The lonely road of a boxing world champ
In the final countdown to the fight for the WBO world light heavyweight belt, Kiwi boxer Geovana Peres reveals the solitary life she's chosen to remain a world champion.
By her own admission, world boxing champion Geovana Peres leads a lonely life. And she wants it that way.
The Brazilian-born Kiwi light heavyweight boxer won’t have family or friends in the 900-strong crowd at the defence of her WBO world title belt against Canadian Claire Hafner on Friday night in Auckland.
Peres’ family are still in Brazil. She moved to New Zealand alone 10 years ago as a fitness instructor, and she’s now a citizen who loves her new homeland.
“I’m here by myself. I’m so used to it, because this is my lifestyle,” the 42-year-old says. “I like having this lonely life, to be honest, because I do what I want to do.
“I finish work, go training, then go home. I don’t have any stress, no dramas."
She's up at 4am to run, or be at the gym by 6am. She's back in bed by 10pm at the latest.
“I like it this way, living in my own world. Because the rest of my life really takes a lot of energy out of me.”
She has her boxing family, she says. The team of trainers that she’s built around her since turning professional two years, and eight fights, ago. “That’s enough for me,” she says.
“I don’t have friends because I would rather be surrounded by people who will make me grow. People who lift me up, who believe in what I can do. People who will do their best to bring out my best.”
Her opponent, “Classy” Claire” Hafner, on the other hand, has been building up a team of Kiwi followers since she arrived in Auckland at the weekend.
The Ottawa opera singer (yes, that’s what she does in her day job) discovered an old sparring partner from her amateur boxing days, Kelly Garton, was now living in Auckland.
“We were in the same amateur club, but she moved to New Zealand to do her PhD [in public health and obesity prevention]. So I went to her gym to train and we boxed yesterday,” Hafner, also 42, says. “She has such a positive, wonderful presence in a gym.”
Others at the gym have told her they'll be in her corner for the title bout, Hafner says.
There’s a difference, too, in what the two boxers know about each other.
Peres has been able to glean very little about Hafner, who’s ranked the No. 2 heavyweight in the world. There’s no online video of her five professional bouts, including her most recent fight– an eight-round unanimous victory over American Carlette Ewell in June, to become the UNBC Americas women’s heavyweight champion.
“Prior to seeing her [at a dawn photoshoot on Cheltenham Beach] I didn’t know anything about her,” Peres says. “But she is very well-ranked on the boxing scene. Let’s see what she brings.
“I don’t know her style or how she fights, so it will be a surprise. I’d rather focus on myself, that’s for sure.”
In contrast, Hafner’s team (two of them are in Auckland) have been able to dissect footage of Peres’ fights, and they got a quick glance at her WBO title clincher - against Lani Daniels in Auckland in March – before it disappeared from the internet.
“We’ve seen a lot of video on her, which is incredibly helpful,” Hafner says. “I actually don’t watch the videos of my opponent, because I then become laser-focused on her game instead of mine. So, I leave it to my team and I stick to my game plan.”
Peres is a renowned pressure fighter, who steps forward and throws a barrage of punches at her opponents. Hafner is content with that.
“Pressure fighters get right up in your face and they can be very active and intense. That’s what I was like as an amateur,” the US-born Canadian says.
“Now as a pro with more boxing experience, I get to step back and see it a little more objectively, take a breath, and manage their pressure. Being a reaction fighter or counter fighter, you let them punch first. And then you’re like I’m going to block that and give you back six punches. It’s a good style.
“It takes a lot of cardio to be a pressure fighter, so they can often get tired in the middle rounds, while you’re amping it up.
“I like coming in as an unknown and surprising everyone.”
Hafner had to drop 9kg to safely be under the 80kg light heavyweight limit for this fight at SKY CITY. She drove around Canada – to Montreal and Toronto – to find decent sparring partners.
Back in Auckland, Peres has usually chosen to spar with men, but this time she's found powerful women to mix it with, too.
“This camp was quite different – I've had a variety of sparring from girls and guys. The girls are a little bit heavier than me, and they are young – not that I’m not young! - and they're fit, so they can just keep going,” she says.
“But I still love feeling the power of the guys’ punches – it’s like a boost of energy to my soul.”
Peres has taken her training to the next level for this fight, she says, focusing on the build-up full-time for the last six weeks. Her main trainer, Terrence Batchelor, has been “paramount” in her boxing success, she says.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without him. He takes raw talent and moulds it. And he’s completely passionate about boxing,” she says. “This is what makes his fighters want to box, he puts everything aside for his fighters.”
Peres keeps her WBO belt at home, “somewhere that I can see it and touch it”. She’s not ready to relinquish it yet.
“I want more for women’s boxing in New Zealand. I want the world knowing we have very talented boxers here. Keeping this belt will give us the bridge, the platform for the younger generation,” she says.
“I want it to empower women in boxing, or even inspire women in all kinds of sports. I just want to be able to change people’s lives in some way.”
While Peres will proudly stand to attention for the New Zealand anthem before the 10-round fight, Hafner will go one better – the soprano has chosen to sing ‘O Canada’, microphone clutched between her boxing gloves.
* Other Kiwi women fighting on Friday night’s card are Tess Tualevao v Lani Daniels for the PBC women’s NZ middleweight title; Patricia Vaka v Australian Desley Robinson in an international women’s bout; and veteran Wellingtonian Gentiane Lupi against Karen Te Ruki-Pasene.