‘That would be my dream’: Motu takes tilt at big stage

Women’s boxing has never been bigger and there’s a Kiwi fighter who has her eyes set on getting in the ring in front of big crowds and vying for world titles. Sam Wilson reports.



Stuff NZ Newspapers



On the same weekend that Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano made history by topping the bill at New York boxing mecca Madison Square Garden, rising Kiwi prospect Mea Motu was carving her own name into women’s boxing folklore. The 32-year-old jumped up two weight divisions to face the experienced Baby Nansen at a sold-out ABA Stadium in Auckland on April 30, claiming a hard-earned decision to pick up the vacant NZPBC super featherweight strap – a record fourth national title. Not bad for a mother-of-five who turned professional only two years ago. With the victory, the Kaita¯ iaborn Motu extended her unbeaten run as a professional to 12 with five knockouts, confirming her status as the top female fighter in the country. Now she plans to return to her natural weight class of super bantamweight to get herself ready to take on the world’s best. ‘‘That was definitely my toughest fight,’’ Motu admitted as she reflected on her bruising encounter with Nansen two weeks ago, which headlined the Glozier Boxing’s ‘Rumble in the Park’ event. ‘‘It was her experience and being a lot bigger. I felt the difference.’’ Motu said she had been more shaken by Nansen’s roughouse tactics than her power, with the rugged 35-year-old using all her physical advantages to rough her up on the inside and make it a difficult night. ‘‘It was more like her weight on top of me, and a lot of the head clashing. That was really new to me,’’ she said. ‘‘That might be the last time, going up at that weight.’’ Even though she was giving up significant advantages in size and reach, the woman known as the ‘‘NightMea’’ still comfortably outboxed her opponent (80-72, 78-74 and 78-75 on the scorecards) and believes the gruelling experience will stand her in good stead as she switches her attention to the world scene. The champion in her sights is New Zealand-born, Australiabased Cherneka ‘‘Sugar Neekz’’ Johnson, who recently won the vacant IBF strap in Melbourne with a split decision over Mexico’s Melissa Esquivel. Like Motu, Johnson (14-1, 6 KOs), is of Ma¯ ori heritage, hailing from the Nga¯ti Ranginui iwi. A fight between the pair for Johnson’s world title would be sure to draw plenty of interest on both sides of the Ditch, and Motu feels she’s ‘‘100% ready’’ to step up to world level. ‘‘I definitely want that fight [next], but we’re just waiting on their side,’’ she said. ‘‘I’m pretty sure they are 100% [interested], but it’s just when she’s ready to get back in the ring, that’s the only downfall. ‘‘It would actually be really awesome because it’s never been heard of, two Ma¯oris coming together and fighting each other, especially for a world title. You haven’t had that before.’’ Motu has done her homework on Johnson, a decorated amateur who won gold at the 2011 AIBA women’s junior world games in Antalya, Turkey, and is confident she has the beating of her. ‘‘She’s a good fighter. She’s very busy and she’s a good boxer, I reckon. I don’t know about her strength. I haven’t watched her enough to know about her strength. But I know she’s very technical, from the last fight I’ve seen.’’ It’s remarkable that Motu sits on the cusp of a world title challenge having only made her professional debut in a four-rounder against Wendy Talbot in October 2020. She took up the sport initially to improve her fitness but soon developed a love for the sweet science when she crossed paths with trainer Isaac Peach, who immediately identified her potential. ‘‘We showed up at his [Peach’s] house. I didn’t really take it serious, I was just going in there just to do fitness and to muck around and do boxing, and he was like, ‘you’re going to be a professional boxer, we’re going to get serious’. And I was like, ‘OK’! I’m a person who will give things a go. ‘‘And then I had my first fight, and that was it: I was addicted. I was hooked. I was like, this is way more fun than the amateurs.’’ At Peach’s west Auckland gym, Motu trains alongside fellow undefeated prospects David Light, Andrei Mikhailovich and Jerome Pampellone, and is treated as ‘‘one of the guys’’. ‘‘I’m lucky, I enjoy training with Jerome, David and Andrei. They are real chilled, but also we really support each other,’’ she said. Cruiserweight Light (18-0, 11 KOs), a 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, is on the verge of his own title shot after scoring an impressive first round TKO in Florida last weekend, and Motu said he set the standards for the others to follow. ‘‘I feel like David is our team captain really, of all the fighters. He’s just so supportive. He’s probably the hardest one on all of us. He’s so critical about all of us, but he knows our ability, and David has the highest standard, so all three of us are trying to keep up with David.’’ With Peach increasingly busy with his growing stable of fighters, his wife Alina oversaw Motu’s training camp for Nansen – and got her into fighting shape with some punishing sessions. Motu said Alina had become her ‘‘backbone’’ and instinctively knew what made her tick in and out the ring. ‘‘She knows when I’m feeling really down, when I’m tired, my weakest points and my strongest points. So it’s really good. She’s taught me so much and on top of that she’s learning. Every camp we have she just gets better as a coach. And she’s finally starting to trust her instincts. Before she used to always doubt herself and say ‘ah I don’t think I’m good enough to coach’, but as the fights have gone on, she’s just got better. ‘‘She spent a lot more time on technical stuff with me, and really drawing my power and making me a lot stronger, as she knew I had to be strong for this fight. And I did, I definitely got stronger.’’ As the mother of five young children, Motu has more responsibilities than most 32-year-olds, but said her ‘‘really supportive’’ family enables her to combine parenting and prizefighting. ‘‘It is challenging, but what makes it a lot easier is that I’ve got a really good family. They’re just willing to support me no matter what, at all costs, just to make sure I accomplish my dreams.’’ Those dreams include emulating Taylor and Serrano and fighting on the grandest stage of all. With the popularity of women’s boxing booming, it’s no longer a pipe dream. ‘‘That’s the goal. When you see two women fight like that, that’s what everyone wants to see,’’ Motu said of Taylor’s thrilling split decision win against Serrano, hailed by many as the greatest women’s fight of all time. ‘‘It was awesome to see the two top female fighters fighting each other, and it was just toe-to-toe, it was just amazing to watch. Finally, it’s good to see the women get the credit they deserve, because they work so hard.’’ Should she ever reach those dizzy heights, Motu insists she won’t be overawed by the occasion. ‘‘Nah [a big crowd] doesn’t make me nervous. ‘‘I literally don’t worry about the crowd, to be honest. It all just blanks out to me. I just want to get to the ring, and let’s have some fun.’’