Australian heavyweight boxing champion Justis Huni says he turned professional late last year with one goal in mind – to become Australia’s first Olympic gold medallist in the sport.
Huni is one of eight athletes in camp with Boxing Australia at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra this week preparing for the postponed Tokyo Olympics in July. It’s a squad that Commonwealth Games gold medallist Skye Nicholson believes could yield Australian boxing’s best ever Olympic results.
Just 21, Huni is one of the brightest prospects in Australian boxing and won the national heavyweight title in his debut professional bout in October. Many tip he is on track to fight for a world heavyweight title, but Huni said his primary motivation to turn professional last year was to sharpen his skills ahead of his Olympic debut in Tokyo.
“A gold medal [at the Olympics], that’s what I’ve been training for and that’s what I’ve been dreamed of my whole life since I started my amateur career. I don’t want to leave with anything less than a gold medal,” Huni said.
“All of the decisions we made to turn professional was for the Olympics, so I could keep my development growing for the Olympics. All of these [professional] fights are pretty much for the Olympics so I can keep growing and keep my tools sharp.
“It’s just always been a goal and I’ve committed most of my life to amateur boxing and making it there. So for it to finally be just around the corner it means a lot. I want to do anything I can to be the best I can.”
Australia has won four Olympic boxing medals in history and the last was Australia’s only silver, to Grahame ‘Spike’ Cheney in 1988.
Nicolson is among the five Australian boxers who have already qualified for Tokyo but have had to endure the postponement of their Olympic dreams. Last year’s Olympic boxing qualifiers were supposed to be in Wuhan, China, but had to be relocated to Jordan when COVID-19 struck.
“There’s no ifs or buts in my mind about the Olympics going ahead. Until they tell me I’m not getting on the plane in July, I’m 100 per cent going to the Olympic Games in July and I’m going there to win it,” Nicolson said.
“I think Australia’s going to see our most successful boxing team at these Olympics than probably ever, it’s very exciting times for Australian boxing and hopefully we get some more through in the last chance qualifier.”
Nicolson’s Olympic debut would be particularly special for her family given brother Jamie, an Olympic boxer at the 1992 Games, died in a car crash before she was born.
“Knowing he’s travelled the exact path I’m on, it definitely gives me strength and helps with my resilience through the tough times and setbacks … it pushes me through those hard times,” Nicolson said.
“It’s a crazy feeling knowing this isn’t going to be the Olympics I always dreamed it was going to be, COVID has definitely put a big dark cloud over this Olympic experience. But I’m going to make the most of it, I’m there for one thing and that’s to win.”
Huni has been training in his home gym in Queensland but welcomed the chance to go into camp at the AIS.
“It’s been a good environment, it feels good to be back around elite athletes that are chasing the exact same dream as me.”
Nicolson said: “I’m just glad it’s only six months away now and we’re getting the ball rolling in preparations, the teams back together and we’re all in high spirits and ready to have the best prep we possibly can for the Olympics.”