National boxing champion and rugby rep Sam Watt faces critical career choice

New Zealand superheavyweight  boxing champion Sam Watt.
David Walker

New Zealand superheavyweight boxing champion Sam Watt.

Canterbury boxer Sam Watt has just won his third national boxing title in a row but is not sure if he will stay in the sport.

His Papanui Boxing Club coach Mike Pimley believes the 24-year-old "should be in the New Zealand team" and has urged the national selectors to pick Watt for an international assignment.

While Watt has been keen to wear the silver fern, he also has to balance his boxing aspirations with his professional career as an accountant and he harbours ambitions to play for Mid Canterbury in the Heartland rugby championship.

Sam Watt training at the Papanui Boxing Club.
David Walker

Sam Watt training at the Papanui Boxing Club.

"It's difficult for me because I'm not full-on with boxing," said Watt, who won the New Zealand superheayvweight title in Rotorua last weekend after two consecutive heayvweight crowns.

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"I've got my career, which comes first. I'm studying for my last chartered accountancy paper and I'm mainly focused on that.

Versatile sportsman Sam Watt is a New Zealand boxing champion and a Mid Canterbury rugby representative.
David Walker

Versatile sportsman Sam Watt is a New Zealand boxing champion and a Mid Canterbury rugby representative.

"And I also enjoy my rugby and don't see why I should give up something I enjoy, to do something else I also enjoy."

Watt, who grew up in Timaru and Christchurch, has been playing as a backrower or lock for Ashburton club Celtic and has represented Mid Canterbury. 

The Heartland championship squad is set to be named this weekend and Watt has his "fingers crossed".

He enjoys the camaraderie of rugby "and the chance to have a few beers after the game with your mates".

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Training for a shot at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast would require him to focus totally on boxing and Watt is unsure if he wants that.

He will weigh up his boxing future over the summer.

Funding issues means international fights were few and far between for New Zealand boxers, even for Commonwealth Games champion David Nyika, who beat Watt in a heavyweight division fight in Auckland last February. 

"It's pretty frustrating," Watt said.

"There's a fighter in the New Zealand women's team - I'm not going to name or shame her - who's been away three or four times but I don't think I've ever seen her win a fight.

"That pees you off when you can't get a go after winning three national titles."

Watt won his first heavyweight crown in 2014 when he beat Commonwealth Games silver medallist David Light in a split decision.

The Ashburton-based accountant backed up with a unanimous points decision over Frank Masoe in 2015.

This year he made the move to superheavyweight after losing his heavyweight contest to Commonwealth Games light heavyweight champion David Nyika in February.

Watt opted to go up a class rather than cut kilos to remain under the 91kg heayweight limit.

"I decided it was better to bulk up a bit for rugby because you are going to have a rugby game every Saturday and, in terms of heavyweight fights, there's not a lot around."

Watt, who is fighting "around 98 to 99 kilos", said his move also allowed his Papanui Boxing Club gym mate Tim Doyle more opportunities in the heavyweight division.

At Rotorua, Watt "went in a little under-done", but made the most of his opportunity with three-time champion Patrick Mailata out with a snapped Achilles tendon.

The Canterbury champion beat Jahsiah Hirini in the semifinal in a unanimous decision and had a split decision victory over Queensland-based Faiga Opelu in the final.

"I thought I had won it. I definitely won two rounds and that's all you need," said Watt, who was surprised to hear a judge had plumped for Opelu.

Watt was the first Canterbury super heavyweight champion since Jason Hepi, another Pimley protege, in 1998.

Former New Zealand champion Kere Brooks, who fought for Central North Island but is now based in Christchurch, presented the gold medal to Watt in the Rotorua ring.

"That was a special moment. He's like my mentor," Watt said. "It was almost like passing on the mantle. It meant a lot to me and a lot to him."

Watt said he had had a lot of support from his employers, Capon Madden in Ashburton, and his sponsor Area Landscapes, who help fund his regular trips between his Ashburton home and the Papanui gym.

But he owed his greatest debt of gratitude to his long-serving Papanui coaches Pimley and Eric Sincock. "They've always been there for me."

He said Papanui had four other fighters -  Tim Doyle, Christian Tikao, Ryan Entesse, Connor Coppard at the nationals and "three of them lost to Olympic trialists".

Tikao lost the 64kg final, Entesse (64kg) and dipped out in the 56kg semifinal and Coppard won the junior 66kg title unopposed.

Watt hopes to fight at an Ashburton Boxing Club tournament at his Celtic rugby club on August 27 "if we can secure an opponent".

Beyond that, he will take time out before deciding whether or not to hang up his gloves. 

If he does decide to retire from the ring to concentrate on rugby, he will leave with no regrets.

Watt could have got a shot at the Olympic qualifiers if he had beaten Nyika in February.

He lost in a split decision but admitted that result "probably flattered me a bit, he definitely won the fight."

"I'm not as naturally talented as him, but I was in pretty good nick as I'd trained pretty hard," said Watt, who was disappointed when Nyika missed out on qualifying for Rio.

* Redwood Boxing Club's Nardene​ Shatford was Canterbury's other gold medal winner at her first national championships. She was an impressive winner in the women's 54kg class.





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