Boxing legend Shane Cameron: exclusive interview

If you’re young and you don’t know who Shane Cameron is, he’s the guy who brought money and hype back to boxing when it was in its doldrums and NZ didn’t have many heavyweight contenders.

Cameron fought household names David Tua, Danny Green, Monty Betham and many more from 2002 to 2014, retiring with a record of 29 wins (22 knockouts) and 5 losses. He also represented New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games in 2002, winning bronze.

Known as the Mountain Warrior, Cameron’s entrance song was ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers which evidently convinced Cameron you’ve got to know when to walk away and when to fold your cards.

Cameron came out of professional boxing with none of the hangups or injuries many boxers end up with.

Cameron, who has two children and a baby girl due in July, told In the Dogbox reporter Michael Botur about his fascinating career and how he’s giving back.

Let’s start off talking about your business career and other income now – how did you get to running Shane Cameron Fitness and the boxing gear brand Counterpunch? 

When I was still competing, I had the gym set up with my business partner. I thought about life after sport. I wasn’t going to go back to farming. I’d set up Shane Cameron Fitness, which has been going for ten years now. Counterpunch was set up five years ago. It’s a boxing brand: think anything boxing, I’ve got you covered.

I’m also delivering Counterpunch courses to accredit personal trainers with a Level 1 boxing accreditation they can show. Then we run Shane Cameron Promotions fight nights. 16 have been run, ten have been on Sky TV. My job is sales and I hate sales, to be honest! I would probably get sacked in a sales role!

I keep busy, mate. I was a farmer before this, I was a shepherd in Tiniroto, near Gisborne, my education was not so good. I left high school after the first term and finished my schooling off doing correspondence till I was 15 then found out I was dyslexic years later. 

With business, I’ve had some very good mentors, people I’ve acquired. I love asking questions which are certainly going to help me with decisions I’ll make. I always say knowledge is power.

We also have Counterpunch Parkinson’s with Lisa Gombinsky, who owns it. It’s boxing training, which is very good for the motor skills of people who have the Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease can be associated with boxing. Muhammad Ali famously suffered Parkinson’s. What is your interest in supporting Parkinson’s treatment?

I got involved working with Lisa Gombinsky, she’s Canadian. She wanted to rent space at the gym and also wanted to work with US Parkinson’s therapy business Rock Steady Boxing. They train and coach people with Parkinson’s in boxing. She wanted to start her own affiliate and I said ‘Why don’t we just start our own?’ It’s totally her idea, I one hundred percent support her. They run many classes at the gym. And classes for people with prostate cancer.

So what’s more of a challenge: boxing or business?

Business. One hundred percent.

What are the memories which rise to the surface when you look over your boxing career?

I could look at world stuff. I wish I’d won a world title; I wish I’d beaten David Tua. But as a whole it’s all been great.

You began boxing somewhat late, at age 19, with your first fight at age 20. Tell us how you got there and if that was a setback.

Everything happens for a reason. My grandfather used to box in the 20s in Wellington. I fancied myself as a fighter and wanted to give it a go. I was a shepherd and used to ride a horse to work. I had a lightbulb moment one day when I was at the vet, treating one dog who’d eaten rat poison. I was only 19, and I thought I wouldn’t mind going overseas on OE. When I make a decision, I make a decision: everything was on.

Another lightbulb moment was when I was watching boxing in 1998, ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamid. That was an inspiration.

In the UK I did all the girl-chasing and drinking, then had my first fight the week of my 20th birthday. I trained at Waterlooville Boxing Club, south of London. I became fully focused and went from drinking six nights a week to having three months off drinking. A year and a half after beginning, I was ranked number 3 in England. You put five minutes in, you get five out. I was cut out for boxing, though some people aren’t.

After four years in the UK, I came home. My brother was living in Levin at the time. I told him I wanted to see if I could qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. He said Feilding was closer to train at. That’s how I met Henry Schuster – my longtime advocate and professional coach. I lived in Levin, travelled for fights and trained every day in Feilding.

