Unbeaten heavyweight contender Justis Huni is hoping for a breakout win against Andrew Tabiti in Cancun on Saturday.
The 7-0 from Brisbane in Australia was a decorated amateur who has big plans in the professionals.
Huni is aware that he has dues to pay first, but he is hopeful of topping big bills in his home country and he wants to follow in the footsteps of his friend Jai Opetaia, who holds the IBF cruiserweight title.
“It’s slowly building myself up and earning that right to be in that position and call where I’m going to fight,” Huni said. “I want to fight at Suncorp Stadium one day as Jeff Horn did as well, against Manny Pacquiao, that would be a big one for me, especially in my hometown of Brisbane. I would love to have a sell-out show there.”
Tabiti is a live test, however. He is 20-1 (16 KOs) although has campaigned as a cruiserweight.
“We are taking it one fight at a time and showcasing my skills to get people around the world to know who I am and hopefully in the near future we can bring the big fights back to Australia,” Huni added.
Huni is working his way up having been disappointed in the amateurs in tournaments when it was supposed to be his time to shine. Firstly, he had to withdraw from the 2019 World Championships at the semi-final stage with sickness, and then a knuckle injury stopped him from travelling to the 2020 Olympics.
“I pulled out of that tournament,” Huni recalled of the Worlds. “I fought my quarter-final fight unwell, I had a bit of a stomach bug and I lost a lot of weight. I was over there for two weeks and I lost probably 7-10kg in those two weeks just from not eating and I had something wrong with my stomach. I came out of the quarter-final with a win, but going into the semi-final, I just didn’t have the strength and energy to keep pushing. I was vomiting the whole day, so we made the decision just to pull out of the fight.
“As a boxer, I wanted to push through but I would have gone into that fight and not been 100 per cent. I was sweating and vomiting the whole day. My opponent could have caught something off me. It was hard for me, it was my first elite World championships and I had to pull out of it.”
That was bad, but things got worse. Huni hit a fresh low and an all-time low when his Olympic dream was scuppered.
“Not long before we were supposed to fly off in preparations, I had turned professional, had five professional fights and in the lead up to my fifth I’ve done my knuckle and once again had another setback and I had to pull out of the Olympics, which for me was the biggest setback of my life,” Huni explained. “Everything I had done up to that point was for the 2020 Olympics. All of my amateur fights and everything was for that moment, unfortunately I had to pull out and it taught me to keep moving forward. There’s always another door to open once one closes. I just had to be positive about it.”
Now Justis is trying to make up ground in the pros. The 24-year-old who used to watch the likes of Pernell Whitaker, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield (“That’s what’s crafted me into the boxer I am today, learning from those guys when I was younger”) with his father is with Matchroom and promoter Eddie Hearn hoping to achieve big things.
Huni has already come a long way, from the youngster who made the choice to box rather than play rugby league.
“I started off playing rugby league and went to do boxing just for fitness while I was doing rugby league and I ended up doing the full change and doing boxing full time, from the age of 13,” Huni added.
“Whatever sport I chose I think I would have gone a long way in, I always back myself and give 100 per cent with everything I do. I’m grateful I chose boxing. I only have myself to rely on. That was one of the biggest reasons I chose boxing. I only had to depend on myself and everything and all of the outcomes I get out of this are down to myself and what I was willing to put into it. I’m glad I made that decision and it’s got me to where I am today.”
Hearn was at one of Huni’s fights at the end of last year when he decided to sign the prospect and Huni rates Tabiti highly.
“He’s very sharp, very skilful, moving up from cruiserweight he will be a crisp puncher,” Huni said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good boxing match. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Hearn also signed Opetaia, who like Huni wants to fight at home in Australia. The two fighters are friends.
“We’re really close,” Huni said of his relationship with the cruiserweight champ. “We used to do a lot of rounds together, now it depends on the opponents we have. If I have an orthodox opponent I will spar orthodox fighters and he’s a southpaw but we have done a lot of rounds together, when I was growing up, when I wasn’t professional yet. We’ve helped each other out with rounds and he’s not too far from me now, he’s only about 30 minutes away. He's next level. I’ve always said when people ask who is the toughest sparring partner you’ve gone against and he’d have to be up there as one of the best, just very sharp and, being a southpaw, it gives him that little edge… and his footwork… he’s a very talented fighter and he’s a hard worker as well.”
But that doesn’t mean that friendship could not be put aside in the future for them both to realise their respective dream of boxing on a big show in Australia, against each other. Opetaia has spoken about one day moving up to heavyweight.
“It would be a win-win situation,” Huni said. “I think we had talks about that earlier but it never came round, especially because we’re in the same team it didn’t come around again but I think that would be massive and a win-win for Australian boxing. I think his [Opetaia’s] goal is to unify that cruiserweight division and, after that last fight, a lot of people are backing him to accomplishing that.”