The ultimate night of boxing is hitting Sale this Saturday.

Some of the top fighters from across the state will converge on the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex for Wildfighter Round 8.

Stratford’s Max Reeves and Bairnsdale’s Blake Wells headline the evening, which also features local fighters Lucy Avage, brothers Jhon Cotejos and Peter Pirona, and Codie Hodges, who will be making his amateur boxing career debut.

Never before has Sale hosted a sporting event of this calibre, so in anticipation of Wildfighter Round 8, the Gippsland Times sat down with some of the local boxing stars who are taking the ring.

Max Reeves

MAD Max Reeves; the man, the myth, the legend.

Born on July 18, 2000, in Brisbane, Queensland, Reeves moved to Maffra briefly at the age of three before setting roots in Stratford.

Nearing the end of primary school, Reeves was ambitious to start boxing, leading him to late Stratford boxing legend Dennis Booth, who won Bronze at the 1966 Commonwealth Games, and came within one punch of fighting Muhammad Ali.

Booth mentored a young Reeves, training weights and working on the bags. As Reeves entered high school he then came to be coached by RUFit founder and boxing trainer Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll.

Stratford boxer Max Reeves will headline Wildfighter Round 8. Photo: Zoe Askew

Fast forward three years, with the coaching and guidance from Turk, a 15-year-old Reeves defeated Canberra’s Lorenzo Daly in the Australian Boxing Championships final on the Gold Coast, taking the Under 16 title with a third-round technical knock-out.

Reeves made his pro boxing debut in 2019 and remains undefeated, with four wins and a draw, ranking fifth nationally in the Super Middleweight division.

Heading into his sixth professional boxing fight of his career, Mad Max Reeves is hell bent on a win against opponent Leo Grant, maintaining his undefeated title.

Q: Why boxing?

A: I used to jump around the house and that, trying to hit me old man. He got me to try it out, and I just loved it.

Q: Who is your boxing idol?

A: Will (Tomlinson) definitely was when he was fighting. Like, he was a bloke who trained in the same town, and my end goal is that I want to have a career like his. If I get the chance to, I want to win a world title and get on to that world stage.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of boxing?

A: Probably the early morning runs and just training, like you’re training every night. Diet’s definitely another one. Towards the end of your diet, the end of your fight week, you’re pretty drained and grumpy and hungry.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of boxing?

A: Definitely getting your hand risen at the end of a fight, just that feeling you get from it. Another awesome feeling is when you are walking out, and everyone is cheering ya. The last time I fought (Wildfighter) in Bairnsdale, I was super nervous, but once you walk out and everyone’s yelling for ya, your nerves go away, and it makes you feel like your fighting for something. It’s pretty unreal.

Q: Where do you see your boxing career headed?

A: I don’t really know? I just wanna see where it takes me, I guess. I haven’t really got any plans, just keep bumping up the opponents, quality opponents and see how far I can get it.

Q: What are your thoughts on your coach, Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll?

A: He is a legend. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach; he is like my second dad. He is super passionate about what he does and doesn’t take any money or anything for it. His reward, I guess, is watching you improve and win.

Q: How are you feeling about Wildfighter Round 8 at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex this Saturday?

A: I am pretty excited for it, especially to fight in front of a home crowd, a lot of my friends and family will be there, and a lot of locals are getting around and supporting it.

Codie Hodges

BORN in Sale on December 14, 2005, 16-year-old Codie Hodges enters the ring this Saturday night at Wildfighter Round 8 in his first exhibition amateur boxing fight.

Codie Hodges, pictured with coach Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll. The Sale youngster will debut in front of his home crowd at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex. Photo: Zoe Askew

Searching for a new challenge, Hodges ditched the soccer boots for boxing gloves in November 2020, commencing training with Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll in Bairnsdale.

Hodges will making his debut on Saturday, fighting Alex Manssour.

Q: Why boxing?

A: I just wanted an individual challenge, like not so much a team sport. Like, I just like the challenge of being in the ring, one-on-one, can’t hide behind anyone. It’s just me and the other person.

Q: Who is your boxing idol?

A: I didn’t really have an idol going into boxing, but now I certainly look up to my trainer Paul Carroll. He is just great. He is a great trainer and has made me feel really welcomed into the club. Even outside of boxing, he is a great bloke, he does so much for the community, and I just really look up to him.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of boxing?

A: I’d say making weight, having to cut out all your fatty foods, your Maccas, KFC, all the good tasting food to veggies and chicken and fish.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of boxing?

A: The most rewarding aspect, I would say, is making new friends and meeting new people along the way. You meet people from everywhere, from all over the country, all over the world.

Q: Where do you see your boxing career headed?

A: I would love to get my name out there a bit and turn pro once I am 18. I’d love to be headlining my own shows, but if I don’t turn pro when I am 18, I would love the chance to go to the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics.

Q: What are your thoughts on your coach, Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll?

A: He is a great bloke. As nice as he is, he’ll give you a good kick up the bum if you’re not training hard enough, but that’s the great thing about him. He takes a lot of care in his fighters and always makes time for everyone.

