Junior Fa has vowed to use a family tragedy as extra motivation for his heavyweight fight against Joseph Parker in Auckland next month.
The death of Fa’s cousin Vaikalafi Lutui a fortnight ago from Covid-19 in Salt Lake City, Utah, has intensified Fa’s focus as he counts down to the bout at Spark Arena on February 27.
Lutui, 33 when he became another victim of the pandemic on January 16, leaves behind a wife, Lota Sisilia, and four children aged under 10. The youngest, Samisoni, is 10 months old. Lutui’s funeral was last Saturday.
As of this week, more than 429,000 people have died from the virus in the United States.
Adding to what has been a difficult time for the family, one of Fa’s aunts, Seisela Aina Lutui, who also lives in Utah, was given only days to live after contracting Covid-19. She is recovering in hospital.
Vai Lutui, born in Salt Lake City, has been described as a “humble, kind giant”, and played football for Kansas State University.
The university’s website says he was a “stout defensive lineman”.
Fa last saw Lutui in late 2019 when he attended Fa’s victory over Devin Vargas in Salt Lake City. It was the last time Fa fought.
The two cousins also spent time together as teenagers when the Fa family travelled to Utah to see their many relatives, and Fa admitted Lutui taught him a few things in a “friendly” boxing bout.
“He beat me up — well, he definitely showed he was the better fighter,” Fa told the Weekend Herald. “I was 13 or 14 and he was about 16; and he just let me know. I thought ‘this guy’s tough’.”
“My mum comes from a family of 12 and they’re nearly all over there [Utah]. I have a tonne of cousins there and they love that I fight and love that I have this big fight coming up soon. I definitely know that they’re all excited. I have to train hard to put on a performance for all of them. I know this time is very rough for my family, especially with my aunty still recovering from Covid.
“They’re all struggling right now so it would be good to give them something to cheer on and be happy about.”
Fa said of his aunt Seisela: “They only gave her a couple of days to live but she’s actually pulling through now. Then my cousin got Covid and died a couple of weeks later. It’s crazy, man. Most of us thought Covid doesn’t really affect the young guys.”
An obituary published on a Salt Lake City funeral home website said: “Vai was a character. He always had a joke ready to lighten any mood and a smile on his face. Vai always seemed to make everyone feel loved and welcomed. His easy-going and relaxed nature made him a delight to be around. He had no friends because friends always became family. He was the true epitome of loyalty, compassion and love.
“He was a humble, kind giant and loved everyone. He made everyone proud of him and will be missed dearly by all those who knew and loved him.”
Fa’s fight against Parker was originally scheduled for last month but had to be postponed on medical grounds after a blood test picked up a still undisclosed issue which saw Fa undergo surgery.
The undefeated Fa has previously suffered from low iron and haemoglobin levels.
Fa said he was coming into the most intensive training of his camp and aimed to be in peak physical condition for his showdown with Parker, a fight which will determine who is the best heavyweight in New Zealand.
None of it will be easy, but family man Fa has plenty to fight for.
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