'Thunder' Jimmy Peau on the canvas

BY STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 21/03/2010
Jimmy Peau
GOLDEN BOY: Kiwi boxer Jimmy 'Thunder' Peau celebrates gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

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He once had the fastest knockout in the world, but life has dealt some sickening blows to champion Kiwi boxer Jimmy "Thunder" Peau.

Las Vegas is an unforgiving place to be if you have no money. The population of the resort city is more than 1.8 million, yet there are 10,000-plus homeless people on the streets.

Among them, the Sunday Star-Times has learned, has been Peau, who has found life hard since he quit professional boxing in 2002.

Boxing officials in the city, including Hall of Fame trainer Thell Torrance, say Peau has at times had to live rough in the city's Sunset Park and ask for money to buy food.

But Peau's brother Chris, his link back to his family in Auckland, said Peau had turned his life around and was now working in a rehab centre run by native Americans.

"He's definitely got a story to tell," said Chris Peau, who said his brother's life had gone off the rails because his boxing career had been poorly managed.

"He has had it hard. We didn't hear from him for a couple of years but he has got back on his feet.

"We're happy he's still alive and that he's all right. We know what he went through and what he has achieved. He has been quite embarrassed to even face his own family. But he achieved a lot in his career and he has nothing to be ashamed of."

Torrance, who has worked with Hasim Rahman, Tony Tubbs, Riddick Bowe and Ken Norton, said he had twice given money to Peau in the past year.

"Jimmy came by the office and he was down on his luck; I tried to help him and had a nice talk to him," Torrance told the Star-Times. Peau told him he had lost his wallet and identification so Torrance lent him $100 for food. "He said he was living in the park; I was shocked to hear that." Torrance tried to help arrange new ID for Peau but four months later he turned up again with the same story.

"I thought he might have got himself together, but it touched my heart to see he was the same way ...

"I gave him some more money. He had lost weight – I almost didn't know the guy, he was such a big, powerful, strong-looking guy [before]. He never came back – I was hoping he had gone and got himself straight. He wasn't drunk but I suspected he had a problem that needed taking care of: he was real dirty. Absolutely he was in a hardship situation but he spoke very nice and didn't act as if he was hustling."

Chris Peau said he regularly swapped emails with his brother, who was also finding work as a personal trainer.

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"He has been all right for a while," he said, dismissing any suggestion Thunder was still on the streets. "But that's Las Vegas: people like to talk."

Torrance said Peau asked him for sparring work some three years earlier but was in no condition. Another trainer, Luis Tapia, said he had also turned down Peau's offer of sparring work.

Both men said he had lost a huge amount of weight.

Tapia owned an iconic Vegas gym, Johnny Tocco's, and said Peau had made several visits, and he had given him $20 when he last saw him nearly two years ago.

"It is very sad what has happened to him," Tapia said.

Kevin Barry, David Tua's former trainer who now runs a successful Las Vegas boxing business, said he understood Peau had relationship difficulties and had struggled financially for some years.

Exhaustive inquiries by the Star-Times, including searches of city parks, shelters and streets, failed to find Peau.

The current owner of Johnny Tocco's, Jimmy Smith, said he didn't know Peau.

But officials at two of the biggest homeless shelters, St Vincent's and the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, claimed to recognise a photograph of Peau and said he'd visited in recent months.

Boxing sources in New Zealand, including Peau's former business associate John Glozier, said Peau hadn't been seen here for years but they had heard stories of him being down on his luck in the US.

Chris Peau said his brother did not want to return home.

Peau was born in Samoa, a direct descendant of a paramount Samoan chief, but was raised in Auckland, where he began his professional boxing career in 1989 after winning heavyweight gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.

Peau beat world-ranked contenders Tony Tubbs, Trevor Berbick and Tim Witherspoon, and won the minor WBF and IBO world titles and several regional belts during a 49-fight career which included 35 victories.

He also held the record for the world's fastest knockout after dispatching Crawford Grimsley in a 1997 fight with a single right hand – a bout that lasted 13 seconds, including the count.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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