King Afa wants a shot at Sonny Bill Williams
Afa Tatupu has claimed his boxing throne - and now he's challenging Sonny Bill Williams to defend his own.
The 33-year-old Glen Innes man, known as King Afa in the ring, took out the New Zealand National Boxing Federation Heavyweight Championship on April 19.
There are two top titles to fight for in the heavyweight division in New Zealand.
The other is held by former All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who won the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship in 2012.
Tatupu and his coach Ron Foley want to unify the two titles into one "king of the ring" championship with a 12-round match between the two top boxers.
And they are calling for Williams to come to the party.
"He [Williams] needs to fight the other top New Zealander. That's the fight we want and it's certainly one that Afa could win," Mr Foley says.
The two sides are now in discussion about the challenge, which was issued on May 1.
Tatupu has only been boxing for four years at Panmure's Shamrock Boxing Association but he knows how to pack a punch.
April's championship battle rounded off a long-standing rivalry between Tatupu and Junior Pati, a boxer who knocked him out when they met in 2010.
The Samoan-born fighter says the lead-up to the match was nerve-racking.
"Stepping into the ring with someone who has knocked you over the first time - it's a big deal. It was about getting rid of my demons."
He took a month off from his job as a timber yardsman so he could train three times a day for the match.
The hard graft paid off. Tatupu knocked his opponent down twice in the first two rounds and managed to win the match on points despite a right-arm injury during the fight.
"That was a do or die fight for me. I've got kids at home and a beautiful wife to look after. Getting knocked down by him three years ago was a wake-up call, really.
"Thank God it was worth it."
He says it is the support of his family, the Shamrock gym, his coach and his sponsors that has pushed him this far.
Tatupu started boxing at the gym for fitness after playing competitive rugby.
His professional boxing career record stands at 12 fights with eight wins. Seven of those wins were knockouts.
Winning the championship title is just the next step on the ladder.
"I just pray to God that it goes well and there will be more titles after this."
His coach says he has every chance to make it to the top.
Tatupu weighed in at 102kg for the championship fight - a relatively small size for a heavyweight and not dissimilar to 98kg heavyweight legend Mike Tyson, Mr Foley says.
He has been coaching for more than 50 years and says Tatupu is one of the best boxers he has trained.
"One of the top coaches said: ‘Afa is New Zealand's own Rocky Balboa'.
"He's a guy that you wonder if he can get there, but he still does. That's what has been happening."
- © Fairfax NZ News