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Julian Slade Sport Report: La Pantera Boxes On

Sport Report: La Pantera Boxes On

By Julian Slade

One of the stars of New Zealand boxing is set to showcase both his fighting and coaching skills in Auckland on February 29.

Venezuelan-born Guillermo "La Pantera" Mosquera contests the feature fight – for the New Zealand light welterweight title - in the Kings Boxing Gym's show at the Auckland Boxing Association stadium on Friday February 29. And the young fighters he trains make up the tournament's professional and amateur undercard bouts.

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Photographs of Guillermo "La Pantera" Mosquera (above and below) by Dave Cameron.

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Pantera, 43, has competed as a pro boxer for the past 23 years. He started his career in his native Venezuela and has also fought in Italy, France, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Australia and New Zealand. Last May he won the World Boxing Federation light welterweight title, with an upset 12th round knockout over Lance Gostelow in Melbourne.

For the past two years, Pantera has been coaching young fighters at the Kings Gym in Grey Lynn. The gym is hard to find - it's tucked away in a hall behind an old Tongan church on Richmond Rd - but the familiar sound of gloves hitting heavy bags alerts visitors they're in the right place before they even reach the door.

Pat Clark founded the Kings Gym in 2006, and has fielded fighters at every Auckland Boxing Association tournament since the gym opened.

Pat is passionate about boxing. Before the gym opened, he trained fighters in his garage.

He says the Grey Lynn neighbourhood has changed over the years. Rising house prices and gentrification have radically changed what used to be a working class, Polynesian area and it's become harder to attract young people to the sport of boxing. Pat says there are limited resources for young athletes in the area so he is committed to providing sporting options for local youngsters and charges no fees.

"It's just a hood thing, Grey Lynn's got nothing," says Pat.

The Kings gym also fields touch and league teams.

Aspiring boxers train at the gym from 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Female rugby league players enjoy workout sessions there too.

"The gym is open to anyone who wants to use it," says Pat. The gym is registering as a charitable trust and there are plans to move into a bigger building.

Pat says having a boxer of Pantera's international calibre as head trainer is a coup for the gym, along with his formidable work ethic and insistence on fitness and discipline. He says Pantera can be strict with his young charges, demanding a high level of commitment.

"He's [Pantera is] a good man, his heart's in the right place," says Pat. "He comes from a third world country where there's only one way out. "

The fight card for Friday February 29 sees Pantera take on Rawiri Wiremu for the New Zealand light welterweight title.

Fili Mailata matches up against Jamie Waru , while Paz Viejo fights Gareth Jenkins.

And Adrian Haitia makes his professional debut at middleweight, after 12 amateur fights, against Jade Hughes.

A full undercard of amateur bouts is expected to feature other Kings gym fighters including Kepoa Kepoa, Sarah Teakaraanga , Jeysson Endoconendro, James Stacey, Owen Falaniko and Kedis Aiaraaisue. As well as contesting the sole female bout, Teakaraanga – a Maori television publicist and a compeititive kickboxer as well as a boxer - is also the show promoter.

The battle for the New Zealand light welterweight title is somewhat of a grudge rematch. Pantera initially fought Rawiri Wiremu for the title on April 27 2006 at the ABA stadium. But their testy bout was called off in the third round after both fighters sustained head wounds. Tensions arose within the crowd, with punches thrown, while some supporters even leapt into the ring.

"This time will be very different," says Pantera. "I want to knock him out in the first round. I'm too old to go 12 rounds," laughs the 43-year-old fight game veteran.

Pantera is used to being older than his opponents and once made a theatrical ring entrance, complete with grey wig, walking stick and a stooping walk, exclaiming: "I'm an old man" to mock his critics.

He is known for bringing the excitement factor to the fight game and putting on a real show, customarily entering the ring with a deep entourage that includes African drummers and Latin American dancers.

Some say age is the final frontier in sport and Pantera says keeping in shape is the key to staying competitive: "It doesn't matter the age, it's how you're looking all your life and how you treat your body."

But Pantera is also known for letting his hair down. His larger-than-life personality, heavy accent, jet black skin and infectious laugh are impossible to ignore.

"Too many people think I'm a party animal," he grins. "But I showed the world in my last fight."

When Pantera took on Lance Gostelow for the vacant World Boxing Federation light welterweight title, on May 6 last year he went into the Melbourne fight as a clear underdog .

"Nobody - not even my own corner - believed I could knock out the guy. People thought I was crazy man. "

But he proved the critics wrong with his 12th round knockout.

Pantera is clearly excited about topping a fight card that is full of his young protégés.

"They're all my boys fighting," he beams proudly. "I've been here two years, right from the start, and they gave me an opportunity to teach the young ones. I'm very thankful to Pat for opening up the gym for me. I want to show New Zealand. This is the first fight of the year at the Auckland Boxing Association and this one has all my boys."

Veteran Kiwi boxing and wrestling correspondent Dave Cameron rates Pantera highly for both his ring skills and his contribution to New Zealand boxing.

"He's been fighting for 23 years now as a pro. And he's still very competitive, and I would say the favourite to win this national title challenge on Feb 29.

"For a guy his age he's still pretty good and still one of the fastest guys around. Pantera had his first bout here, against Levi Afakasi on October 12 1995. He adds a lot of colour to the boxing scene, one of the most colourful we've had for years and has upset some top guys in his time such as [South African-born Australian] Lovemore N'dou. And Gostelow was ahead on points and unbeaten before Pantera knocked him out. He's always very unpredictable.

"Pantera is an exceptional fighter with amazing agility to dodge blows, and is great at ducking and weaving, is supple and can land some bombs as well. He's a pretty amazing guy, one of the most colourful characters in New Zealand boxing."

The Auckland Boxing Association stadium in Ngahura St, Eden Terrace, is the spiritual home of Auckland boxing. Monthly pro/am tournaments start with the youngest amateurs, then showcase top, older prospects before the professional section of the show. The fight fans in attendance are a very knowledgable boxing audience of fighters, trainers and boxers' friends and relatives, who are quick to vent their disapproval of any marginal refereeing calls.

The Friday February 29 show begins at 6pm.

Meanwhile, in other boxing news, Auckland promoter/trainer Ofisa Vili, one of the New Zealand team officials at the Apia pro-am show in Samoa on February 2, is organising a Samoa vs Tonga tournament at the Browns Rd Netball Centre, Manurewa, on March 28.

He has organized a strong card of boxers. Bob Gasio, Jr Pati, Iona Tana Pula, and Fale Siaoloa Sevelio are some of the Samoan stars, while the Tongan team includes Sinela Fifita and Itisoni Vea.

"I'm trying to showcase the talents of island boxers in New Zealand and further their careers," says Ofisa.



Click to enlarge

Quick on the draw: Writer of this report, Julian "Quick Justice" Slade, lands a combination on Dave Hallett in their professional heavyweight contest at the Auckland Boxing Association stadium.

Julian Slade is an Auckland Based Journalist specialising in urban issues and boxing.

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