What are some aspects of being a professional boxer people would be surprised to learn?

The training, what’s involved for one fight: what people see is a couple of boofheads trying to beat each other up. But it’s far from the truth. The commitment and sacrifice for one fight… if you love it enough, and love the sacrifices… I would train five hours a day, six days a week, three different sessions. I was pretty good at everything, nothing was a challenge. Whatever I did, I wanted to be the best.

You fought heavyweights from Nigeria, Jamaica and Canada to achieve a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games then turned professional back in New Zealand.

What was harder – the journey to the Commonwealth Games, or the journey as a pro?

Hard question, they’re both hard… the longer journey was to my professional career. I fully immersed myself.

What kind of difficulties and unfair challenges does a pro boxer have to cope with that people watching through a TV screen would have no idea of?

The mental aspect of it. It’s 90% psychological. Your muscles, how good looking you are, your hair: it doesn’t mean shit. When you’re walking to the ring it’s how strong is your mind. How confident are you when you step through the ropes. Have you worked hard? Have you cut corners? Through 34 professional fights, I went into that ring and not once did I think I was going to lose.

Did the hype and promotional viciousness bother you?

Nope. I had a good manager through my whole career, Kenny Reinsfield. I don’t deal with no hobos at all, no dropkicks. My managers have always had my best interests at heart.

In October 2009, you signed up for the ‘Fight of the Century’ against David Tua. It ended very quickly, with a win for the Tuaman. What went on around the David Tua fight?

[The hype] was all my decision. In the fight game, this is what you do. David’s the man. I think it was about the year 2000 when he fought Lennox Lewis. I’d only been boxing two years [at that point]. Then all of a sudden I end up fighting him [in 2009]. I don’t back down from no one.

If I was to change anything I would wish I didn’t get too wrapped up in the promotion, which I’d never done. It got too personal, it wasn’t all me. It takes two to tango. But hey, it was the biggest fight ever. David’s a good man, a bloody legend. No one’s done what he’s done in this country. I get on well with him now. He still had the last laugh though, the bugger!

David Tua lost to Monte Barrett, though – you looked pretty damn happy in the ring after you won that one. Barrett had defeated Tua by unanimous decision in 2011; you knocked Barrett out in 2012.

Beating Monte Barrett was one of the sweetest victories in my life. Because everyone wrote me off. I was fighting the man that beat the man that beat me.

Which Kiwi boxers are you excited to see rising through the ranks?

You can’t go past what Joseph Parker is doing. He’s raising a flag for NZ and Samoa. He’s still got a lot to do. The other exciting heavyweight coming through is David Nyika, interesting to see how he goes. He’s a stand-out. Two Commonwealth gold medals back to back… that’s pedigree right there. You can’t fluke that.

How have your happiness levels been throughout your life – are you happiest now that you’re a businessman, were you happier as a pro boxer, or as a Tiniroto sheep farmer?

I was really happy through my pro career. I really enjoyed that space. And I’m happy now today. Through my life, I’ve never done things I don’t like.

How should we rate the world’s so-called best boxers – is winning a knockout fight everything? Does a boxer with a 60-10 record earn your respect more than someone who’s got a 20-0 record?

Winning by knockout isn’t everything. The Barrett fight for example, I outboxed him for four rounds then knocked him out. I schooled him then knocked him out, it wasn’t like a fluke punch. You always want a knock out because the job’s done – but I have total respect for anyone that steps through the ropes. For someone with 70 fights in a 60-10 record, respect. Some people that get to a 20 and 0, they dodge the hard fights. Then suddenly they meet somebody with a bit of credibility.

I don’t want to pick on any fighter, but they all do [dodge fights]. Because it’s business: they’re asking themselves ‘Why would I fight this guy when I’ll get as much money from this guy and probably not lose.’

Counterpunch Parkinson’s offer high-intensity non-contact boxing-based exercise specifically designed for people living with Parkinson’s. You can find out more at http://www.counterpunchparkinsons.com/.

Counterpunch boxing gear is available at https://www.counterpunch.co.nz/ .

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