Fallen boxer's stepson and fiancee re-enter the ring in his honour

Michelle Burke and her son Dayton are set to reenter the ring in Neville Knight's memory.
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Michelle Burke and her son Dayton are set to reenter the ring in Neville Knight's memory.

Fighting in a Golden Gloves boxing match was not the plan for a typical wedding day. But, after Michelle Burke's fiance died in a boxing ring four weeks before their wedding, the family is fighting back against grief.   

Dayton Burke's idol Muhammad Ali once said, "don't count the days, make the days count" and he's living that motto.

It has been 26 days since the 10-year-old's stepfather, Neville Knight, died in the ring at a charity boxing match in Hamilton, but the 10-year-old is determined to continue making the most of his future and is fighting in Taupo's Golden Gloves event this weekend.

Neville Knight collapsed and died during a charity boxing match in Hamilton.
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Neville Knight collapsed and died during a charity boxing match in Hamilton.

"I just thought I wanted to do it to honour Nev," he said. 

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"I think it will be a good thing to do for him as he helped me train."

Dion McNabney, owner/operator of Nabby's Boxing and Fitness Gym where Neville Knight trained, holds a pair of boxing ...
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Dion McNabney, owner/operator of Nabby's Boxing and Fitness Gym where Neville Knight trained, holds a pair of boxing gloves that were signed in tribute to Knight.

Dayton started boxing when he was eight years old and his skill soon impressed his coaches.

"I've had six fights," he said. 

"I lost my first one but won all the rest."

Dayton was originally unable to attend this weekend's event as that was when his mother's wedding to Nev was to take place.

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The plan was for 87 guests to attend The Red Barn venue and witness Michelle's big day. Nev would have been dressed-to-impress and eager to see his bride. He was to be flanked by his two sons, while Michelle's three were to form her bridal party. 

But that plan came to a sudden and unexpected end on September 24 when Neville collapsed in the ring in front of Michelle.

"I was standing a few metres away from ringside and went straight over to him," she said.

"He hadn't actually received any hits yet.

"He just kind of started walking backwards to the ropes and slowly slipped down."

Working as a live line mechanic for Northpower, Michelle resorted to her on-the-job CPR training.

"I remember just saying 'nobody was to stop CPR until the paramedics physically took over. I must have said that about five times.

"St John arrived and worked on him for a while. But it had been too long."

Neville had been a picture of health having played rugby league for many years and still took part in masters.

His background in the army gave him a strong physical discipline and a professional mannerism that made him respected in his work at Northpower.

"What drew me to him was, well, he was very handsome, and he had a very caring nature," Michelle said.

"He was always looking after his team. He was also a bit of a prankster and there are so many stories about him pulling jokes."

About 10 months into their relationship, Neville popped the question.

"He was propping himself up on a wall after a few drinks and said, 'Woman. I f***ing love you. Marry me'."

"I told him to ask me again when he was sober. 

"The next morning as soon as he opened his eyes he said, 'So, you going to marry me?'

"I said 'you are probably still a little drunk but I will'. For some reason I wanted a long engagement. I regret that now."

Michelle said Neville was a fantastic partner and very loving to his, and her, children.

"He was so proud of the things his children were doing," Michelle said.

Nev's love spread to Michelle's three, too. He would encourage and help Dayton train and prepare for fights and soon Michelle, Dayton and Nev were all keen boxers. 

Michelle quit boxing after Neville's death, but Dayton was determined to get back in the ring and continue the sport Nev encouraged him to do. 

At one of Dayton's training sessions for Golden Gloves Michelle regained her inspiration.

"I was sitting there watching Dayton train and this boy sat down next to me, jabbed me playfully in the leg.

"I said, what was that for? He said, why did you quit?

"Then I realised that all I had done by quitting boxing was teach the kids, the ones at the gym and my own, that when things are too hard you just quit and walk away.

"I went back to training the next day."

Michelle was also able to secure a spot in the Golden Gloves event, her planned wedding day. It will be the first time stepping back into a proper boxing ring since she attempted to save her fiance's life. 

"It will be good to be in Taupo," she said. 

"I'm sure it will be a hectic schedule, but I will find some time to spent with my Nev.

"Things have been hard since Nev passed but you have to keep going."

 - Stuff

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