School hasn’t been straightforward for Devin Smith. A self confessed “slow learner,” his mother Deanna moved from Wainuiomata to Otaki over a year ago for a fresh start.
Smith failed to settle easily in his new hometown. He missed the sweat, grind and comraderie of the Naenae Boxing Academy so he left his mum and moved into the house next door to the boxing gym.
“I live with my coach Michael Hanily. He offered me a bed because he could see how much I missed boxing. It was sad to say goodbye to Mum, but she understands and we’re in touch almost every day,” Smith revealed.
The decision to stay close to the ring has reaped dividends for Smith. The middleweight (75kg) is the New Zealand Golden Gloves champion. He has an unblemished record of 13 wins without defeat.
After defeating Ezra Wilson from Heretaunga for the Wellington title he traveled to Christchurch to take on Shannon Drake for national honours.
“Shannon was on a stoppage streak, untouchable. He’s well built and dropped 6kg for the fight which was three, three minute rounds.
“In the first round I tried to keep him out with my jab and scored with a couple of shots. I could tell I was pressuring him because he came out busier in round two which meant I had to move more, change angles. The same thing happened at the start of the last round. With a minute left we were both sluggish and trading. That pisses off my coaches but I won a unanimous decision.”
Smith is also assisted by Harry Otty, an experienced campaigner who attended the Commonwealth Games, an ambition of Smith. His favourite fighter is two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist David Nyika who had 60 wins in 73 amateur fights before turning professional.
“David really inspires me because he showed you can make it from a small country with limited competition. I like his style too.”
Smith has changed his style considerably in recent years and attributes the positive shift to the Academy.
“I joined the Academy when I was 14. I was referred because I was always getting into trouble, hanging out with the wrong crowd, letting people down. I’d always wanted to do boxing, but I had no idea or pathway.
“When I first boxed I thought I was tough, but I was really nervous. I was gassed after a minute. When I first landed a punch and saw my opponent’s head rock back it was the best feeling. It’s hard to describe. The idea of boxing though is not to get hit.”
Smith has proven such a hit at the Academy he is now an intern assisting younger fighters and working part time in the running of the gym. He’s even doing alright in Year 13 at Hutt Valley High School.
“I’m bang average, but I’m passing,” Smith laughed.
Boxers are creatures of habit. Jersey Joe Walcott never failed to have a miniature horseshoe tucked away in his breech coat. John L Sullivan always wore a pair of green trunks and Tim Bradley doesn’t take a shower a week before a fight.
Sam Nicol is no different and explains his unique and deeply personal inclination.
“I tuck grandma’s handkerchief inside my boot. It’s something I started last year after she died of cancer. Shayne was always carrying a hanky so it’s my way of remembering her,” Nicol reveals.
“I keep the handkerchief in a safe in my room. I forgot to take it with me to a fight in Auckland earlier this year. It’s the only fight I have lost since I started putting the handkerchief in my boot,” he continued.
Nicol will be taking his handkerchief and fists to the Oceania Youth Championships in Samoa in late May.
Nicol has been selected in the Youth New Zealand team in the Bantamweight 56kg weight class. The competition represents a major step up for the Year 12 student at Napier Boys’ High School.
“I’m really pleased to be selected. A lot of hard work is involved and I’ll try and learn as much as I can in Samoa,” Nicol enthuses.
Nicol will miss the North Island Golden Gloves in Taupo to travel aboard.
Nicol is the New Zealand Junior Flyweight (52kg) champion. In September last year, Nicol won a unanimous decision over Saxon Ferris, of Nelson, in a 3 x 2-minute round bout. In Samoa Nicol will fight 3 x 3 minute rounds.
“I was real nervous before the fight, but early on I managed to get a few standing eight counts and that boosted my confidence. It was an emotional victory soon after my nanna died,” Nicol reflects.
