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Former All Blacks Carlos Spencer and Liam Messam to appear on Fight for Life bill

Rugby greats Carlos Spencer and Liam Messam will return to the ring against ex-Kiwis star Paul Whatuira and Samoan league prop James Gavet respectively, on a stacked bill topped by All Blacks legend Keven Mealamu and former Warriors star Wairangi Koop.

They will be joined on the card by undefeated pair Andrei Mikhailovich (17-0, 10 KOs) and Jerome Pampellone (12-0, 6 KOs), who are both on event promoter Dean Lonergan’s books.

The 46-year-old Spencer is fighting for the first time since 2014, when he was stopped in third round by Monty Betham Jr. He said he was looking forward to lacing up the gloves again.

“It’s a long time between drinks since the Monty bout. I knew I was the underdog but took it for the challenge and more importantly for charity reasons,” he said.

“After so much water under the bridge, it’s good to be testing myself once again in the spirit of charity. I am also looking forward to facing Paul because if I know anything about Paul, it’s that he’ll bring it on the night.”

A percentage of the tickets sold for the event will be donated to I Am Hope, a mental health and suicide prevention charity.

Two-time NRL champion Whatuira, who has had well-documented struggles with his mental health, hopes his participation will help spread awareness on a “silent issue”.

“Mental health is everybody’s business. When you isolate yourself, loneliness becomes toxic,” Whatuira, who played 16 tests for New Zealand, said.

“As an advocate, I am grateful to be able to draw more attention to what is often a silent issue, particularly in our youth and in the Māori community.”

Messam (3-0, O KOs) has designs on one day competing for the New Zealand heavyweight title as he prepares for his second fight this year, having beaten Thomas Russell on points in New Plymouth in May.

He has been sparring with Olympic medallist David Nyika and training under former New Zealand champion Cairo George to get himself in the best condition possible.

“I am excited to be a part of this card and really looking forward to the exposure it provides for our young up-and-coming boxers,” he said.

The former Chiefs and Mooloos stalwart is likely to have his hands full against Gavet, the much-travelled prop who at 32 is six years younger than his rival.

Gavet said his participation was mainly guided by a desire to put mental health in the spotlight, after his own struggles with alcohol and depression led to a failed suicide attempt.

“Mental health is such an important cause and I’m living proof of how serious it is and how it can derail your life if not looked after,” Gavet said.

“I’ve had some close friends take their own lives and am fortunate to be alive after trying to end my own life.

“When I struggled with my own demons, I needed good people around me to pull me through. As a young Pacific Islander this is the perfect opportunity to give back to my community and let other young men and women who’re going through it know, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, just keep going.”