It’s a good time to be a member of the City Kickboxing team these days. Israel Adesanya just picked up the undisputed UFC middleweight championship; Alexander Volkanovski will be fighting for the UFC featherweight title next month, and Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell joined Adesanya in winning bouts in front of over 57,000 fans in Melbourne, Australia in October.
And despite being in a different sport than many of his mixed martial arts teammates, no one is happier for them than heavyweight boxing prospect Junior Fa.
“I wasn’t at the venue (Marvel Stadium for UFC 243), but I was at home, and man, it was awesome to see,” said Fa. “And not just him, but two other guys from the gym also fought on that same card. It was just a great night for the gym.”
So is a move to the Octagon in the works for the unbeaten 30-year-old?
“No way,” he laughs. “That’s for a different breed of human, I think.”
Anyone who puts on the gloves, whether in MMA or boxing, is a different breed of human, and it’s why Fa, his head coach Eugene Bareman, and some of MMA’s finest are all kindred spirits in the Auckland gym they call home.
“It’s a very, very good place to be,” said Fa. “It’s the type of gym where you have to be focused and you have to come in the gym ready to train and ready to go hard. You can’t really slack off in there because everyone is leveling up at a very, very rapid pace, so it forces you to link on to them and when you’re learning at the same pace, it’s a very good thing. We also have a very good bond, so it’s a very, very good environment to be in and I’m glad that I joined the team because ever since then I feel like I’ve been getting better and better.”
That makes it perfect timing for Otahuhu’s Fa, a pro since 2016 who is about to take things to the next level in 2020 should he move to 19-0 with a win over former U.S. Olympian Devin Vargas this Friday in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Most definitely and I’m super ready for it,” he said. “I’ve been between the prospect and contender phase for a while, so I really, really can’t wait until I break through that and get to fight bigger names in some good places for a bit more money. I can’t wait to fight the top guys.”
Vargas is a name, albeit one who, at 37, has seen better days in the ring. But it doesn’t hurt to point out that the Ohio native was in the ring with current heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. as recently as March 2018, and who is coming off an August stoppage of previously unbeaten Niall Kennedy in August. In other words, he could either be wiped out early by Fa or give the New Zealander a stern test.
In a lot of ways, it’s a similar fight to Fa’s most recent bout, a June victory over former contender Dominick Guinn. Fa took a clear-cut unanimous decision, but the 44-year-old did put the up and comer on the deck in the fourth round, sending shockwaves of panic through the hearts of his supporters. Forget that he dominated the fight outside of that trip to the canvas and showed that he could come back from adversity; the fact that he was put in that situation from a faded former standout brought out the vultures. But after a stellar amateur career and a perfect run as a pro in a country that isn’t the hotbed of boxing that other locales are, Fa gets more attention than most, and not all attention is good.
“When I started, that was one of the things my first coach said to me,” Fa said. “He said in this sport you have to have a very thick skin because of the things that happen outside of the sport. So I got to learn that when I was young, like 16. I’m 30 now, so I have learned to deal with that and I don’t really read too much online anymore. I see my name on a news article or a clip on YouTube but I don’t really watch it just because I might get worked up on something irrelevant. The best thing that I learned to do is focus on what I need to do to get better and focus on the things that are coming from the people that I trust. I’m not too worried about the naysayers out there; they’re people I don’t know, so I really don’t care about what they say.”
Fa laughs, clearly a young man with the personality and raw talent to make some noise in the heavyweight division. All that’s left is getting the pro experience that will prepare him for the big names, and that’s where fights like Guinn and Vargas come in.
“Guinn was a very, very tricky guy to handle,” said Fa. “He definitely knew when to punch, what to throw, and these are things I can take going forward. Usually when I’m fighting someone, sometimes they’ll just start swinging out of nowhere, throwing random punches. Whereas someone like Guinn knows the game and knows how to take the young lions into deep waters, so fighting him and also watching him at the same time, it’s good because I get to learn while I’m fighting.”
The next lesson to be taught is from Professor Vargas, and Fa, who has also sparred with the likes of Deontay Wilder and Malik Scott over the course of his career, is ready for class.
“I’ve been in this spot for a while, so I welcome all the challenges and all the things that come with it, and I can’t wait until I step into the ring and go to town on Devin Vargas,” said Fa, who is focused on Friday night but also isn’t shy about looking forward to the future.
“It’s looking bright and I can’t wait because I know there’s gonna be some good fights coming up,” he said. “If I win this one in spectacular fashion, which I plan to, there’s gonna be a bright future next year and the year after and I just can’t wait.”