Haraki fighting back from a future of crime

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax

Pane Haraki turned his back on gangs and drug abuse thanks to the brutal sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

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Pane Haraki's story of redemption is as hard-hitting as his new life as an MMA fighter.

From being a gang prospect, serving years of jail time and a having menacing drug habit he finally found the wherewithal to see through the haze to a life of professional sport.

Haraki, 37, could have followed his dad into his much vaunted role as the president of the Hastings chapter of the Mongrel Mob.

Too, he could have kept up with going in and out of prison for the rest of his life.

He, however, decided to choose Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and to turn his back on it all.

"I had a lot to prove because my dad was the pres. I knew my dad was the pres and that I had form.

"I had to prove to myself that I could stand on my own two feet.

"I didn't get f..... with by people. People wanted to be my friend.

"I remember going to primary school and kids would give me their play lunch just because they wanted me to sort something out."

MMA or cage fighting is hardly a glamour sport. It sees fighters battered and bruised and pummelled into submission. It is vicious and brutal but also demands extreme dedication and sacrifice.

For Haraki, the discipline was enough to hook his addictive personality and stop his downward spiral.

Since becoming a professional about four years ago he has been ranked within the top five for his weight division in New Zealand and won the World Muaythai Council heavyweight title in Thailand in 2010.

He recently spent time in Amsterdam training at Mike's Gym, a world renowned training gym for MMA, kickboxing and boxing, and he has a goal of opening his own gym in the Hawke's Bay, training his own fighters.

It is a long way from where he began.

Haraki is Hastings born and bred, and his mother led the life of a nomad, with him his brother in tow.

"From about 1 to 3 years old I can remember being with my brother and my mum, and my mum saying ‘Come on let's go' and we would leave my dad's place.

"From 3 we just stayed at my mum's. Dad would pick us up on the weekends or when he felt like it. He wasn't much of a father figure, he was out doing his thing."

He and his brother mixed it with the gang members at the pad on the weekends.

"I saw lots of business going on, lots of partying, women, cars. I thought it was quite interesting and I though it would be fun."

When he was 17, what had started as playground domination and fights over play lunches turned into violence and a life of crime.

"My mother couldn't control me. She showed me a lot of love and respect and I took that for granted. I got up to anything and everything I felt like. I did get into a lot of trouble stealing cars, breaking into houses, fighting, shoplifting . . . lots of things.

"I was in and out of jail every year from 17 to 25. When I first went to prison I saw all the mobsters there and I thought: This is all my dad's crew, I'm f.... sweet - I'm sound in here.

"I was there for a couple of weeks the first time and I thought, f... this is a piece of cake. It never hit me. I just went back and back and it never really hit me."

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It wasn't until he met an Auckland motorcycle gang member behind bars at the age of 25 that he tried to look for a different way of living. His redemption, though, was short lived.

He quickly became addicted to methamphetamine, an addiction which spiralled out of control over five years. "In my own head when I was on it I felt that I didn't want to be on it but then when I wasn't I needed it.

"It was really tough. I would go from really high then come down to rock bottom. It was something I wasn't used to. It was so easy to get into something that would take me five years to get out of."

When he was 29 he did another stint in jail which gave him 11 months to get clean.

"I went into a cell and I was coming off [methamphetamine]. I had this uncontrollable feeling. I think I felt like committing suicide.

"I couldn't sleep and it was a crazy feeling. I managed to sleep and I woke up in the morning and from then on I knew I had to stop. That's when I made the change.

"The only way I knew to do that was to train it out of my system. I trained every day. It gave me the avenue to vent my anger and my frustration."

At 30 and with the drugs out of his system he became more serious about fighting.

"I turned pro when I was 30. I started to act like a professional, too. Muay Thai/MMA built me as a person, built me as someone people look up to.

"It has almost put a new armour on me where people can't break it down. It makes me feel like I am something."

- Sunday News

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