By Anthony Cocks
In the pressure-cooker environment of professional boxing the lights are always on.
No-one knows this better than Tai Tuiniua who was recently appointed matchmaker for MJA Platinum in a role that will see him responsible for delivering the type of competitive and fan-friendly match-ups he has become renowned for.
Working under the bright spotlight of professional sports means that every success – and every failure – is amplified.
But Tuiniua is comfortable with the pressure.
“It was over the Easter weekend when the Dwight Ritchie versus Chaoqun Dong fight fell through,” recalled Tuiniua. “The whole of Team Ellis were down at Anglesea when the message came through on my Weibo account that the visas had been denied for the Chinese boxers.
“The odds of us keeping the main event together were Buckley’s and none, but because it was 11 o’clock at night I thought I’d sleep on it before mentioning it to [promoter] Jake Ellis.”
Tuiniua raised the issue over breakfast and the pair set to work salvaging the main event.
“We were two weeks out from fight night. It’s not like you can look internationally for a late replacement,” explained Tuiniua.
“Your options are limited to your own backyard. So we went through our roster of over 150 local fighters to try to find someone we thought would be prepared to take the fight on a fortnight’s notice.
“I suggested Emmanuel ‘Eman’ Carlos to Jake, who was 7-0 (5) and didn’t have a fight scheduled at the time. It seemed the perfect fit on paper, but we still had to convince his camp to take the fight.
“We called the Carlos team and outlined the pros of the fight – Eman is the naturally bigger man, he’s the bigger puncher and a loss at this early stage of his career against Australia’s best junior middleweight won’t do him any harm, particularly with him taking the fight at short notice.”
It ended up being an offer too good to refuse.
The eleventh-hour challenger gave as good as he got for eight rounds against the reigning IBF Youth junior middleweight champion, losing a competitive decision in an entertaining, fast-paced scrap worthy of its main event status.
It is Tuiniua’s innate ability to read fighters’ styles and foresee how they would complement each other in the ring that has made him such a success in his short career in the boxing business.
The 22-year-old Melburnian has had a rapid rise in the sport since joining Team Ellis four years ago as a web designer. The former law student made the difficult decision to drop out of university to pursue his dream of making a living in the notoriously cutthroat business of prize-fighting.
Tuiniua has worked hard to cultivate positive working relationships with promoters, managers, trainers and fighters both in Australia and abroad. Knowing who’s who in the zoo is the name of the game.
“With matchmaking it’s about being immersed, being relevant, and knowing where everything and everyone is at. Talking to this guy, talking to that guy and really having your ear close to the ground,” said Tuiniua.
The dark art of matchmaking is something that Tuiniua takes seriously. Every fight needs to tick a series of boxes before it can get made.
“You look at the fighters stylistically, how they match up,” Tuiniua said. “Their activity, where they’re at. Temperament is a big thing; how certain types of guys deal with pressure under certain types of situations.
“Then there is the scale of the event; has this guy been tested on the world stage before, has he been tested in front of thousands of people before or is he just a local level fighter? You have to take all these sort into account when you match a fight. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
The matchmaking wunderkind has been played an integral role in saving the bacon of some of Australia’s leading promoters.
“As a promoter, you live and die by the fights you make,” said promoter Jake Ellis. “And Tai has been instrumental in saving a number of my shows.
“When the Ritchie-Dong fight fell through, it was Tuiniua who proposed the idea of Eman Carlos stepping in to fill the void. With just two weeks to go before the show, I didn’t think he could make it happen – but he did.
“That’s the type of guy Tai is. He thinks outside the square to find a way to make things happen. And that fight remains one of the best I’ve ever promoted.”
MJA Platinum CEO Mike Altamura wanted to test Tuiniua’s mettle before taking him on-board. The only way to see if the boxing prodigy was up for the job was to through him in the deep end.
“I gave him a 2001 contacts book and I said ‘you’re not allowed to go on Boxrec, but this is the kind of card we are looking to put on’,” explained Altamura. “It’s an American televised card and we need two solid people to fight in the main event plus four solid undercard fights. This is what I’m looking for and I need someone to drive this, here is the location.
“I gave him the details and figured I’d give him like two weeks. Within four or five days he had a full card back to me. And the fact is that there was only one of the undercard fights where we needed something to adjust. The rest of the fights were ten out of ten.
“I thought that for someone now who was barely older than the contact book itself, to dedicate themselves and follow the instructions as a priority, it shows a real love of the game and a hunger to succeed.
“And Tai has only grown since then. He’s continued to show me his work ethic and a genuine passion for the sport.”
With backing from some of the boxing’s biggest names, Tuiniua says he wants to be in the sport for the long haul.
“I want to make a living from the sport,” said Tuiniua. “I want to be in the sport until the day I die. I want to be here for forty years, not four months just to get my name on BoxRec and check out.
“I’m here for the long run. I want to be here for as long as I can. I want to match the biggest shows, match the biggest fights and be the biggest force I can be in boxing.
“And MJA Platinum will allow me to do that.”