Behind the scenes of a grueling sport

THROUGH all the blood and sweat in the ring, you find two opponents who have worked their guts out to even get there.

For some like Victoria’s Andre Meunier, who is a top-weight fighter, it’s an easier ride because you don’t have to lose any weight.

For others who are in middle or light weight divisions, the task of getting into the ring can be sometimes more grueling than in it.

In an exclusive behind the scenes look into the sport, Team Ultimate Kickboxing took into the haven behind the sport in the lead up to Rumble in the Jungle 13 at Wyndham Leisure and Events Centre on November 27.

The gasping, the sweating and the weigh-in.

The gasping is from running endlessly on the treadmill in an effort to drop weight to match their opponents weight at the weigh-in.

One fighter was on 79 kilograms and needed to drop four kilograms in one day to match his opponent.

He spent a half a day in the sauna, dripping sweat like there was no tomorrow.

It was debilitating stuff.

The other half of the day was in the pool or on the treadmill.

It was D-Day in his quest for salvation.

This is what some call the the actual fight for the lightweight or middle weights.

For the heavyweights, the fight looms as a lethal physical challenge in the ring.

It can inflict the worst pain and even result in worst case scenario – death.

Victoria’s Andre ‘the giant’ Meunier developed the ‘Hail Andre’ with a couple of powerful flying elbow shots that proved intimidating in his points decision win against Samoan champion Leamy Tato at Shores Entertainment Centre in Glenelg last year.

“I nearly knocked him out in the first round from an elbow move. It was good that a couple of them came off,” Meunier said.

The move was almost deadly.

Tato is a massive 110 kilograms and a former Manly rugby league player who was recruited from New Zealand at the age of 19.

 He worked his way up the ranks playing for the junior Kiwis in France before making Manly’s main squad.

 His rugby league career was a short one as he missed his family too much and went back home to play top-level league before moving to union.

Tato has been kickboxing for five years, intimidating opponents even without the aid of the tattoos that decorate his whole body.

He holds the NZ mixed martial arts heavyweight title after a few cage fights and was a former K1 NZ contender, boasting a knockout victory over Australia’s Steve MacKinnon.

Albeit not a title fight, Meunier regards this win as one of his best.

“A lot of people in the crowd said that they didn’t hold much hope for me because he just looked too mean and evil.” “I didn’t want to trade blows with him too much. I thought I’ll just get in and out and win on points.

” In the first round, Meunier felt every kilogram of Tato’s 110kg frame as Tato worked him in close before the friendly giant would crush Tato with a bone-crunching ‘Hail Andre’.

Tato’s rugby background came in handy with a couple of gruesome tackles in the ring. “His leg kicks were very hard. If he wanted to, he could have thrown me right across the ring. He had me a few times in the air. He’s a very dangerous person,” said Meunier.

“I watched the tape of him fighting Jason Suttie. He nearly knocked out Steve MacKinnon so I knew it was a matter of scoring points. I thought I’d be a bit smarter rather than just going out there trying to knock him out.”

Walking along the streets of Adelaide – particularly Rundle Mall – Meunier is almost like a celebrity.

 He’s a born extrovert, a boxer who enjoys a bit of banter, a bit of a laugh and drink, and has a certain stigma that attracts many fans to the fights.

The Adelaide kickboxing fraternity love him, especially after his famous last appearance there in February after a Rocky Balboa-like fight against Queensland’s Rob Fogarty.

The fight ended with Meunier narrowly losing on points, but both fighters sported a good sampling of gashes and bruises.

And Fogarty left the arena in a wheelchair. “I’m happy it didn’t go that way. I’m a little bit sore in the legs, but nothing like last time.

It was a lot better this time and I knew I had done enough to win the fight,” Meunier said. “I think my following in Adelaide is getting bigger and bigger every time I fight. It’s always good to have a win in front of the Adelaide crowd because they give me so much,” he said.

As a super heavyweight, Meunier’s lead-up to the fight was as relaxed as you could get. No need to lose or gain any weight for the fight – just a little shopping, a few laughs and a few drinks – before the big time under the Friday night lights.

“I try to get in there and be relaxed. The more nervous you are, the more hyped up you are, the more you use all your energy, so I’d rather just be relaxed and have a laugh.”

*Rumble in the Jungle 13 will be held at Wyndham Leisure and Events Centre in Hoppers Crossing Victoria on Friday November 27. For tickets, contact James Roesler, 0412 772 422.

Picture: Andrew Kelly

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