The fight files: James Te Huna's life inside the cage - part one
Sydney based, New Zealand born MMA fighter James Te Huna is one of the brightest prospects in the UFC's talent rich light heavyweight division. As we count down the days to his huge UFC 160 clash with smashing machine Glover Teixeira at UFC 160 we delve into the mind of James Te Huna. These are the Fight files: Te Huna's life inside the cage – part one.
Believe it or not, James Te Huna was once the short and skinny kid in school. As he moved from one place to the next around his homeland in New Zealand, Jamie was much like any other teenager. He tried his hand at any and all sports, didn’t like to be pushed around and craved the respect of his friends and peers.
The early days
“I grew up all around New Zealand. With my parents, we just moved around all over the place. We moved every few years - I went to a handful of schools. We moved all around the North Island and the South Island,” Te Huna told MMA Kanvas.
Despite his now 205 pound (93 kg) powerfully shredded frame, Te Huna was not born with the natural physical gifts you may expect. His cross-code sporting endevours did not yield instant success.
“During high school and during primary school, during athletics or playing rugby – I wasn’t really good at anything. But I would go hard and go into any position and try to adapt and give it my all – I wouldn’t back down. I’m like that as a fighter too, I try to adapt to different situations as fast as I can and I don’t back down.”
“I was the skinny kid in school and the shortest. Every kid wants to be big and tough and intimidating and that’s what I wanted to be. I was just so small and I just wanted to stand on my own two feet and not have anyone push me around,” he continued.
In an effort to find his feet, Te Huna and his older brother Tama discovered the sweet science that is boxing and instantly, James was hooked.
“I grew up watching boxing. Watching David Tua, he was the big thing coming out of New Zealand during the nineties and Mike Tyson was during the eighties. I watched most of his fights and was just a really big fan of his,” he said.
“We moved around to a few small towns but none of them had a martial arts gym or a boxing gym and so when we moved to the South Island we came across a town that did have a boxing gym – and we started there. I took up boxing and fell in love with the sport,” Te Huna revealed.
The future UFC light heavyweight contender immersed himself in the local amateur boxing scene, discovering some success; “I had a couple of amateur fights with mixed results, I wasn’t too great. I just tried to have fun in training and whatever I learnt that day, I would get back home and re-run it back over and over in my head at night.”
Moving to Australia
In 1998, Jamie and his family crossed the ditch and moved to Australia, residing in Sydney’s western suburbs. Te Huna was just seventeen years old and as the demands of adulthood began to take hold, the once promising boxer gave up his passion and was forced to enter the workforce and take home a weekly wage.
“I moved out here as a seventeen year old. I wasn’t really doing much - I just started working as a brickies labourer. As for training, I put it on hold because I was making money. What brought me back into the sport was my brother Tama.”
As is the story of many current MMA fighters, it was the discovery of some early UFC footage that lit a fire under the former amateur boxer Te Huna.
“He (Tama) came back from the markets one afternoon with some UFC tapes that he’d bought. We started watching it and started seeing these boxers fighting wrestlers and so on and it was like the movies but it was real life, it was the real deal! So we went to the markets and bought a whole bunch of tapes. We idolised guys like Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie - because he (Gracie) was so little and he was carving up everyone,” Te Huna excitedly recounts.
It wasn’t long before Jamie and his brother discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and together with their amateur stand up skills, the Te Huna brothers booked their first fight in mixed martial arts.
Any fighter will tell you that fear is a natural response when entering the cage for the first time and Te Huna was no different; “I was scared as hell. I remember being in the ring and the referee was asking ‘Are you ready?’, and I was thinking ‘I’m not ready, I really don’t want to be here!’”
“I was thinking inside my head ‘Am I ready for this?’ But before you know it is too late - then adrenalin took over once he hit me first and then we just got it on, there was no backing down.”
Te Huna lost his first fight via submission after suffering a disclocation in his arm (shoulder or elbow, he still isn’t sure), but his never give up attitude forced him to pick up his chin and continue on in MMA.
“Whatever sport I have done, I’ve never been really good at it. I lost my first fight in boxing too and I wasn’t happy with that, I just wanted to chase that win, I never gave up. I knew that I had more to prove.” he said.
MMA in Australia and the influence of Mark Hunt
Fighting his way up through the local MMA scene via notable promotions XFC and the CFC, Te Huna was always more comfortable fighting locally than he was in a foreign State.
“It was good, I liked it especially the shows in Sydney. Anywhere around home is always good. I don’t like travelling, I don’t like being in a different environment before a fight. Whenever the fights were up in Queensland, it was quite uncomfortable for me. I like being at home, whenever we fought in Sydney in the CFC I was pretty much in my everyday routine, waking up, going to the venue and putting on my gloves,” he said.
Like any athlete, he had to earn his stripes and to do that, Te Huna made many sacrifices along the way; “When I was on the local scene, I was working and I was training straight away when I got back home - I made a lot of sacrifices,” he said.
“I started taking a couple of days off work just to make enough money so I could train full time. I was just wanted to rack up fights and win fights and become a better fighter,” Te Huna continued.
It was then that Te Huna was introduced to world renowned heavyweight fighter Mark ‘The Super Samoan’ Hunt. Hunt was a former K-1 kickboxing world champion who took the promising young upstart Te Huna under his wing – demonstrating that with hard work and determination, the sky was the limit for Te Huna.
The New Zealand native Te Huna fondly recalls his early days with the "Super Somoan”; “I went with Mark Hunt over to Japan twice when he fought in PRIDE and he opened up my eyes. I thought to myself ‘He is doing well for himself and he is making a good earn.’ He came from the same background as me so I thought ‘If he can do it, what’s stopping me?’”
“I was training with Mark around 2005 after he fought Wanderlei Silva. We’d get together and every session I’d have with him I’d try to do my best and I thought that if he was asking me to do that (train with him) then I must have some potential. I made my goal from there, I thought that if I take time off to become a better fighter then some opportunity will come my way to fight on the big stage,” Te Huna recalls.
“He made me realise that if I put all my effort into it and made that sacrifice I could be successful in this sport that I love. He was a really big influence.”
In the gym, it was not all smooth sailing for Te Huna who was constantly tested against one of the world’s most powerful strikers in Hunt. When asked if he has sparred with the 120 kg powerhouse Hunt, Te Huna outlined the inherent dangers of partaking in such a task.
“Yes (I’ve sparred with him) heaps of times. It’s not too good - you don’t have a fun session (laughs). I’ve been training with him for a good couple of years on and off. I helped him out with a lot of fights. At the start of the camp he just kind of cruises but then two to three weeks out from a fight when we spar, you’ve got to get ready to hit the deck man because he turns it up, it’s all about him because he is really focused and he will put you away (laughs).” Te Huna remembers.
If Mark Hunt was Te Huna’s biggest influence in the cage then Te Huna’s brother Tama – also a mixed martial artist – was and is his biggest influence outside it.
“It was just me and him and we have pretty much done everything together. We had our first boxing fight on the same card and we all training together. We had our first kickboxing fight on the same card, we had our first MMA fight on the same card,” Te Huna said.
As Jamie’s star began to rise, so did the pressure for him to perform on the UFC’s big stage. In every step on his journey, Jamie has relied on the constant support of his brother Tama and that is unlikely to change any time soon.
“He has been taking care of me a lot. He helps me out, when I have a lot of pressure on me. He makes me feel comfortable. When I feel lost at times he makes me feel comfortable. He makes me feel comfortable because he is family.”
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