Tucked away in a leafy Auckland suburb is a world-renowned gym where Tongan boxer Junior Fa is working out full-time for what is being billed as the ‘Fight of the Century.’
The hype machine is cranking up ahead of the former Commonwealth Games representative boxer’s showdown with Joseph Parker next month.
Junior Fa trained in front of media this week with the pre-bout tension building.
The Mt Eden gym, City Kickboxing, oozes with talented people of all ages and ethnicities.
Fa, who holds the WBO Oriental Interim Heavyweight title, said people travelled from across the district to be part of “the big team and the big family”.
“It feels like a big team and a big family, rather than just individuals doing an individual sport because it is an individual sport but when we go into the ring we basically carry our gym with us, because there’s a lot of team mates that have helped us to get there and there are a lot of people that have sacrificed there time to help us.”
City Kickboxing has established a reputation for producing quality fighters across combat sports. It’s a gym of world champions with the likes of Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski training here alongside ranked UFC fighters Dan Hooker and Kai Kara-France.
It’s what you’d expect from any other gym when you first step foot inside – the smell of sweat, socks and humidity from the bodies in close proximity, making every last minute count as their morning classes come to an end.
People walking in and out of the familiar doors attempt to throw a playful kick at anyone they pass but the room goes quiet when Junior jumps into the ring.
Trainers are pumping him up before the cameras start rolling, yelling for him to take his shirt off.
“Show em what you’ve got…what you’re working for, get the cameras ready!”
But a slightly shy and embarrassed Fa stands back, keeping his shirt on, before throwing punches to some pads.
The media attention is something new for Fa as he prepares for the biggest fight of his career, but he said he hadn’t taken his eyes off the goal ahead.
“I’m keeping my focus where it needs to be which is training and then for the rest of the stuff like the media and the visits, I’m just having fun with it.
“I’m enjoying the moment while it’s here [and] it’s getting easier. The important part is that I perform on the night and so I’m just focusing all of my time and energy on the fight and on the training.”
The 31-year-old is well into his training routine, looking comfortable and relaxed with trainer Doug Viney.
With additional mentoring from Eugene Bareman, Fa is confident of the team behind him.
“We met each other a long time ago and now we are preparing together for the biggest fight of my career so it means a lot.
“It shows that there’s a lot of trust there, I really trust these guys and when I walk into the ring I have 100 percent trust in my corner and [we are] praying for a good outcome.”
Fa said training had been ticking along well and was about as difficult as it needed to be.
“Training his hard, sparring is hard, so this is the time that I’m focusing more on my recovery and making sure I get everything right.”
As the fight looms closer, Fa is making sure he’s making the most of everyday.
“Fighting Joseph Parker brings on a lot of rewards if I win so I’m making sure that I train my hardest because an opportunity like this possibly won’t present itself twice so I’m making sure that I grab this opportunity with both hands.
The Pasifika boxers are all square at two wins a piece from their previous four meetings as amateurs.
Parker has a 27-2 win-loss record, while Fa is 19-0.
Fa believes he has something to prove in the upcoming bout, which may be the point of difference, although he expects Parker to come out fast and strong.
“I think if it turns fiery quickly we’ll probably see how good and how tough Joseph Parker really is because I’m a lot bigger than all the guys that he’s faced.
“I think both of us are a bit too smart to get involved into a brawl too early but you never know, we’re always adding to the game plan but we’re pretty much set on what we plan to do on the night. ”
As for his gym full of family and friends?
Fa said he was carrying the team into the ring with him come 12 December.
“Training is a lot more intense and sparring is great here because there’s a deep pool of talent here that you can learn from. I just give credit to the gym and the culture that they’ve developed over the years and I just love being here.”
“We carry that into the ring with us and then we get to give back out time towards our training partners as well, so its just a great family environment.”