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By Jacob Page
Canterbury boxing coach Mark Fuller believes the sport has given him just as much as he has given to it over the years.
Something has always drawn him back to the punching bag. A family interest in the sport sparked him to give it a go and 45 years later he is still as committed as ever.
“I was about nine-years-old and my uncle, David Walker, has fought for Woolston in the 60s and while I never saw him box, I remember dad taking me to a few shows and then asking if I was keen and taking me to learn from Ron (Mitchell) and eventually John Mitchell at Woolston.’’
Getting punched in the face was fine by him.
“That was no problem for an Aranui boy in the 1970s,” the 55-year-old said.
“Things were a bit rougher back then. Like anything it takes about a year to figure out if you like it or not and I quite enjoyed the trips away so I stuck at it.
“I boxed initially until I was 16. I was never good enough to win a New Zealand title but I did win a South Island Golden Gloves open title.
“I was like a racing sardine about six stone (38kg) early on.”
He described Ron and John Mitchell’s training as full of the fundamentals of the sweet science.
“Hit hard, hit straight, hit fast,” he said.
“It was basic stuff but it was effective. Back then you dehydrated to make weight or you had a poached egg and you would spit into a jar to make it if you were on a trip to lose a pound.”
He said winning the South Island title in Nelson in 1978 was a thrill.
“I had three fights in one day and I was pretty stoked about it. My uncle gave me $10 for winning and back then that was a heck of a lot of money to me.”
By 16, Fuller was needing a new direction.
“At that time I moved out of home, I was getting in a bit of trouble. I stayed away from boxing and joined the army at 19.
“I spent 10 years in the army then four-and-a half years in the air force. I spent time at Burnham, in Singapore, Whenuapai and Linton.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I still had that sense of naughtiness but it toned it down. If I hadn’t gone (to the army), I would have been in jail.”
After a marriage split and the thought that the grass may be greener back home, Fuller returned to Christchurch in 1998.
“I had no plans as such, I just came back to Christchurch where my bones were. I started afresh because I didn’t keep in touch with friends or buddies.”
Soon enough, boxing game calling.
“John Mitchell heard I was back in town and asked if I’d come back to Woolston to help him out. I did that for four years then I stood in at Riverside for Phil Shatford while he was at the Commonwealth Games.”
He said taking recruit training in the armed forces helped him.
“I always want people to get the basics,” Fuller said.
“I can be hard on my guys because I don’t suffer fools but we have a laugh and there’s always a pat on the back for them.”
He said good boxers need self-belief. After a break of four years, he set up his own boxing gym the Smiling Tigers in Wainoni in 2010.
“It takes a lot of passion and commitment and money. I’ve never done Government funding,” he said.
“We do it by people hopefully paying $5 a week and the kindness of those in the community.
“I like to think I know enough kind people who can give $100, or even $1000, and that’s massive.
“I love the sport and it’s good for me. It occupies me for eight or nine hours a week. I’m a guy who likes to keep busy.”
He said allowing young boxers the chance to progress in the sport is crucial.
For me as a coach, if I can offer something at that Canterbury level, and my boxers get opportunities, that’s great.
“The juniors are my passion and I have a kid who’s a three-time New Zealand champion in Daniel Meehan who works really hard, has a great mindset and a bright future.
“Training guys like him makes it all worthwhile. I just love the red and black so any chance to contribute is great.”