Belarusian heavyweight boxer Alexander Ustinov says he has fallen in love with New Zealand in the leadup to his showdown with Samoan-born Kiwi heavyweight David Tua in Hamilton on November 16.
Tua is a hero in New Zealand but 36-year-old Ustinov yesterday said he felt far from intimidated fighting the national hero in his own backyard.
In fact, he said he had felt more than welcome during his time in New Zealand.
His time has included two tours of the whole country promoting the fight and he was in Invercargill yesterday to speak with The Southland Times.
"New Zealand is beautiful. The people have been really nice to me and welcoming," he said through a translator.
He said he had been more recognised in New Zealand than in his own country of Belarus. "When I go to the shop, people come up and say hello, that doesn't happen at home."
When told he had probably seen more of New Zealand than some New Zealanders themselves he said people in this country probably didn't appreciate how great their country was.
Ustinov felt that fighting in New Zealand in front of Tua's people wasn't a bad thing. The giant 2.02-metre fighter said the pressure was very much on Tua and people were expecting him to do well.
While much of the talk in the leadup to the fight is around David Tua and how it may end or reignite his career, for Ustinov it is very much a similar situation.
Like Tua, Ustinov wants to fight one of the Klitschko brothers for a world title but for one of them to contemplate that they really need a victory in Hamilton later this month.
"Like any sport you want to take on the best. I like the Klitschkos," he said.
The No 8 ranked IBO fighter's introduction to boxing came via kickboxing.
He had 53 kickboxing fights from 2001 to 2007 before turning his hand fulltime to making his name in the professional boxing ranks.
He has an impressive 27-win one-loss record with his one loss coming to Kubrat Pulev in a IBF eliminator contest.
That fight was followed by a showdown with Ivica Perkovic earlier this year which he won on points, and now he has his sights on Tua.
Ustinov said Tua was a legend in world boxing circles and he had little hesitation to take on the fight when asked.
- © Fairfax NZ News