Ngāti Ranginui boxer "Sugar Neekz" eyes Pacquiao undercard

By Eru Paranihi

Tauranga boxer Cherneka Johnson is pursuing a spot on the undercard of the Jeff Horn v Manny Pacquiao fight on July 2nd in Brisbane. Johnson, who chose to represent Australia, has been a fighting as a professional for two years and is currently unbeaten after 5 fights.

Small in stature, Johnson has the potential to perform on the biggest stage in Australian boxing.

Johnson (Ngāti Ranginui) says, “Australia we don't have many girl boxers and because it is in Australia, and Jeff Horn is from Australia, I know Shotgun Shannon O'Connell's on it.”

I’m working my way up there so I definitely believe I could have potential to go on that undercard.”

The 22-year-old fights under the name Sugar Neekz. She may be sweet like her name, but don't be deceived by her good looks because in the ring she means business.

Johnson reveals that people are blown away when they find out she is a boxer, "You don't look like a boxer. I know myself I was kind of brought like a tomboy and then people look at me and say "no, you're too pretty to be a boxer."

Her coach Mark Wilson who is a renowned Australian boxing coach, and once took current WBO champion Joseph Parker to the Amateur World Championships in 2010, speaks highly of Johnson.

Says Wilson, “She has a very good work ethic. She trains hard, she doesn't make excuses. If she has an injury, she will tell me about it and I will make a decision if we train.” 

With so many family members supporting her from Tauranga, the decision to represent Australia was not an easy one considering she was raised by her Grandparents in New Zealand and the fact that she is Māori.

Johnson who trains at the Bethania Boxing Club in Brisbane says, “I did look at competing for New Zealand as boxing as an amateur. The thing is that Australia did offer to fund everything. Considering that it was a bit like fifty-fifty.”

Wilson believes there are bigger opportunities for Sugar Neekz both in Australia and around the world.

“I would hope that she can actually get to the top, win a world title, not those ones you get in a Weet-bix pack. Win a world title, and enjoy life,” says Wilson.

Says Johnson, “I want to be the world champion, I'm going to be the world champion. I wouldn't be doing this if I couldn't see myself getting to the top.”

But for now, the immediate goal is to secure that a place on the biggest stage of Australian boxing that is Horn v Pacquiao.