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First Up: NZ’s arm wrestling champ

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Meet Mateiwarangi Heta-Morris.
He’s New Zealand’s Super heavyweight Arm wrestling
champion. Undefeated for the last 8 years.
So there’s three main techniques, there’s
the hook driving in. And that’s this sort
of bicep power. Then there’s the press – that’s
tricep. And my one that I use is a top roll.
So I sort of bend your wrist back and follow
through
Oh wow, do people ever twist their wrist,
sprain their wrist or whatever – or break
their wrist? Have you ever seen a wrist broken?
I’ve seen an arm snap. Yeah. I’ve broken about
7 arms.
Weighing over 160 kgs and standing in at 6
foot 2 – it’s no wonder, he’s been nicknamed
‘The Beast’.
He’s been armwrestling competitively for almost
a decade but he’s come along way from where
it all started as a school boy at Western
Heights High School in Rotorua.
Oh was doing a bit of it at high school, just
on the rubbish bins.
With your mates?
Yeah, just for food or whatever and then fast
forward a little bit and then I started doing
it at the pubs.
It just went from pies to jugs. pies to beers.
He remained undefeated in his town for years,
until one night…
I was beating everyone at the pubs and the
DJ – someone had gotten him out and he smoked
me. Yeah but the way he beat me, I knew it
wasn’t the normal way that I had been armwrestling
and he had told me that he had learnt a few
techniques.
He messaged me a couple of weeks later and
said there’s a group up here in Auckland called
the Sons of Samson. They’re an actual arm-wrestling
group and we went up there for training and
definitely got schoold up, yeah.
So from the pub to competitive armwrestling
– he’s held the title of New Zealand’s super
heavyweight arm wrestling champion since 2012.
He’s also won the Oceania arm-wrestlinc championship
title in Australia – twice.
Now he’s in Romania, having just competed
at the World Armwrestling Federation championship
I never ever thought I’d see myself travelling
the world arm-wrestling. Not many people think
that.
He’s infused his culture into the sport he
loves, taking his Aunty who is an expert in
Tai mirimiri – the art of Maori massage therapy
– to help with his preparations and recovery.
But he’ll bring even more mana to the table
this year when he comes face to face with
his opponents.
I’m driven by my culture.
Tell me about your ta moko?
Yeah, this is my mataora. It’s something that
I’ve had the urge to take it on for quite
awhile. So I do ta moko as well and for me
to wear this is a representation of my whakapapa,
where I’m from, our culture, my kids and the
mahi I do. This is a big respect to the Atua
that helped us with our art, our culture.
Mateiwarangi says his culture has become a
more powerful boost than any pre-workout supplement
could ever give him.
Everytime I step up to the table I go up there
with my tupuna behind me. Even moreso now
that it’s on my face.
How does it make you feel?
Oooh, yeah like, to think about it now it
almost getting to jump on the table but I’ll
save that….but yeah, I’m proud. I don’t
want to say proud of myself but I’m proud
to wear it.
But Beast or not, he’s a gentle giant at heart.
One thing I usually do before I step up on
stage is – I look up to the top right of me
and I sort of envision my grandparents watching
me. Yeah, my grandmother was probably one
of my biggest followers and fans and she didn’t
know anything about armwrestling, nothing
at all. But I can see her up there so it’s
pretty cool and right then, I usually get
this tingling feeling up the back of my neck
and that’s usually when ‘the beast’ is turned
on.
But it’s not just about the thrill of competing.
The sport has become so much more than that
for the beast.
Before armwrestling, Mateiwarangi had a hard
life and battled alcohol abuse.
He says the sport became his saviour and turned
his life around.
Yeah about when I was armwrestling before
for beers at the pub, I wasn’t what you would
call a good role model for my family and for
my kids and my grandmother could see that.
If you hadn’t changed your life around and
you weren’t doing what you’re doing today.
Where do you think you would be?
Oooh (pause, emotional) ….yeah probably
like, I didn’t really see it getting worse
than where I was but yeah, probably in Jail.
I don’t know, probably not being able to see
my kids. That’s a bit of a hard question eh.
Yeah. But things are a lot better now so.
So you must have, I suppose, a real respect
for the sport that helped you turn your life
around…
Yeah, definitely. Yep. That’s something I’ve
also always said is I owe a lot to the sport.
It gave me discipline. It gave me something
to do. That there was the biggest reason – I
had no driving force, I had no vision. No
ambitions. I was just – living, day by day.
And what does he think his Nan would think
of him if she could see him now?
Yeah. I’d say that she’s proud of me. But
if anything – I’m more happy that she got
to see me turn my life around before she left.
And he’s got a message for troubled young
men today.
It’s going to be hard but if you can make
that change. It’s definitely worth it. There’s
going to be heartaches, hardships, there’s
going to be sacrifices you don’t want to make
but it’ll pay off if you’re on track to something
that you can see that will better your life.
It’s going to be a hard road, but it’s going
to be worth it.
I’ve always said that at the end of the day,
I’m just arm-wrestling myself. So I use that
when I go up on the table.
To try and better yourself each time?
That’s pretty much the goal. Yeah.
I’m on a mission. So I’m doing something with
my life.

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