11 Aug 2021

Mixed martial artists want 'coward punching' law change

3:28 pm on 11 August 2021

Mixed martial artists have today called for changes to the law for so-called "coward punching" following the sentencing of Ofa He Mooni Folau, who was convicted of punching MMA fighter Liufau Tu'iha'angana Vake, known as Fau Vake, in the head during an unprovoked attack.

Fau Vake

Fau Vake. Photo: Instagram / Fau Vake

Folau - who pleaded guilty to two charges of assualt with intent to injure and was sentenced to six months' home detention yesterday. He attacked MMA fighter Fau Vake, who later died in hospital of head injuries.

At yesterday's sentencing, neither the Crown nor the defence contended that Folau was responsible for Fau's death.

In the High Court at Auckland, Justice Robinson said Folau and others left a Symonds St bar just before 3am on Sunday 16 May. A scuffle ensued, but Justice Robinson noted both Vake brothers tried to back away and leave.

"After assaulting Ika [Vake], you ran towards Liufau who was being held by one of your associates nearby. You struck him three times in the head with a closed fist," Justice Robinson said.

"Following subsequent assaults inflicted by others, Liufau was rendered unconscious. He was taken to hospital and required surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, and tragically he died nine days later."

Israel Adesanya said the available offences under the existing law were not enough for unprovoked assaults.

He said the law in place was "bad" - "nothing's being done about this to deter people from actually attacking someone".

"I feel like this is not going to affect our brother's case, Fau's case, but what about your mum, your son, your daughter... what about them going out to enjoy the festivities when the All Blacks and you don't see them on Sunday morning because some idiot decided he didn't like the colour of their pants and attacked them unprovoked."

Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Adesanya's fellow MMA fighter Dan Hooker said New Zealand had a violent drinking culture.

"No-one can deny that ... that's an undeniable fact."

"This is a very dark moment for our team and we're trying to get a positive out of this situation ... and have harsher penalties for people going out there coward punching people ... they should be charged with murder. It should be a similar charge as murder."

He wanted similar laws to what Australia had brought into effect stop similar attacks.

Hooker said since raising the issue, he had an "influx of messages about people telling me they have been attacked, they have been assaulted, and nothing has happened ... it's not being taken seriously."

MMA fighter Dan Hooker

Dan Hooker. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

A bill before Parliament on the issue of "coward punching" failed last year.

The Crimes (Coward Punch Causing Death) Amendment Bill, was introduced in September 2018 and was defeated in Parliament on 17 June 2020. The bill came about after a number of incidents where victims had died after being blind-sided with a 'coward's punch'.

The bill would have created a new offence that would allow for a specific king-hit-type offence where the victim died of injuries following the assault. Those convicted would have received a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment.

City Kickboxing founder and head trainer Eugene Bareman said his team - including Adesanya and Hooker - were being "very reserved" in their response to the sentencing.

He was "emotional ... upset and ... and angry. Those are normal human emotions. We're very angry. We are human".

Three others who have interim name suppression have pleaded not guilty over the attack on Vake, including one charged with manslaughter.

They will go to trial next year.