All Black legend Keven Mealamu serious about boxing title aspirations

The chance to be New Zealand heavyweight champion is fuelling an All Black legend's decision to pursue a career in professional boxing.

Two-time Rugby World Cup-winner Keven Mealamu was confirmed on Wednesday as the headline act for the return of the Fight for Life charity event next month.

For 13 years, Mealamu helped the All Blacks deliver knockout punch after knockout punch.

Now, after almost seven years in rugby retirement, the 43-year-old former hooker would be delivering punches for real as he stepped into the realm of professional boxing.

A decision he said was easier than some might think.

"When the opportunity arose, I had butterflies and excitement and nervousness at the same time.

"Excitement that it's something new, and probably the nervousness came from I haven't done this before, which means it's going to be a good challenge."

One starting with facing former Warriors and Kiwis forward Wairangi Koopu in Auckland on 21 July.

But the sweet science had always been a passion for Mealamu, who grew up with a boxing bag in the garage and Hall of Fame heavyweight David Tua down the road.

"In Mangere, I used to work at Palmer's Garden World, and his family house would be one of the houses I walked past.

"I'd always look up and think to myself, the man is legendary. I'd always see him around Mangere, driving past as well....

"At some stage I'd love to go with Monty and get [Tua's] blessings before we start this journey."

Monty was former Kiwis and Warriors hardman Monty Betham, who had been the architect of Mealamu's move into boxing.

Betham, who won the New Zealand cruiserweight title in 2015, believed he had all the attributes to be successful.

"He's a wonderful guy to coach....

"He does his homework, good work ethic and his engine, like Wairangi, is out of this world and he's got some power.

"You can't forget when he was in the front row, scrummaging against the best in the world, he was a force when he was using his weight in the right positions."

Force he still possessed, having kept himself fit and become a gym owner since retiring after the All Blacks World Cup success in 2015.

Meaning for Mealamu, age was very much just a number in his new venture.

"You've just got to look at everyone differently.

"43 in my condition is different to just another 43-year-old. I'm not saying I'm some superman but you've got to look at everything with all the right information and then make a decision."

But as well as both he and Koopu were preparing, not everything was coming naturally.

Koopu admitted there was one thing he and Mealamu had been struggling with ahead of their fight.

"You don't really sit in a press conference in a rugby league background and start talking smack about your opposition, it's just not really heard of.

"It's funny because if you could have picked out a couple of people you wouldn't actually fight because they are such nice people, Kev would be on that list.

"But the best way for me to respect him and what he's done, and trying to do, is to be at my best and give him a good fight."

For Mealamu, as he did over 132 tests for the All Blacks, the talking would be done once the contest had begun.

Especially given he had one eye on a shot at the New Zealand heavyweight title before he hung up his gloves.

"I'd love to be able to say, man, I loved playing rugby and was good at doing that but also being able to say maybe I might be able to be a New Zealand heavyweight boxer.

"I want to be able to say when I walk away from this that people saw me as a really good boxer, not just a former rugby player trying to box."

Details of other Fight for Life bouts were being finalised, with a portion of ticket sales being donated to leading youth mental health and suicide prevention charity I Am Hope.