NZ Warriors great Manu Vatuvei is in the thick of training for his next foray into the boxing ring, but he’s not ready to hang up his boots just yet.
In fact, Vatuvei is using his upcoming bout against Dave ‘Brown Buttabean’ Letele to work his way back to full fitness, as he eyes a return to the field – wherever that field may be.
After a debilitating Achilles tear ended his UK Super League career before it even it started, Vatuvei insists he has unfinished business with rugby league.
“I’ve still got the passion to play rugby league, so that’s something I really want to do,” he said. “I wasn’t quite ready to hang the boots up.
“I’ve still got that fire burning inside of me to keep playing and I’ll leave it to my manager to have a shop around.
“I’ve been out for a while, and this is a great time for my body to get back and start doing something.
“Right now I’m just concentrating on getting myself right, and my body in shape and ready, in case anything comes up.
“I love a good challenge, and hopefully things go well and we can put on a good show.”
The 32-year-old has one fight under his belt, after his 2012 Fight for Life clash with Olympic rower Eric Murray.
He came out on the wrong side of the scorecard that night, but took plenty of lessons away from the experience – ones that also translated to rugby league.
“The mental toughness was the biggest thing I learned. In league, I used to have a lot of temper moments and it helped me control that.
“Whenever something went bad, I could control it and take myself into a good situation.
“Also, the fitness part of it – I was as at my lightest when I trained for that fight at about 104kgs. I hadn’t been that weight since I was about 11, I think.
“I’m just going take it one step at a time, concentrate on this one and see where it takes me. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”
Preparation-wise, Vatuvei has been working primarily with former Warrior, turned boxer Monty Betham and NZ heavyweight great David Tua.
He’s also been sampling other gyms across Auckland, including UFC lightweight Dan Hooker’s Combat Academy and famed kickboxing gym Lee Gar.
“I’m just going to train the house down and hopefully, I can learn more and build from there.
“I’ve always been passionate about boxing – I’ve always loved watching it since Muhammad Ali, David Tua, Mike Tyson.
“I’ve always loved watching it, especially the brother, Joseph Parker. I’ve loved watching him from when he first started until now.”
His opponent, Letele, has a wealth of ring experience on his side. He was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to promote ‘Buttabean Motivation’ – his fitness boot camps aimed at tackling New Zealand’s obesity epidemic.
“When Dave approached me to take on this fight, I thought they must need a bit of excitement on the card,” said Letele. “I think me and Manu will definitely bring that.
“There are some amazing boxing matches on this card, but what Manu and I bring is an entertaining fight for the ordinary punter.”
He’s already identified one area he may be able to gain an upper hand over the 31-test league international.
“I might try to put up a few high balls and see if he can take them,” Letele laughed.
“He’s a beast, that’s why they call him that – he’s going to bring it.”
Letele and Vatuvei will feature on the undercard of Joseph Parker’s bout with Alexander Flores at Horncastle Arena in Christchurch on December 15.