A Kiwi pro boxer inspired by her kids to ‘keep going’, now has her eyes set on a world title fight. Ashley Stanley reports
Mea Motu may be blitzing through her boxing opponents now but it was only last year the featherweight needed some nudging into the professional arena.
The mother-of-five has plenty of support behind her but it was her eldest son who convinced her to give the big leagues a good shot.
“All of my family are into sport, so my kids are proud and happy I’m doing it,” says Motu, who turned professional in October. “It was my son that actually said to me ‘Mum, you’re good at it, keep going’.”
The support of her coach Isaac Peach and boxing gym also gave the 31-year-old the confidence to turn professional after a decade of toing and froing in the amateur ranks.
She was no stranger to winning in that side of the sport, with achievements including New Zealand champion in the 57kg division and a Golden Gloves title in the 53kg welterweight division.
“I’d have a year off, then go back for six months because I just liked fighting and it was fun,” Motu says. “But with pro, I’ve become more passionate. I’m taking it more seriously and I love it.”
Last year during lockdown, Motu was approached by Peach to see if she was interested in going to his family’s gym. She agreed to go in and see what it was about.
“I showed up at his doorstep and he was like ‘I want you to go pro’,” recalls Motu. “And I said ‘no’ because I didn’t think it was for me. He thought I would be good so I said ‘I’ll give it a go’. And now I’ve been hooked since.”
It’s been a whirlwind. And Motu hasn’t wasted any time, with a record of 5-0 already under her belt.
Motu’s fifth professional fight was a rematch with Ayisha Abied earlier this month as the co-main event of Peach Boxing’s Pro-Am fight night. The pair had fought in December but Motu was then coming off a stint of pneumonia and Abied comes from a kickboxing background so both fighters were wanting to show how much they had improved. Motu won by unanimous decision.
Motu says she was still feeling a bit shocked but happy about the fight.
“At first I was kind of disappointed at myself because I felt that I could’ve done better,” she says. “I’m so hard on myself but then after thinking about it for a little bit I was like, ‘oh no, I did well’.”
Another woman on stage doing well at Motu and Abied’s rematch was ringside presenter Leilani Momoiseā. The avid combat sport fan has her own podcast, Snacks and Chats, which features episodes with fighters such as Israel Adesanya and Genah Fabian. Momoiseā says she got into combat sport through watching David Tua, as she grew up.
“As a Samoan family of course we followed David Tua’s career with great interest and great pride and so that was probably my first memory of combat sport,” she says. Momoiseā is believed to be the first Pacific woman to present a professional combat sport event.
Momoiseā says being ringside was great, especially for Motu and Abied’s fight as it was one of the more exciting of the night.
“I just thought it was really cool to have a women’s fight as the co-main event and for it to be so exciting,” she says. “I knew Mea could bang [from the last fight] so it was interesting to see that up-close.
“It was intense and you could just feel it more when you’re right there. I thought it was also cool how much the crowd really got into it. It was clear that people really love her [Motu]. And they really wanted to see her succeed.”
Motu is scheduled to have a bout every month until June to help prepare her for the WBU lightweight world title fight against Gentiane Lupi in October. Her team is wanting to host the event in Kaitaia, where Motu was born and raised. “I’m definitely going for a world title,” says Motu, who hails from Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa.
Ahead of her March fixture against Tania Reid, Motu wants to get her fitness up and will tend to a niggle from her match against Abied. They’ll be fighting for the vacant New Zealand Professional Boxing Association female light title.
The reason why Motu is “hooked” this time around and is fast accelerating through her professional fights is because of the people surrounding her.
“It’s the gym itself and having a coach and a team that fully believes in you, it’s so encouraging,” Motu says. “Like there were no questions or doubts, as soon as I started training, he [Peach] was like ‘you’re going to be a world champ’.
“And I was like ‘what? He hasn’t even seen me or know how good I am. I haven’t even tried professional boxing’ so I was like ‘nah, he’s a joke’. And then I had my first fight and I was like ‘I do believe him’. He knew straight away.”
They’ve got a real family vibe about the gym, says Motu. “They’re all about the kids, they’re always there to help with school stuff,” she says. “They’re so proud and supportive and Isaac is always encouraging them. He’s hard on them but he cares about them.”
Her eldest child, David, who is 13, is also making a name for himself in lawn bowls. He plays out of Royal Oak Bowls and has won a number of tournaments and awards including the ‘Most Promising Young Māori Bowler for 2021’ at the recent Aotearoa National Bowls Tournament. He is also fluent in te reo, as is her second child and both were raised in full immersion schools. Motu’s youngest is 10-months-old.
She says they come from a competitive family so her children are used to seeing her box and juggling commitments.
“My kids are brought up around it and they fully support me. They love the sport and team sports like rugby league,” says Motu. Her cousin is NRL premiership winning Melbourne Storm utility Brandon Smith and her mum and younger sister have been involved in boxing from a young age.
“They fully support me and they’re the ones that push me to be better. They’re the ones that make me strive, they’re like Mmum, you better win, don’t give up.”