An amateur boxer is packing a punch on TikTok where he has scooped a £5k prize after becoming UK Boxbollen champion – a game that has become a viral hit with 50 million views.
Security officer Mario Oliveira, 31, and his girlfriend Joanna Rodrigues, 34, a nurse, will now be spending his winnings on the baby girl they are expecting in September, after he beat around 4,200 fellow players hands down.
When Mario and another competitor came neck and neck in the game - which involves punching a ball on a string attached to the head with a strap as often as possible in 10 seconds - by each managing 44 times, a nail-biting 5 second punch-off followed which he won by 25 to 23.
The expectant dad, who is originally from Porto in Portugal, first spotted the contest on Instagram in May and decided to throw his hat in the ring, believing his boxing experience would stand him in good stead.
He said: “I was scrolling through Instagram in May this year and saw a post from a famous YouTuber, Chunkz. He was playing the Boxbollen game and talking about the upcoming competition.”
Mario added: “As I had previous experience in boxing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to win some money.
“To become the UK champion, though, was still quite a shock.”
Competitive by nature, Mario – whose mum, Lucia, 60, sadly died from breast cancer in December 2021 – also has experience of powerlifting.
His first boxing match was in February 2016, when he saw a post about a fight to support Cancer Research UK on Facebook.
He said: “They would give me eight weeks of free training and then I’d fight in the event to raise money for the charity.
“My mum had been battling breast cancer for 12 years, so I decided to take part and have been boxing ever since.”
He added: “With the Boxbollen competition, I knew I had the determination to win and became obsessed with training for it.”
Practising for up to five hours a day as he prepared for the challenge, Mario was so determined he hardly saw his girlfriend.
He laughed: “It even got to the point where it was annoying Joanna, because I wasn’t spending any time with her.”
Mario added: “It also must have been irritating for her to listen to me practise all the time. I’d set the app up, it’d beep and say, ‘Three, two, one, go.’ Then I’d start punching, before repeating the sequence for hours on end.”
Breaking balls in the process, which cost £20 each, he spent around £260 on replacements.
He said: “I’m a trained boxer, so I punch quite hard, which meant I went through a lot of balls.”
Mario added: “I contacted the company and they sent me two free ones, but I ended up having to buy some too. I think I went through about 15 balls before the competition.”
Taking a month to prepare, when the June 1 competition date arrived, Mario was match fit.
He said: “It was a remote contest which meant I could enter from home. I took a video of myself punching the ball as quickly as I could for 10 seconds and submitted it so they could verify it.”
He added: “After all that training, it seemed off for it to be over in 10 seconds! After that, all I could do was wait.”
In the end, Mario tied in first place with someone else, as they had both scored 44 hits in 10 seconds.
He said: “I thought they might split the prize money down the middle, but they decided to host a finale between us in a week’s time.”
Before the tie break, Mario was on holiday in Portugal where he tried to keep up with his training.
He said: “While I was in Portugal, I was still training and trying to beat my score.
“I knew the stakes were higher now because it was a five second contest instead of 10 seconds and I knew that the other bloke would also be training hard. I landed back in England on the day of the competition and went straight home.”
Focussed on the prize money, Mario punched the tethered ball as fast as possible – hitting it 25 times in five seconds.
He said: “I was completely exhausted when it was over. Part of me knew I’d won, but it was exhilarating to find out officially.”
His fellow competitor had hit the ball 23 times, making Mario the UK Boxbollen champion.
He said: “I’m so happy that I won, because I worked really hard for it and the training took up so much time.
“Joanna and I are expecting a little girl in September and we still have a lot of baby things to buy, so I’m going to spend all the money on her.
“It’s been life-changing for us, because we won’t have to worry too much about the cost and expensive stuff we’ll need as new parents now. The training might have been annoying for Joanna, but she was also very supportive of me taking part in the competition.”
He added: “To bring home the prize money for our family was incredible. Now, we’re looking forward to our little arrival completely worry-free.”
And Mario says there was someone special watching over him during the competition.
He said: “My mum passed away in December, which was devastating, especially as she won’t get to meet our little girl, but I believe it was her strength that helped me win.
“It felt like a gift from her for our baby.”