14-year-old Ropata Lewis punching above his weight in Muay Thai boxing

Fourteen-year-old Ropata Lewis is New Zealand's number one Muay Thai boxer for his age and weight, and has been selected for the Junior Black Gloves squad to compete at the World Championships in Thailand in August.

The ancient combat sport is about using fists, punches, kicks, elbows and knees to take out your opponent, and is known as 'the art of eight limbs'.

Ropata's success is largely down to his fierce determination.

"I just aim to just look at my opponent and just go and hit him," Ropata says.

His coach Leighann Banham sees a big future for the teenager.

"From where he has come from to now, just everything has come together nicely. He's strong, he's confident."

Away from the ring, it's Ropata's big sister Delores 'Delz' Kingi who calls the shots.

"I'm very proud of him, who he is, what he's achieved and accomplished," says Delz.

Ropata Lewis.
Ropata Lewis. Photo credit: Givealittle/supplied

It's Delz who stepped in to look after Ropata after their mum's sudden death in 2008. Ropata, her youngest child was only five years old.

With no mum and a father doing a stint in jail, Ropata was destined to live a life in care -  but there was no way Delz was ever going to let that happen.

"I'm just doing what's needed to be done. If I went back seven years ago and I had to do it again, I'd do it again," she says.

Brother and sister are often mistaken for mother and son, with 30-year-old Delz never too far away from her little brother's side.

"She's kind, she helps me fundraise for going to Thailand and she made me come to training every day, helps me have transport coming here," says Ropata.

It was his sister who got the teen into kick-boxing classes, to help make him fitter and stronger on the rugby field. Delz thought it would also benefit Ropata teaching him about dedication and discipline.

"He then found wow I really like this! Rugby I think is still his passion as well, but I'm hoping that Thai boxing is now his first sport, and rugby is his second," Leighann says.

And everyone agrees that Delz plays a large part in Ropata's success to date.

"She's a big part of it, she's very, very supportive and she's behind Ropata 110 percent," according to Leighann.

Ropata's determined not to let his supporters down and is training six days a week at the gym in preparation for the world champs. He's putting in the work that some adults don't even do, and the results are showing - coming a long way in a short space of time.

The world champs are a forerunner to ambitious plans to hopefully compete at the Olympics one day, and his coach says Ropata has a shot at a medal.

But Ropata's quest to be the best in the world doesn't come cheap. He and his whanau have been frantically fundraising since he made the cut in April to get the $5000 it'll cost to get him to Thailand.

They're still short of the money Ropata needs before his first-ever flight in August, and the huge cost means Delz won't get to be ringside.

"I have faith in him, he'll give it his all. It's a bummer that I can't go though."

Ropata's excited about his first-ever plane trip and is grateful to all the support he's got from whanau and the Napier community.

The Hui

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