The first step for Chauncy Welliver in becoming the heavyweight champion of New Zealand was, well, learning where New Zealand was.
“I thought it was part of Australia,” he shrugged. “I had to look it up. Hey, I’m a high school dropout. What do you want from me?”
He came to learn, of course, that it was only near Australia and an island nation unto itself, something Welliver occasionally has been mistaken for – last summer, for instance, when he topped out at 309 pounds after losing a series of unanimous decisions to Afghan cookies. This is the Welliver boxing patrons hereabouts came to either hoot at or holler for – the self-confessed “fat kid who beats the muscular guy he’s not supposed to,” and has too much of a good time doing it.
And yet here he was the other day, picking at a salad, a mere 260 and change, so relatively svelte he may have to poke another notch in those gaudy championship belts if he expects to cinch up his pants properly.
Apparently, there’s some catching up to do.
Thirty months have passed since Chauncy Welliver climbed into a local ring, a somewhat mystifying absence for boxing’s most colorful figure in this area. But between the stasis in events here and his frayed relationship with the rare active matchmaker, it’s unlikely that will change, much to his dismay.
“I really do want to fight locally again,” he said. “Against a real fighter – someone who’ll give me a go, someone for the people who want to see Chauncy get a big win and the people who don’t like me and want to see me get my ass kicked. I want a 50/50, crossroads matchup.”
Because he’s at a crossroads.
Against the odds and his own cartoonish instincts, Welliver is edging into the land of legit.
Google up this month’s rankings of the World Boxing Organization and there under the heavyweights at No. 13 is none other than Chauncy Welliver, by the grace of last month’s unanimous 12-round slapdown of Seiaute Mailata in Auckland that won him both the New Zealand belt and the WBO’s Asia Pacific interim title.
Yes, rankings and regional belts are often dubious accomplishments in the tureen of alphabet soup that is the pro fight game, but the fact is a boxer gets nowhere without them.
Besides, he seems more enamored with the New Zealand title anyway.
“They’ve had that around since 1884,” he said. “I’m part of a lineage. If you talk about New Zealand boxing, you have to run into me eventually.”
And just why is that?
Welliver has now fought 14 of his 50 pro bouts in New Zealand and made more than 10 trips there – the Hillyard Hammer may as well be the Hauraki Hammer now. He first went as a sparring partner for Shane Cameron, but then he got himself a fight on TV and then his own showmanship and personality took over. Now, if he’s not as beloved as the country’s big bopper – Samoan-born David Tua – he’s the Charles Barkley to Tua’s Michael Jordan.
Still, his success there may have had no more to do with his sudden jump in stature than a ninth-round TKO he suffered just more than a year ago to Cuban up-and-comer Odlanier Solis in Germany on the undercard of Vitali Klitschko’s WBC title defense against Samuel Peter. He took the fight on 10 days’ notice (“I was in Auckland, living next door to a bakery”), knowing if he said no “I’d never get the call again.
“You can watch it on YouTube and if you watch Part I, you’d think I’m pretty good,” he said. “Part II is a little worse. Part III is, ‘OK, Chauncy, maybe you shouldn’t have taken this fight.’ And Part IV is, ‘I don’t know him.’ ”
But if nothing else, it may have finally stirred Welliver to the notion that it would pay to be ready for these opportunities. Hence a new appreciation for training, and a hookup with manager Roland Jankelson, who steered Pinklon Thomas to a world title and is trying to line Welliver up for a shot at the WBC Americas title in January.
“I’m 26 and that’s not too old, but I turned pro at 18 and I don’t want to get old overnight,” Welliver said. “I have a girlfriend I’ve been with for four years, we want to have kids and I need to succeed in boxing now. And who knows – I may not be what I am today a month from now.”
Well, he’ll still be the champion of New Zealand. You can look it up.