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Former champ is 70

Kameli Rakoko
Tuesday, March 20, 2012

ONE of the country's most colourful boxers and former heavyweight champion Leweni Waqa turned 70 last week.

Born 14-03-1942 he now lives in his village of Sawaieke, Gau.

As a tribute to one of Fiji's great sporting heroes we run a special feature on his boxing career and like all boxing fans we also wish the Champ a very Happy Birthday and hope he enjoys the celebrations.

When the subject of rugby comes up and the question of who was the greatest Fijian rugby player of all time, the name Josefa Levula , would unmistakably be at the forefront.

But in boxing the name Leweni Waqa is definitely a household name that nobody could miss and definitely in his time he was in a class of his own.

He did not hold a Commonwealth title like Alipate Korovou, but he stood toe to toe in the ring against some of the world's best pugilist from New Zealand, us, Northern Ireland and Britain.

The pinnacle of his career was his fight against former World champion Jimmy Ellis in 1965 at the Arsenal Football Stadium, Highbury, London, Britain.

Ellis fought in what some consider to be the greatest heavyweight era of all-time, which included Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, Oscar Bonavena, Ernie Shavers and George Chuvalo among others. Ellis held the WBA World Heavyweight Championship from 1968 to 1970. He was a skilled boxer, with a good chin and, as Angelo Dundee always stated, much better punch power than many expected. Ellis had 'Iron jawed' Bonavena down twice.

Waqa lost on a first round knockout in that fight.

Waqa's two battles (1 loss 1 win) with Jamaican world class fighter Bobby Stinnato and his two knockout wins over Tongan heavyweight champion George Mahoni ranks among the highlights of his career.

Undisputedly, he was the most successful boxer of all time and fought regularly, sometimes every month.

Based out of Vatukoula Leweni was not only a stylish and beautiful boxer but he also packed a punch that saw him a major drawcard not only in Fiji and the South Pacific but all over the world fighting world-rated boxers.

It was in the era where there was only one boxing association and if you are a champion you are undisputed.

His famous fights included his famous battles with powerful southpaw Ba's Filimoni Naliva, winning two and losing one heavyweight title clash.

Waqa took the heavyweight title from Naliva in 1968 in a bloody battle in Ba that saw him win on a sixth round technical knockout when Naliva injured his shoulder. Waqa had also broken his hand from the fight.

He successfully defended his title against Naliva in August 1970 but then in their third battle in 1971 Naliva won the heavyweight title in a points win.

Towards the end of his career Waqa also lost his South Seas title in 1973 to Tongan champion Mani Vaka.

Waqa had a colourful career that saw him fight all over the world and against world-rated opponents. He fought 46 times, won 29 times, 18 by knockout, lost 16 and drew one.

Waqa is one of the Fijian boxers who on record fought men who later became world champions.

The other is Alipate Korovou, who lost his Commonwealth title to Ghana's Aiyub Kalule. Kalule went on to be world champion.

Korovou won the middleweight Commonwealth title from New Zealand's Monty Betham here in Suva.

The other boxer was Ra man Kolaia Bauli, who now lives in Australia.

Bauli knocked Rocky Mattioli in the first round and later lost in a seventh round TKO in Australia.

Mattioli in 1977 became World Boxing Council light- middleweight champion with a KO over Eckhard Dagge.

He defended the title twice before losing it to Maurice Hope in 1979 by TKO.

In 1980 he had a rematch with Hope, but again was TKO'd, in the 11th round. He retired in 1982, settling in Milan.

Mattioli drew a cut on Bauli's nose and the fight was stopped.

Bauli told me in an interview some years ago that Mattioli had a habit of rushing to the corner of his opponent at the sound of the bell.

"I had intentionally baited him to rush me at the first sound of the bell by having my back towards him. I heard his footsteps closing in and I swung suddenly with my left and caught him on the chin," Bauli said.

"The power of the punch and the shock of being caught unawares sent him sprawling to the canvas but he managed to beat the count and continue the fight. He never rushed me after that."

Ironically, Bauli fought Leweni Waqa in his first professional fighting career in Ba and they drew.

Bauli was still in school and had sneaked from home to watch boxing. He secretly trained in a boxing club and his dad had warned him against boxing. But Waqa's opponent did not turn up and Bauli was of the same weight and he got on the ring.

"I sneaked back home into the bedroom as my father was drinking grog with his friends at home," Bauli said.

"Then the news came over the radio that I had fought and drawn with Leweni Waqa.

"They all celebrated and once they knew I was home they dragged me and congratulated me including my father."

Meanwhile, there's a new wave of boxing fever building up slowly after the formation of a new Fiji Boxing Commission Board to bring back the glory days of boxing.

In the past years most of the fights have been outside the ring with promoters and boxing officials.

But the new Board led by lawyer John Rabuku has started to hold workshops to familiarise all stakeholders of new regulations. The first workshop was held yesterday at the Ministry of Youth office in Suva.

The next workshop will be held next Saturday, March 24, at Nadi Airport School from 8.30am to 12 noon.

After that the annual general meeting of Fiji Referees and Judges Association will be held. at the same venue.

The Board has requested the attendance of boxers, boxing officials, boxing promoters to the workshop to familiarise themselves with the new rules and regulations.

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