Young NZ boxers set to fly high in United States

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014
Billy Graham
Fairfax NZ
BOXING ON: Billy Graham says the trip to the United States to train with its air force pilots is ‘‘about teaching young men to go on to teach other boys’’. 

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Five of Wellington's rising boxing stars have a date in the ring with American air force fighter pilots.

On Sunday, Naenae boxing coaches Billy Graham and Graeme Clifford head to the United States Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs with five young boxers set to spar against some top American athletes.

Graham struck up a friendship with the coach at the academy and when he opened his own gym in Naenae nine years ago he was invited to take some boxers over, which he has done every two years since.

"We take the boys over and coach them in their fights against pilots going to Iraq. These pilots are serious athletes and we stay in their quarters, train twice a day with them and have everything else at the academy opened up to us."

On a previous trip the boys had met boxing legend Muhammad Ali and this time will be shown the Olympic Village in Denver.

After that they will head to Cincinnati, in Ohio, to spar with some American boxing greats, including three-time world champion Adrien Broner.

Many of the boys who have made the trip were aspiring leaders who had held senior positions at college and Graham said the experience was about extending that.

"It's about teaching young men to go on to teach other boys and it's tough training twice a day while they're away. They train three days a week at home and run the other two days so they're very fit."

Their opponents were in a league of their own and very talented athletes, but he was confident his boys would step up.

"It gets pretty competitive when they start doing press-up and sit-up competitions and they compete with rapping and dancing and pull-ups so it's all really good fun."

The pilots look forward to the visit as the arrangement with the Wellington boxers was the only one the academy had with other countries.

"Fifteen years ago I was first asked if I would like to go over and train the boys and now we're just part of the furniture there."

Now 65, he said he stuck to coaching and wasn't silly enough to get in the ring. "I've got quite wise about that."

Seeing the reaction of the boys from Hutt Valley and Wainuiomata would be the highlight, as several of them had never been out of the country, he said.

"These kids have got issues that most don't have and a lot don't have fathers so we get them in the club and train them up and give them experiences and teach them leadership skills."

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