Sunday, December 9, 2007


BACK in the mid 70s he was the heavyweight boxing champion of Fiji. Everybody who knew him and those who met him in the ring would say Filimoni Naliva had the knockout punch.
Naliva was the king of the ring in an era when Fiji dominated the South Pacific in boxing.
Naliva was the drawcard when and wherever he fought because not only was he the champion but his prowess and strings of wins reached a point when people started to say that he dabbled in the black art.
But of course, those were the rumours spread by people who had no answer to or could not give credit to the man for his pugilistic skills and enormous strength.
Naliva was a brute of a man and had no mercy for any of his opponents.
It was the era when Fiji's heavyweights ruled the South Seas including Tonga and Samoa.
Many people went to watch boxing then, to watch stylish and classy fighters as Leweni Waqa, Sunia Cama, Vuniivi Nadumu and Nemani Waka, to name a few.
Naliva, now 62, has contributed a lot to boxing.
Today, like many other sporting oldies, he lives a quiet and relaxed life in the village, his full attention on his family and traditional obligations.
Naliva is from the village of Sorokoba in Ba.
His parents were Ratu Isoa Vuniivi and Melaia Vakawale and they had five children.
Only Naliva and a sister are still alive. He went to Bulu District School which is now Ratu Filise Memorial School from Class One to Class Eight.
After that he helped out at home, on the farm and around the house.
As he grew up, Naliva became interested in boxing like the other young men of Sorokoba.
He said back in his heydays, boxing was a sport all or most young men of his village got into.
He said it was a disciplined sport and many young men took up boxing because of the influence from the then Tui Ba, the late Ratu Marika Latianara.
He said for him, boxing became a career and even though it did not pay well, he was earning money from the ring.
Back then, he said when young men trained to be a boxer, there were not that many distractions as there are nowadays.
That time, a boxer's performance depended mainly on how well and disciplined he was to train on his own, which was and is one of the main setbacks of the Fijian laid-back attitude.
"In boxing we have to make a lot of sacrifices and it is up to the individual if they want to pursue that path," Naliva said.
"I was introduced to the sport in 1967 at the age of 19 but did not have my first bout until I was almost 21, in 1968 against Marika Momo of Sikituru Village in Nadi. The fight was held in Nadi and I won by knockout. My next fight was against Marika Naivalu of Vunidawa. That time he was the heavyweight champion and it being our first meeting, it was just a contest. "The second time we met was in Ba the same year and his title was on the line and I won." Naliva said in boxing like in any other sport or life in general, "you win some and lose some". He said during his ring career he fought about 70 fights but has lost count of the year or dates. Back then there was only one boxing and wrestling body to look after the sport.
"Today, many boxers do not come up the ranks one step at a time and we often see a young and new boxer start off as a nobody and next day he is champion without many bouts under his belt.
"If boxing officials put their heads together and find a common ground, then maybe the sport will move forward."
Naliva hung his gloves in 1982 and returned to the village. He met his wife Miliana, also of Sorokoba, and courted her for three years before they tied the proverbial knot in 1987.
A year before they wed, they had their first son, Isoa. Years after he quit boxing, something happened which shocked their young family. In 1988, Isoa became very sick with fever which was hard to break.
His mother rushed him to the health centre and they transferred him to Lautoka hospital.
Isoa spent six months in hospital until Miliana asked the doctors to release her son so she could go back home and care for him there. It was not easy for us," she said. "It was a big challenge as my son was only a toddler and already bedridden.
"We had to bath him, clothe him and feed him."
Miliana said if Isoa's condition was not a scary enough experience for the family, they were dealt another blow years later.
In 1995, Naliva was returning from Vatutavui and had just reached the church at Sorokoba when he fell unconscious.
They rushed him to Ba Mission Hospital then to Lautoka Hospital.
He was referred to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva where they learnt that he had a heart condition.
"We were lucky because at that time there were overseas heart specialists in Suva doing operations.
"They saw my husband and said he had to have an operation and they put a pacemaker in him.
"In 2002 he had it changed and again this year but when my husband fell that day by the church I was kind of lost because our youngest was just two years old.
"I guess, in every relationship there are problems but those two experience really tested us to the limit," she said.
TEN things people do not know about Filimoni Naliva
HE is married to Miliana and they have five children -three boys and two girls.
HE is the turaga ni koro of his home village Sorokoba in Ba.
HE won his first title in 1968 in Ba.
IN the mid 1970s he fought former Australian champion Foster Bibron.
HE also fought in New Zealand, New Caledonia, Tahiti and the United States.
HE fought about 70 fights during his colourful boxing career.
THE longest fight he had was against Leweni Waqa. The bout went up to 15 rounds.
THE toughest opponents he met in the ring were Leweni Waqa, Sunia Cama and Marika Naivalun APART from boxing he also played rugby for the village team in his younger days.
HE retired from the ring in 1982.
Naliva won some and lost some
DURING his illustrious boxing career, Filimoni Naliva fought and beat some of the best heavyweights that the South Pacific produced.
From the local scene where he swept all aside when he was in his prime, to Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia and Tahiti.
He won some and lost some in the ring.
In 1968 he fought Marika Momo of Nadi, Marika Naivalu twice including a title fight he won. He fought Naivalu six times.
In 1969 he fought Leweni Waqa who had just returned from the United States and lost.
He fought Sunia Cama twice.
In 1970 he fought Australian champ Foster Bibron in Tahiti and in New Zealand against Manu Sekona.
In 1972, he fought Luke Veikoso and Sione Pulu of Tonga and Niko Degei of Nadroga when he was going downhill.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online