Kaua‘i Boxer Eyes National Title

Mahiai naihe: late bloomer in the ring has heavyweight hopes

The widely used saying, “You’re never too old to try something new,” fits Mahiai Naihe like a glove.

Boxing gloves, to be exact.

At 32 he’s a state champion in the ring. But that’s not where the road ends for the Kapa’a native. Next up for the heavyweight state champ is a shot at a national title June 19-26 in Colorado Springs.

“It feels really good, like all the hard work we put in has paid off,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t really hit me, but now I’m focused on a national title and possibly the Olympics in 2012.”

Naihe is quick to put all credit for his quick success on the broad shoulders of his coach, former boxing great Mark Ozaki, Kaua’i Police Activities League (K-PAL) coordinator.

“Without him, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at right now,” Naihe says. “Mark has a lot of experience, and he really pushes me. He knows what I need to do to make it to the next level.”

As he improves day by day and strives for that next level, the former Kaua’i police officer remembers when it all first started.

“I went to help coach with Mark and I would train and do everything with them,” he says. “Then he told me I had potential, so I trained even harder. So coaching turned into being a boxer.”

The 1998 Waiakea High School graduate’s first fight was in January on Kaua’i at the Ken Oki Memorial Boxing Tournament. He battled Sam Alama of the Pearlside Oahu Boxing Club and won.

“I felt confident and I felt like continuing,” he says. “It was a strong desire to get better and Mark was like, ‘We should keep fighting. Let’s work for state championships.'”

And Naihe followed his mentor’s advice to a tee. In the state title bout he took down a former national championship contender in Mark Natalan of the Pearlside Oahu Boxing Club.

Success in athletics isn’t new to Naihe. He grew up on Kaua’i and then moved to the Big Island for high school, where he starred on the football field. Dana College in Nebraska offered the defensive end a scholarship.

But his college career was cut short because of a tear in his rotator cuff. Naihe moved back home in 2001, became a police officer for nearly a decade and is now the director of security at the Kauai Beach Resort.

“I don’t play football any more, but I think boxing took its place. In both sports, you need discipline to succeed,” Naihe says. “That competitive desire in me is still there.”

With a 7-1 record, Naihe is well on his way to making it far in the boxing world. After all, his experience playing football has taught him valuable lessons he uses in the ring.

“If you put the time in and have the good support that I have, with a good coach, in the end it’s going to pay off,” he says. “There’s no substitute for hard work.”

That hard work consists of a daily regime of waking up at 4 a.m., running five miles, lifting weights, sprints in the afternoon and then training with Ozaki for two hours.

Naihe, who was up to 290 pounds when he started training, weighed in at 255 for the state championships.

“I’ve lost 50 pounds already,” he says. “Physically and even mentally, it’s changed my life. Once I started this, I fell in love with it.”

That love is now taking a trip across the sea to the Mainland for a shot at a national championship.

“Mark has a lot of experience at nationals,” Naihe says. “He really pushes me, he knows what I need to do. I’m sure I’ll be facing much better talent up there, but we’ll see what happens.”

With the once glamorous heavyweight division down, both in the U.S. and internationally – long gone are the days of Louis, Patterson, Liston, Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Norton, Tyson – the field is wide open for someone to make a name for himself. Could it be Naihe?

Don’t (no pun intended) count him out.