Hamilton-based lawyer Josh Nyika is now using his hands in a different way after a spell as New Zealand’s best amateur boxer in his weight division, and a one-time contender to fight at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Nyika competed at the World Boxing Championships after becoming Oceania champion when he outclassed his Australian opponent in the final.
But his Olympic dream was scuppered by defeat in a qualifying competition, and Nyika then resumed his law studies.
He joined Gurnell Harrison Lawyers earlier this year, and works in wills, powers of attorney, employment, property and commercial law.
The 26-year-old, who is on the Waikato Bay of Plenty NZLS Young Lawyers’ Committee, graduated in 2015 and was admitted last year. He was a law clerk with Gurnell Harrison while studying and also worked with another Hamilton law firm for a spell.
His choice of career came down to a simple equation: “I was better with words than numbers”.
He is the first of his family to become a lawyer, although some relatives are involved in the profession. “My uncle-in-law’s dad was a partner at a big firm and an uncle is a research clerk for a barrister.”
“I love working in law. Sometimes you are given chaos and your job is to organise it. And that’s quite a satisfying thing,” he says.
Josh belatedly followed his younger brother David into the ring, and had his first fight at the age of 18. Those with a knowledge of boxing may be familiar with the name David Nyika – in April he dominated an Australian foe around the ring for three rounds to win gold in the heavyweight division at the Commonwealth Games. David’s winning run on the Gold Coast ensured he took out his second Commonwealth gold and the younger Nyika is now focused on getting to the 2020 Olympic Games after also missing out on Rio two years ago.
Legal career ahead at present
Josh Nyika has, for now, packed away his gloves but continues to coach a class at his local gym. He tends to run more than spar.
“I’m not thinking of boxing competitvely at the moment because you need to give your career the focus it deserves. If I did take it as far as I could I would have to take time off work to train and compete, and then there’s all the travelling involved. It would be a mental and physical strain that I don’t think is compatible with working at a law firm.
“I needed to take time out from studying in the first place; I needed that year and a half to do some trips, so I went to Poland, China and Qatar for tournaments. I’ve seen all sorts of cultures and countries, although being purposeful trips they weren’t holidays but for obvious reasons I couldn’t combine that with pursuing a legal career,” says Nyika who was fortunate in that the national boxing championships did not coincide with his exams.
In fact, the twin objectives complimented each other.
“I used them as a counter to the other, so when I was boxing and training it was a release from the classroom; when I was in the classroom it was a release from the tough gym and ring environment.”
Undefeated against the Australians
His peak year in the ring was 2015 when he won both the New Zealand and the Oceania welterweight championships – in the latter he beat the top Australian, Nathan Webber, 3-0 on points. “I never lost to an Aussie,” Josh says proudly, having faced three of them.
That same year he gained an invitation to a tournament in Poland where he lost to a Ukrainian fighter, a decision that he feels was the wrong one.
“Arguably, I beat that Ukrainian but honestly the judging was really suspect. I don’t want to sound as if I am making excuses but I felt I won that fight. The Ukrainian went on to win the title,” he says.
The Oceania title earned him a ticket to the 2015 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where he lost to Great Britain’s Josh Kelly in his opening contest.
But defeat at an Olympic qualifying tournament to a Syrian fighter in 2016 scuppered his hopes of competing at Rio.
Those Games were the first in which New Zealanders had to qualify through Asia after previously having to win the Oceania Championships to gain entry. “So I was pretty disappointed to miss out on becoming an Olympian in 2016 when in previous tournaments I would have already made it,” he says.
“I had to win two or three fights to qualify. In my second fight I came across a strong and awkward Syrian fighter, who I lost to fair and square. I was gutted to miss out on Rio after working so hard for it.”
After one professional fight – a points win in Cambridge in March – Nyika turned his focus on his new job with Gurnell Harrison.
Instead he can be satisfied at watching brother David further his career. “He is immense and I think if he gets to the Olympics in two years’ time he will win a medal if the judging is fair.”
Fleeing a dictatorship
The Nyika family has a cosmpolitan background – part English, Welsh and Ugandan. His grandfather Tom Nyika escaped Idi Amin’s bloodthirsty regime in the early 70s at a time when foreigners were suspected of being insurgents. His sister Ruby Nyika has said elsewhere that the attention his European mother received from soldiers and government officials became increasingly hostile and, with some family already living in New Zealand, the family escaped the regime, which is said to have killed between 300,000 and half a million people.
Ruby has said that the relatives here had links to then Prime Minister Norman Kirk and some strings were pulled to ensure they got clearance to come to New Zealand.
Josh’s grandmother sneaked out of northern Uganda into neighbouring Kenya with their children while Tom Nyika – a dentist – stayed behind to offset any suspicion before setting off for what he told authorites was a dental conference and reuniting with his family. They settled in Oamaru, where Tom Nyika still lives, and Josh’s father, Simon, later moved to Hamilton.
Simon Nyika was only four at the time of fleeing for New Zealand and had four children – Josh, Ruby, David and Zoe.
Josh says that while he has visited both Wales and England and reconnected with those sides of his heritage, neither he nor any of his siblings have been able to visit Uganda, but he says that is something he intends doing.