It was his second national title after he won the Junior 47kg class unopposed in 2016. Finding decent opposition is a constant challenge. Nicol has fought 35 times making his debut in Wairoa and traveling to Hamilton, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Auckland and Australia among other places in pursuit of quality adversaries.
“My coach organises all my fights and he [Craig McDougall, Hastings Giants Boxing Academy] does a great job, but it would be nice to be able to fight locally more often,” Nicol reveals.
Nicol channels his restlessness with a strict daily routine. He trains twice a day, rising at 5:30am. Additionally he holds down a part time job at Pak'n Save, enjoys cooking for himself, and comfortably passed NCEA Level 1 last year.
“I want to inspire others by showing them what hard work can achieve. I love boxing. There is nowhere to hide. It teaches discipline in and out of the ring,” Nicol concludes.
Interestingly Sam was formerly coached by his grandfather Malcolm Nicol, of Palmerston North Boxing Club. Malcolm has been has been involved with the code all his life and in 1963 famously beat the great Billy Graham in an age group bout.
Follow Sam’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Sam-Nicol-Boxing-1474064036175498/
Kaelan Boyce is an effervescent and friendly character who is often misunderstood. He suffers from ADHD and complains that bullying is the reason he got into boxing.
“My dad’s friend got me into boxing. I was being bullied and Dad and I agreed we had to do something about it so I started fighting,” Boyce says.
Kaelan has been a national champion in his weight class for the last three years. In 2012 he won the 40kg cadet class. In 2013 he was the 48kg cadet champion and last year he captured honours in the 50kg junior category.
Boyce made an inauspicious start as a pugilist.
“My first fight was on May 21, 2011 against Dalvin Cook in Gore. It was his sixth fight and my first. I was so nervous. It was so scary. I lost 11-8 and never wanted to fight again,” Boyce laments.
Boyce trains out of the Redwood Boxing club in Christchurch. He is coached by former New Zealand representative and senior amateur champion Julian Scully.
“Julian is the man. He has a huge knowledge of the sport and has done everything to help me,” Boyce acclaims.
After his original setback Boyce won 13 fights in a row. One rival brought out the best in Boyce.
“I was a replacement on one card, going up two weight classes. I won a split decision against this guy and his coach demanded a rematch. The next time I dropped him and his coach threw in the white towel,” Boyce recalls.
Going up in weight class is not an uncommon step for Boyce. He typically fights at around 52kg, but has been forced to face fighters 59kg and above in the purist of stiffer competition.
“My 20th fight is nicknamed wrestlemania. I got beaten by this beast who wanted to hug me the whole time.”
Boyce wasn’t restrained in this year’s South Island and North Island Golden Gloves. He won both titles and earned selection for the New Zealand Junior team to travel to Saint Petersburg in Russia for the Junior World Championships in September.
Fundraising for the event was an arduous task.
“I had to raise $7000 just to get there. I set up a Givealittle page, had a sausage sizzle at school – the Mad Butcher gave me 300 sausages. I held four raffles. I was really grateful for people’s generosity, it was huge,” he says.
The Junior World Championships is a huge event with 57 countries and 442 countries represented. The conditions weren’t always easy.
“The food was immaculate for the first couple of days, but it quickly went downhill from a ten to a minus one when all the teams arrived. There seemed to be a shortage of food and one morning I was served cornflakes with dead flies in it. I complained and they said the files are good protein.”
“The Russians weren’t happy at all. Their coaching staff nearly had a fight with the kitchen stuff when they complained about the quality of the food. I felt sorry for the Russians,” Boyce laughs.
Boyce’s first fight was no laughing matter. He drew a formidable Indian opponent.
“In sport you compare yourself with others and minutes before my fight I was looking at this bloke thinking, Jesus this is going to be tough. I knew he was tough and sure enough he was.”
“I lost the first two rounds, but it was close. In the third round I came out all guns blazing, but unfortunately I could not pull it back. I was gassed,” Boyce concedes.
