About 18 months ago Connor Woodman was ready to give up rugby and focus on kickboxing.
The 25-year-old Tauranga man said he was getting frustrated at not being selected for teams higher than club level and with an interest in combat sports, found his attention swaying towards individual sports.
Fast forward to today and he’s celebrated his first win in the ring as an amateur fighter with just over a week’s notice – taking a unanimous decision win over Turangi’s Lee Wellington at the weekend. Theirs was one of 13 bouts on the card at Budokan Rotorua Martial Arts Centre on Saturday night.
The Martial Arts Academy fighter got a last minute call up as a replacement fighter, which Woodman – a self confessed overthinker – says worked in his favour. He didn’t have time to overthink the fight in the lead up, instead focusing on getting “fight fit as fast as possible” and cutting weight to 87kg.
His trainer Ryan Clement, the head coach at the Academy’s Tauranga and Pāpāmoa branches, says because Woodman was “naturally quite a fit guy” he was able to step in at short notice.
Clement, who co-owns the Pāpāmoa club, describes Woodman as a smart fighter, who dominated the three two-minute round bout. Fighting under mod-Thai rules, which means no elbows, Clement says Woodman’s opponent took a kick to the liver early in the match and did some damage.
“He really thinks about everything he’s doing [in the ring],” Clement says.
Normally sitting between 90-93kg, Woodman has had three fights all up – the first was a padded exhibition contest, followed by his first amateur bout in Hamilton in October.
He was nervous in the lead up to that match, which led to a loss but also led to a hunger and determination to win the next time he stepped into the ring.
And that’s what he did on Saturday with friends and family supporting him.
Although Woodman intended to ditch rugby for kickboxing, the openside flanker has never retired and remains an integral part of Te Puke’s Baywide premier squad.
He juggles a 50-hour working week with rugby and kickboxing training just about every day – and hopes to get as many fights in as he can before the rugby season gets under way. So far, he’s got at least two lined up in coming weeks.
However, his dreams of playing semi-professional or professional rugby remain and would love to play for Bay of Plenty and one day represent New Zealand in the sport.
As the son of former All Black Kawhena Woodman and brother to one of the biggest names in women’s rugby, Black Fern and Black Ferns Sevens player Portia Woodman, there is certainly no lack of sporting ability in his genes.
“I think every young male’s aspiration is always the All Blacks,” Woodman says.