ring-in.
"I was devastated. I wanted to put on a show. I wanted to show people that I belonged in the ring. Boxing has never been just about winning for me. That's why I'm getting out of it. I don't want to shortchange people. I don't want to disappoint people. If I can't immerse myself in it the way I have to to be successful, I have to get out of it. I have to move on."
ALL OF A SUDDEN Monty Betham was alone on stage. The spotlight had been on him many times before, be it during his seven years at the Warriors or in any of his 13 tests for his country.
He was widely admired by his team-mates and opponents. Twice his peers voted him the NRL's most feared player in the respected annual Rugby League Week poll. It was a badge of honour for the kid from south Auckland. He was the mongrel in a Warriors team high on star power.
The highlight reels of the Warriors' marches deep into finals football in 2002 and 2003 are full of Stacey Jones tries, match-winning Ivan Cleary kicks and Kevin Campion hits. But there's another memory. One of Betham delivering a volley of short rights to the head of Bronco Casey McGuire. Betham walked away 10-feet tall. McGuire is still trying to get up.
But the good times came to an end. The CEO and the coach had a falling out. As many players left the sinking ship Betham stayed on and took on the responsibility of captain. When Mick Watson finally lost control of the club, Betham left, retreating to Wakefield.
Like many former Warriors before him anonymity in New Zealand beckoned. But for a secret passion. Boxing.
As a child he suppressed any urge to follow in his father's footsteps.
Monty Betham snr's stellar career had seen him collect New Zealand, Australasian and Commonwealth middleweight and light middleweight titles. Monty Betham jnr would rush home from school to watch tapes of his father. "I was amazed how many people knew him," Betham jnr said. "I was always so proud when people recognised him. `That's my dad'..."
He never boxed as a child. He preferred karate and league. But in 2006, a fuse was lit while doing some ring work at Wakefield. And he was hooked.
The first battle that had to be won was at home convincing his wife Jaymie to support him walking away from a lucrative league contract to start at the bottom of the boxing ladder was going to be a 12-round affair.
- Sunday News