Naturally disappointed, Boyce used the remainder of the trip to gain valuable experience. He sparred against fighters from Japan, England, Australia, Tonga and the Philippines, the Philippines opponent trained in the same gym as Manny Pacquiao. However the toughest assignment was containing the European champion from Albania.
“That guy hit like a rocket. One of my teammates got dropped and vomited afterwards”, Boyce says.
Boxing still doesn’t sit comfortably with Boyce’s Mum, but he has won 31 out of 41 fights and plans to carry on. As for the bullies they are no hassle anymore.
Ryan Scaife fought competitively for the first time when he was nine years old. He laughs he was 34kg, but still managed to beat New Plymouth's, Logan Toa.
"It was three ninety second rounds and we just tried our best to avoid each other. I could hardly throw a punch, but I was happy to get the win on points", he says.
It seemed pre-ordained Ryan would enter the sport of boxing. The Scaife family is a famous name in the game.
Grandfather Alan, father Grant and brother Harry were all senior National champions in the Light Welterweight and Welterweight disciplines. In 1979 the family helped bring Muhammad Ali to Upper Hutt.
"Boxing is in the blood. Dad didn't put any pressure on me to do it, but I wanted to. It seems pretty crazy that Ali was hanging out in Heretaunga at one time. I wish I had been born to meet him. The whole thing is pretty inspiring," Scaife says.
Scaife's form since his debut has been inspiring. He has won 45 out of 49 fights and captured five national age group titles. He has never suffered a knockout and hasn't lost in New Zealand since the age of 12.
He won the national youth title in the 69kg division in 2014 and was also named the most scientific youth boxer at the New Zealand championships.
Earlier in 2013, Scaife won the open junior 66kg division title at the North Island Golden Gloves. That secured him a ticket to fight in the World Junior championships in the Ukraine.
"Ukraine was like a concrete jungle. It was on the brink of civil war. There were armed police on the streets, a lot of tension among the people and I didn't perform my best. It was very intimidating to be honest."
Scaife wasn't intimidated by former heavyweight champion of the world and then leader of the opposition Vitali Klitschko. Scaife got a chance meeting with Vitali.
"He showed up at the championships and was mobbed. The respect for him over there is huge. He came to meet all the fighters and I got his autograph. For someone so big, he seemed real accessible," Scaife says.
This September (5-11) the Youth Commonwealth Games are going to be held in Samoa. Scaife has been selected to represent the New Zealand team.
Recently in Queenstown he beat Jack Seabourne, an Australian national title holder, at the "Clash of the Tasman" tournament. He was awarded the "fighter of the night," despite battling a harsh flu. Scaife previews his prospects in Samoa.
"It will be very tough. The Aussies are always very strong so it was good to get that result in Queenstown. I expect there will be a few real good quality fighters from England, especially, and South Africa too."
It will cost Ryan $5000 to attend the Youth Games. The boxer is looking for sponsorship to help cover the costs. If you can help please call Grant Scaife, Ryan's father, on 0275451586.
Did You Know?
Scaife passed Level 2 NCEA with an excellence endorsement and is on target to achieve the same result in Level 3 studies.
Scaife trains at least 15 hours a week and sometimes three times a day.
Scaife was the McEvedy Shield athletics captain at St. Patrick's College, Silverstream. He has won the 800m, 1500m and 3000m titles at the iconic event.
Scaife says his favourite boxer is Sugar Ray Robinson. He especially loves the story about Robison's relationship with Jimmy Doyle. Doyle was fighting in Cleveland, after suffering some heavy knockouts in California. The state's boxing commission would not sanction him to fight again. However he challenged Sugar Ray in 1947 and Sugar Ray knocked him out in the ninth round. Doyle later died of head injuries. Doyle was pushing himself to fight to "buy his mother a house" and after Doyle's death, Robinson gave the earnings of his next four fights to Doyle's mother, so she could buy that house.
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