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David Nyika: ‘We thrive in chaos’

David Nyika
Michael Bradley/Getty Images
New Zealand’s David Nyika does things his own way, but it’s working. He will be a heavyweight to watch at the Tokyo Olympics, writes John Dennen

DAVID NYIKA is different. He trains his own way, he boxes with his own style and it is getting him results. He himself though didn’t realise he was unusual until he overheard the commentators when he was in the process of winning his first Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014. “I had no idea, I just thought this is how you do it,” he tells Boxing News cheerfully. “I didn’t know that my style was unorthodox at all, until I heard the commentary at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.”

“Defensively I think people complicate things a lot. I know what I do probably looks really complicated but at the end of the day, you’ve got some guy in front of you throwing stuff at you, you just have to get out the way,” he added. “There’s a certain amount of distance you have that you have to be able to own all the time and if you can dominate that range then you’re in a good place.

“The art is being able to read your opponent and the psychology of boxing. But the application is putting fist to face and a lot of people get carried away with trying to hit the other guy when there’s so much you can do to manipulate your opponent.”

His methods may be unique but they are proven. A two-weight Commonwealth Games champion, the New Zealand heavyweight qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games when he reached the final of the very tough Asia and Oceania Qualification Event in March. But even getting to that event was a drama. Originally the tournament was due to take place in Wuhan, China. That city however would prove to be the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. Nyika and the rest of his national team had to break camp in Thailand to return home.

“With Boxing New Zealand we’re such a small organisation that we kind of thrive in chaos. We don’t have multi-million dollar campaign fundings. We don’t have a lot of resources that other teams rely on. The fact that everything did turn on its head, I wouldn’t say worked in our favour, but we were able to overcome that,” he explained.

“It was pretty freaky because after our cancellation for the Wuhan qualifiers we were told it was going to be in Amman, Jordan. So we were like okay we need another training camp, another multi-nations training camp, so we went to Italy [which itself would be hit badly by the coronavirus]. We were there for four or five days before everything started escalating and within 12 hours we were up and out of Italy trying to find a safe route into Jordan and it took a couple of days of travel to get the right exemptions to get into Jordan. Because they had closed their borders. Italian airports had shut down. So just making it there was a huge relief. It was nuts,” he continued. “Just to get there and perform and qualify for the Olympics was a pretty awesome feat.”

It came with added pressure because of the still raw disappointment of failing to qualify in the last Olympic cycle. “Everything I did in the ring [during the Rio qualifiers] looked desperate and I looked burnt out. I looked tired, I looked frustrated and to have another four years, it’s allowed me to simplify everything, take it back to basics and use what I do well to my advantage,” Nyika said. “It just wasn’t my time yet and looking back on it, I think I understand that now. Even though I do feel like I was Olympic calibre, I had already beaten some of the guys who competed at those Olympics. But I think having the extra experience and also being humbled by that experience has allowed me to develop into the athlete I am today.

“It’s been a real positive experience, in hindsight. It hasn’t been easy at all.”

Michael Bradley/Getty Images

Now he can celebrate finally becoming an Olympian. “It’s still sinking in in different ways. With the lockdown I haven’t really had a good catch up with my family for about three months now. So that’s a bit of a shame. But we’ve just left level three of lockdown [in New Zealand] which means we can go back to the gym, we can have gatherings of 10 people or less,” he says. “So it’s sinking in all over again. I can catch up with people again.”

He has shown himself to be a medal contender. In the final of his qualifier he came up against Vasiliy Levit, the Kazakh who was unfairly denied the 91kgs gold medal at Rio 2016. Nyika was leading their bout after the first round. “I knew he was going to be a tough fight but I also haven’t seen anything that he does that is spectacular: he doesn’t do any one thing really well, he’s just a really well rounded boxer. There are gaps, there are ways to beat him and I think I proved that. It was just a tactical error, really, on my part. I knew I was up after the first round so I thought in my head, which was wrong, [but] I’d figured in the last couple of bouts, ‘Okay, I’ve won the first round, all I need to do is win one more round, then I’ve won the fight,’” he recalled. “Then, instead of continuing with my gameplan I just pushed the pace and that really just opened up more gaps.

“Full credit to him, he’s an amazing boxer and he is the guy to beat at the Tokyo Olympics.”

With the Games themselves postponed a whole year, Nyika can also regroup to peak again in 2021. “I’ve always had this dream of going to the Olympics since I was a little kid. I wanted to go as a runner, I wanted to be a sprinter, then I wanted to be a marathon runner and then I started boxing. So the Olympics has always been on my radar,” he reflects.

“Our country loves sport and I want to make people proud and I want to prove to myself that I am worthy of representing our country at the very top level. So it’s a great opportunity for me.”

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