Q: How are you feeling about Wildfighter Round 8 at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex this Saturday?

A: I am very excited, bit nervous, being in my hometown I’m gonna have lots of mates there but it should be really good.

Peter Pirona

BORN in the Philippines on January 31, 1998, Peter Pirona moved to Sale when he was 13.

Growing up, Peter and his older brother Jhon Cotejos, who is also fighting in Wildfighter Round 8 this Saturday, would regularly spar with each other. Though it wasn’t until six years ago, when he moved to Melbourne, that Pirona started training at a proper gym.

Originally, boxing wasn’t on Pirona’s radar, with his sights set on MMA, accumulating numerous amateur fights under his belt.

Pirona decided to try his hand at boxing, entering into amateur boxing fights in which his brother saw pro potential.

Brothers Jhon Cotejos and Peter Pirona (right), with trainer Jeremy Joiner. The brothers will take part in Wildfighter action this Saturday night in Sale. Photo: Zoe Askew

Moving back to Sale from Melbourne, Pirona focused his attention on boxing, training alongside his brother, coached by Jeremy Joiner.

In 2021, Pirona was crowned Victorian Amateur Boxing League heavyweight champion.

He steps into the ring on Saturday night, taking on Leo Forchin.

Q: Why boxing?

A: One day my brother just asked me if I wanted to go pro, and I said ‘yeah’. I still train in MMA every now and again but sort of more focusing on boxing.

Q: Who is your boxing idol?

A: It would have to be Manny Pacquiao.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of boxing?

A: The training and the preparation for a fight. It’s here you put in all the hard work, effort and time, whereas the fight only goes for 30-minutes max. But that’s just what we do; you gotta love it.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of boxing?

A: Winning for sure. It just brings you this joy but regardless of winning or losing (it’s rewarding), just being able to step into the ring.

Q: Where do you see your boxing career headed?

A: I am going to go as far as I can in my boxing career.

Q: What are your thoughts on your coach, Jeremy Joiner?

A: He is awesome, he has been my coach for a while now and coached my brother even longer, and we have built this really good relationship. He is just awesome.

Q: How are you feeling about Wildfighter Round 8 at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex this Saturday?

A: Grateful, pretty grateful. I am also nervous, nervous, but excited.

Lucy Avage

BORN on June 16, 1996, in Bairnsdale, Lucy Avage stepped onto the boxing scene in 2019 when she moved from her childhood town of Metung to the big smoke, Melbourne.

When Avage signed up to a Melbourne gym, boxing was purely a way for her to get fit, but in 2021 when she moved back home, fate had other plans.

Bairnsdale’s Lucy Avage, coached by Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll (kneeling), will fight Kim Thorsen on Saturday night in Sale.Photo: Contributed

Avage joined Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll’s gym RUFit to continue her fitness journey, and by November 2021, she stepped into the ring for her first fight, debuting as a female amateur boxer – and won.

Avage faces Kim Thorsen in Wildfighter Round 8.

Fighting gender roles, Avage hopes to prove women can shoot for their sporting and personal goals, no matter what.

Q: Why boxing?

A: Originally, I was doing it just for fitness as opposed to only going to the gym and working. Then Wildfighter was coming to Bairnsdale, which was last year in November. Whilst I was always interested in it (boxing), I never really gave it a crack and one day, Turk asked me if I would like to have a go. So it all just went from there.

Q: Who is your boxing idol?

A: There is only one person I really follow along, and that’s Skye Nicolson. She is a young girl my age and has been boxing her whole life. I really didn’t know that much about boxing until I started boxing for my first fight, but I have followed her (Nicolson) for a while and admire her. She puts in the work and achieves what she wants to achieve.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of boxing?

A: The hardest part for me has been that mental challenge, believing in yourself. Believing you can get up in front of a crowd and get hit in the face and carry on. It has definitely been tough learning a whole new sport. I mean, I play netball too, and that’s what I have grown up doing, but going into something new is really challenging because there is just so much doubt and so much pressure you put on yourself.

All the boys I have been training with (Reeves, Wells etc), Turk, all the other coaches and everyone around have been so encouraging, telling me to keep going. The physical side is also challenging. Making weight is hard with the whole body image stuff and having to constantly weigh yourself and check what you are eating. But for me, the mental side of things is definitely the most challenging.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of boxing?

A: The sense of achievement and achieving something you never really thought you could do.

Q: Where do you see your boxing career headed?

A: I will definitely keep training and keep trying to improve and learn because I do love it.

Q: What are your thoughts on your coach, Paul ‘Turk’ Carroll?

A: There is not a bad word you can say about him. He has definitely helped me A LOT since I said yes to fighting. He puts belief behind you. He teaches us and really takes the time to help us improve and help us learn. Turk is probably one of the best guys going around.

Q: How are you feeling about Wildfighter Round 8 at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex this Saturday?

A: I am excited, but I am nervous, really, really nervous. I’ve been told nerves are good, so I am just trying to ride that wave and try not to think about it too much.