Earl-Jay Pehi is a champion NZ Muay Thai Kick Boxing champion and holds the WKA New Zealand title, along with the International Kickboxing Federation New Zealand title.
Pehi is of Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi descent and grew up in the Whanganui suburb of Castlecliff. He got into the sport at the age of 14 through the encouragement of a close friend.
He says what resonated with him about the sport is that he loves to punch and get punched.
Pehi says, “I think a lot of it is being reliant on myself to win or lose and you know in team sports, when you lose, you blame everyone else, and you know you can’t blame yourself. I think just for the individual sport it’s all up to the person whether or not you go home a winner or go home a loser but it’s one of the reasons and I just love punching and getting punched.”
Father died young
Twenty-four-year-old Pehi is the youngest in his family and he grew up with three sisters. Pehi’s father died when he was only young but he remembers how encouraging his father was to his sisters, especially in sport, throughout their childhood years.
Pehi also says, “I lost the old man pretty young but he was a real hard fella, especially with sports. With my sisters he would push them hard to make sure that they could be the best possible athlete that they could be. I didn’t really get that from him. I didn’t really grow up playing a lot of sport but, if he was here now, I’d say I’d be a way better fighter.”
He is associated to the Awa Kings Muay Thai Kick Boxing based in Whanganui. Pehi says he is thankful to all the trainers at the club for guiding him through his fighting career thus far. He is also appreciative of the support and role modelling that he received from his mother, Julie Areaiiti, his sisters, Sharnarose, Jayden and Sheri, but especially his brother-in-law, after the death of his father
“All of the trainers there are real good role models and they’re really good people.”
“One person that I looked up to growing up because I lost my dad was my brother-in-law, Luke Whanarere. He helped to bring me up, especially through playing rugby. He was always there, always took me to the games, always took me to training. Always came to training and, with kapa haka and stuff growing up, he was always there. He always put his hand up to tutor the groups that I was in. He was definitely a big role model to me growing up.”
“Sharnarose, she’s like a mum and a dad to me. You know, growing up she was always there, always pushing me, telling me I suck, just to make me better. She’s definitely a big role model to me, all of my sisters, all of my family”, Pehi says.
He was recently involved in the main fight card at the Assassins Night 7 that took place recently in Whanganui. Pehi had a rematch with Kurt Douglas (Pathai Muay Thai) with only three weeks’ notice. In a previous encounter Pehi lost by a split decision but he wasn’t going to let that happen again, not in front of his home crowd.
“It was awesome, especially in my hometown. I fought Kurt before, and he beat me last time by a split decision. The fight went my way, and it was a good hard fight. You know, he’s a tough man, he’s really fit. But I had my family on my side. I had Whanganui on my side and that’s what got me over the line”, Pehi says.
Pehi never thought he would be a champion, nor did he ever think people would look up to him as a role model. He says becoming a father gave him the courage to strive to do better for the betterment of his young family, and his community. Pehi also says that his partner and son are always at the forefront of his mind when things are getting tough for him in the ring.
“Well, I don’t see myself like that but if there are people that look up to me, that’s cool. I never ever thought that any person would look up to me really.”
“It did cross my mind. I was like, I could be a champion, but I didn’t actually really think about it. And when it first happened it didn’t feel real. I didn’t think I was ever going to be one.”
“Anyone that’s a dad can agree with that, or a parent, you know. It’s the best feeling bro, especially with fighting and stuff and taking my baby with me to my fights even though he doesn’t like it. But he loves it when he sees me win. He looks at me like I’m a superstar. I just love it. It’s the best feeling ever.”
“Te Manawanui (partner) is always there for me. She makes sure I’m on task, I’m in the right lane. Making sure I go to training even when I don’t feel like going to training. Doing all of that, she’s amazing. If it wasn’t for her, I 100% wouldn’t be a New Zealand champion. There’s no doubt about that without her,” Pehi says.