‘Pacific Loses A True Warrior’

Heavyweight Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Peau died at Auckland Hospital in New Zealand following an operation on a brain tumour.
14 Feb 2020 16:30
‘Pacific Loses A True Warrior’
Jimmy ‘Thunder’ was the first Pacific boxer to win the world heavyweight title. Photo: Stuff

The Pacific mourns the passing away of one of their boxers that helped put the region on the world map.

Heavyweight Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Peau died at Auckland Hospital in New Zealand following an operation on a brain tumour.

The 54-year-old, who won a gold medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in the super heavyweight division, passed away in his sleep.

Thunder, whose original name was Ti’a James Senio Peau, was born in Apia, Samoa, but grew up in, Auckland.

He turned professional in 1989 and had 35 wins and 14 losses over a career that ended in 2002.

Thunder, who changed his name to go with his professional game and always presented himself in prime condition for fights, won the Australian heavyweight title twice.

He also laid claim to winning two world heavyweight belts- the World Boxing Federation’s and the International Boxing Organisation’s versions- in the alphabet soup of titles that litter the sport.


For the WBF title, he won it on October 9, 1993 at the National Gymnasium (now FMF Gymnasium) in Suva by stopping Mitieli Navuilawa iof Navosa n the first round.

Thunder had earlier on beaten Fijian heavyweight boxers like Aisea Nama for the Oriental Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) title at Prince Charles Park, Nadi on August 24, 1991.

Thunder was an early winner of the IBO title, a belt that is now deemed to be the fifth most important and has subsequently been held by Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Tyson Fury, Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua.

On his way to the IBO title, Thunder beat former world champions like Tony Tubbs, Tim Witherspoon and Trevor Berbick.

He recorded one of the fastest knockouts in heavyweight history when he floored American Crawford Grimsley with the first punch- after just 1.5s- of their 1997 fight. Grimsley was then counted out.

Thunder later laughed about that win: “I was hungry. I missed out on my lunch and I missed out on dinner, and I was getting ready for the fight and I walked past the buffet and I said `damn man, I wanna go eat’.”

Boxing Commission of Fiji chairman and boxing historian Dr Subhash Appana told SUNsports yesterday that he followed Jimmy Thunder’s fights from the late 1980s.

“I was in Japan and subscribed to the Ring Magazine– he featured in that prestigious magazine at that time. Thunder was a New Zealand-based Samoan and that was the biggest attraction because he was fighting on the world stage,” he said.

“I remember distinctly when he beat Bernado Mercado in 1989 that I thought we finally had another real prospect from the South Pacific.

“I was ringside at the National Gymnasium in 1993 when he KO’d Mitieli Navuilawa. He was just too strong and focused. Miti had no chance that night.

“He had earlier beaten Aisea Nama, Tevita Ravuravu, Mosese Vilia and Niko Degei– all by KOs.

“We have lost another true warrior from the South Pacific. It is so sad that he was only in his 50s.

“So long Champ – the whole of the Pacific will miss you.”

Thunder was the forerunner to a period of remarkable heavyweight success for New Zealand boxing. Fellow Samoans David Tua and Joseph Parker followed his trail with Parker going on to win the respected World Boxing Organisation’s belt.

He once said it was his upbringing that led him into boxing as his family shifted from the islands to south Auckland.

“I was at primary school and some kids tried to take my lunch. You’ve got to defend yourself if you’re Samoan, or else you’ll get killed!”, he said.

South Auckland boxing icon Gerry Preston took him in and trained him to be a champion.


Thunder fell on hard times later in his life in the United States where he had based himself, fighting 25 times there.

A Stuff news team found him living rough on the streets of Las Vegas in 2010.

“We know what he went through and what he has achieved.

“He has been quite embarrassed to even face his own family. But he achieved a lot in his career and he has nothing to be ashamed of,” his brother Chris said.

Thunder’s fortunes improved on meeting Iris Whitemagpie in 2008, and they married in a non-legal Native American ceremony in 2009.

But Thunder struck immigration problems in the United States, not helped by a conviction for assault, battery and substantial bodily harm after an altercation at a Las Vegas street party in 2012. He eventually returned to New Zealand.

New Zealand boxing historian Dave Cameron remembered Peau as being “huge at one stage” and the biggest name of his generation before David Tua arrived.

“He had a real punch. And he was a really friendly guy.”

Edited by Osea Bola


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