Whakatāne fight night offers a stage where Māori fighters can excel

By Jessica Tyson

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Mortal Combat Fight Night, held annually in Whakatāne.

Organiser Carl Cowley says the community event provided an opportunity for not only up and coming athletes to get into the ring but also as a platform for champion fighters to compete in title fights.

“The main event is a New Zealand title fight. So we’ve got a local guy, Zaane Walker, who is one of my students and he’s defending his New Zealand title,” Cowley says.

The majority of athletes and coaches competing are Māori, including 22 of the 34 fighters and nine of the 15 coaches. They are from iwi including Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura, Te Whānau a Apanui, Te Arawa, Ngāti Ruanui and more.

“There’s a lot of up-and-coming and very experienced fighters. There are a lot of first-timers so we have a whole range.”

The youngest is 12 years old.

“We have females, we have heavyweights, we have superheavyweight, we have lightweights  - all shapes and sizes, all different skill levels, all different experience levels, from first-timers right up to elite athletes. I guess that will bring for great viewing this Saturday night.”

Cowley says that, since it is such a popular event, all of the ringside tables have sold out.

“My whole intention is to promote a tournament to support local competitors. When I was competing many years ago I had to travel to Auckland and the main centres just to get competition," he says.

“It’s all about promoting the sport locally and promoting an opportunity for local fighters. We have 18 fighters on the card from local gyms here in Whakatāne and they have the opportunity to be on the big stage in front of their family, friends, workmates.

The first Mortal Combat Fight Night in Whakatāne happened in 1998.

“A long time ago that and before kickboxing really came on the scene ... But since then, we must’ve missed a couple of years earlier on, pretty much since the inception of K-1 which happened in the early 2000s.”

Cawley says he’s looking forward to watching all of all competitors have good, hard but fair fights.

“I put a lot of time and energy making sure that the flights are evenly matched, a lot of in-depth conversation with the trainers and, in turn, what that will lead to is good sound competition, and, in turn, that leads to good viewing for those spectators whoare turning up on Saturday night.”

The Mortal Combat Fight Night will start at 5.30pm at the Whakatane War Memorial.