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21 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Columns Paul Upham

Is Rico Chong Nee the wrench in the multi-million dollar Green vs. Mundine fight machine?

Can Rico Chong Nee knockout Anthony Mundine and destroy Green vs. Mundine?
Can Rico Chong Nee knockout Anthony Mundine and destroy Green vs. Mundine?

By Paul Upham: There has always been a certain romanticism about boxing. The special feeling of the come from behind win, reminiscing the colourful history of the sport or just experiencing the thrill of the shock upset victory. For Rico Chong Nee, taking up boxing was not about any of that, but simply a way for him to move countries and be with his future wife.

Born in Samoa in September 1975, while he had some street fights as a kid, growing up amongst a large family of six brothers and five sisters, Chong Nee never had any serious intentions of becoming a boxer. He remembers watching professional boxing on television and the amateurs at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988 and thinking, "maybe one day". But he never got around to it.

In 1991 he met his now wife Ina, who was staying for a time in Samoa. She lived in New Zealand and moved back there in 1992. Desperate to find a way to spend more time in New Zealand, Chong Nee knew of Samoa boxers who went there regularly to compete in amateur tournaments, so he decided to start boxing as a way of seeing Ina more often. He started his amateur boxing career in 1995. His talent began to show through and in 1997 he spent a year in Australia training at the Australian Institute of Sport. He represented Samoa at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in September of that year and fought his last amateur fights. Using money that he had saved he then moved to New Zealand permanently and turned professional. "I just had to move to New Zealand to marry the girl that I loved," he said.

Living in Auckland with his wife, Chong Nee had his first fight as a professional in March 1999 and won all but one of his first ten bouts. He won the OBA junior middleweight title in September 2002 and embarked on a number of trips to Australia where he took on some of the countries best young boxers including Anton Solopov, Nader Hamdan, Sakio Bika and Paul Miller.

In September 2003, Chong Nee first came to the attention of many Australian boxing fans when he fought five-time world kick-boxing champion Gurkan "the Supreme Fighting Machine" Ozkan on the Anthony Mundine-Antwun Echols undercard in Sydney. It was a brutal and savage battle that Ozkan won on points. At the end of the contest, Ozkan carried Chong Lee around the ring on his shoulders. The unknown from Samoa had earned himself the respect of the fans, who booed when the close points decision did not go his way. Chong Nee watched with interest later that night as Mundine upset Echols to become WBA super middleweight world champion.

Now this Sunday in Perth, Chong Nee plans on giving the Australian fans another huge shock by defeating 30 year-old Mundine 24-3 (19) at the sold out Challenge Stadium.

"The first thing I thought was that it was a great opportunity," he said. "I can really build up my career. Mundine is only a human being like me and he can be beaten. My philosophy is that you never know what can happen tomorrow and I have trained hard for this fight."

There are not many boxers in the Pacific region who can say they have had the chance to break up a fight worth over A$10 million. The fact is he is being brought in as an easy tune up by Team Mundine. No one expects Rico Chong Nee to win. He is just padding for the entree before the highly anticipated Danny Green vs. Anthony Mundine clash planned for early next year.

"Yeah," said Chong Nee 10-6-2 (6), as he thought about the significance. "It really is a big fight for me and I can upset a few people."

When fighting as an amateur he tried to put on a good show for the crowd, "but they don't let you be as much as an individual," he explained. As a professional, he is able to play to the crowd and while he goes out to win every fight, he also tries to be entertaining for the fans and put on a show. A skilful boxer who can bang on the inside when necessary, Chong Nee employs some moves from his favourite boxers Roy Jones Jr, Oscar De La Hoya and Prince Naseem Hamed. "Mundine suits my style," he said. "He fights like the way I fight. He moves well and sets up for his right hand."

Trained by his brother-in-law Tua Muaiava, Chong Nee likes to play touch rugby and feels that all the running involved really helps his boxing. He used to drink beer and smoke a lot, but has given it all up for his boxing career. "I want to give myself the best chance of winning," he says.

Employed as a part time youth worker to compliment his boxing career, Chong Nee is well known in New Zealand and the children he works with give him great respect. "I really like that job working with the kids," he said. "I know what they have to go through and can give them my experience."

Right now is a busy and exciting time for Chong Nee. As well as facing Mundine this weekend, wife Ina is expecting their first child, a son in Auckland around fight time. "A win over Mundine will be the perfect birthday present," he said.

The 30 year-old, whose parents still live in Samoa, also does some work as a tattoo artist and has designed some of his own tattoos. If he beats Mundine, he might well be adding a new tattoo. "I can do a 'I beat The Man' one," he smiled.

Paul Upham
Contributing Editor

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