Israel Adesanya calls for serious consequences for 'coward punchers' after training partner Fau Vake's alleged assault

Israel Adesanya.
Israel Adesanya. Photo credit: Getty Images

UFC champion Israel Adesanya is calling for more serious consequences for "coward punchers", as one of his training partners fights for his life, after an alleged assault in Auckland.

Fau Vake, a promising mixed martial arts fighter and student at City Kickboxing, was injured on Symonds St during a brawl in the early hours of Sunday morning. Newshub understands Vake was rushed to hospital, after he was allegedly hit in a fight that broke out after a local MMA card in Auckland.

He was admitted to Auckland City Hospital at 4am Sunday in a critical condition.

Adesanya, who had his jaw broken in 2012 when hit from behind, wants to bring attention to the lack of legal recognition of the seriousness of the "coward punch".

"I am distraught," he says. "My gym brother may die because of the gutless actions of these men.

"In the past decade, there have been numerous deaths from punches thrown when people are not looking. Given the massive publicity these crimes have received, no-one is dumb enough to think there is not a serious risk of death.

"There is no excuse, it should be considered attempted murder or murder."

City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman can't understand why the issue hasn't been addressed sooner.

"The Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria all introduced coward punch laws in 2014," he says.

"In 2018, the New Zealand Parliament rejected a bill in its first reading to create a coward punch offence with a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. This means there is absolutely no deterrent in place to make people think twice about this type of attack."

The Bill of former National Party MP Matt King was drawn from the ballot in 2018. If it became law, it would've created a new offence, so that those convicted of a 'coward punch' would receive a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

In the Bill's first reading, King referenced Australia creating a similar offence.

"They have an eight-year minimum mandatory sentence, and it includes intoxication or impairment provisions that trigger that mandatory minimum," he said. "They've had over 90 deaths over the course of a decade.

"In our case, as the bill stands now, intoxication or impairment would merely be an aggravating feature for sentencing, not triggering a mandatory sentence like Australia. It's really easy to prove.

"The two ingredients - you commit an assault, and that assault causes a death or a death results as a result of that assault.

"I understand that when this bill was drawn from the ballot, the likes of Joseph Parker, the boxer, he and his camp supported the thinking behind the bill. My view is, if this gets through to become law, I'll hopefully be involved in a public campaign to sort of publicise to people and specifically targeting young men, because they're the high-risk area, that you punch someone once and it can kill them."

All governing parties at the time - Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party - voted against it. Labour minister Meka Whaitiri described why her party couldn't support the Bill.

"It is not necessary to prove that the death was reasonably foreseeable," she said. "In effect, a person may be convicted on this offence and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for a single hit they did not know, understand or realise could result in death.

"Aggravating and mitigating factors are extremely important, and so removing the requirements to consider whether death was foreseeable, effectively ignoring culpability as a factor in sentencing undermines the intent of the law to provide a just response to this offence."

Whaitiri said the Government believed the legislation was already in place and there were judges who can make the call in coward punch assaults.

"I don't think the sponsor of this bill [King] has convinced the House as to the problem that he's addressing. We all agree that king-hits are performed by cowards - we all agree with that - but his remedy in introducing this bill, I believe, falls well short."

Bareman says it is "sad" to see Australia ahead of New Zealand in dealing with coward-punch assaults.

"If New Zealand law doesn't allow for a more serious penalty, we should all be pushing for it."