Buttabean and the Beast fight obesity, each other

By James Perry

Former Warriors crowd favorite Manu Vatuvei will make his professional boxing debut in Christchurch next month.

Vatuvei, who scored 152 tries for the Auckland NRL club will face-off against Dave "Brown Buttabean" Letele on the undercard of former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker's fight against Alexander Florez, USA.

The big winger has one amateur fight under his belt, a victory against Olympic rowing champion Eric Murray in 2012, and says he has had an itch to get back in the ring since.

After being let go by UK league club Salford this year with an Achilles injury, he took the opportunity to get active again. 

"[Boxing] gave me something to be hungry about and to work even harder to get back into shape and be ready for whatever comes my way," he says. 

Vatuvei hasn't ruled out a return to league, but is leaving that to his manager.  However he is interested in looking at following the footsteps of Monty Betham, Sonny Bill WIlliams and Anthony Mundine, who have forged careers in the ring as well as on the field.

Letele has come out of retirement for the bout.  He says he has been asked to fight before and turned it down, but couldn't refuse the opportunity to raise awareness of his Brown Buttabean Motivation organisation.

"Obviously Manu is a big name but what was it for me was getting more publicity around our movement, BBM, and what better way to do it on such a big card against such a big name," he says. 

Letele has helped transform many lives through his free community boot camps which he says are attended by up to 1,000 people a week.

He says some of the people who attend his boot camps were previously too shy to leave the house. 

"They were housebound, one leg in the grave so it's literally saving lives every day.  What we do is deliver hope."

When Letele and DUCO founder David Higgins approached Vatuvei about the fight he jumped at the opportunity to support the cause. 

"I've always been passionate about supporting and giving back to people.  I love what he's doing and you can see the changes."

Letele's first professional fight in 2014 was against Vatuvei's older brother Lopini and Manu was in the corner that night.

The Brown Buttabean then weighed 168kg, and is now at 110kg.

"It's come full-circle.  Who knows what's going to happen?  I'm definitely a lot better athlete than that first night."

Letele walked away with victory that day and Manu has a chance to exact some family revenge in Christchurch.

"You wouldn't wanna have both brothers lose," he says, "I'm a type of person who hates losing." 

He is, however, looking forward most to getting into the ring and doing his best to put on a great show. 

While Vatuvei is open to exploring his options in the boxing world, Letele insists this will be his final bout.

"This was a big one that I wanted to do, but this is- 100% this will be it, finished.  I only just got this one past the wife, I won't get another I don't think."

The fight will take place on December 15 at Horncastle Arena, Christchurch.