On June 5 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, a feat that some never thought would occur will occur. There will be a world championship…
It’s often said that boxing is cyclical, times of prosperity are often followed by hardship, but more often than not the sport always finds a way to climb back into the limelight.
For Australian boxing, these are trying times.
Gone are the days of legendary Hall of Fame fighters such as Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu, replaced with fighters who are willing, but sadly unable to climb the Everest-like heights of the pugilistic mountain.
Sure, we’ve had some success, as Daniel Geale, Billy Dib, Robbie Peden and Sam Soliman have all won world titles in their respective weight divisions, but these past few years have been worrying.
Since 2013, and prior to Lucas Browne’s now questionable recent victory, Australian boxers have been involved in at least ten separate world title bouts, and in every single instance they were beaten, often badly.
There’s Alex Leapai, who was brutally knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko; Michael Zerafa, who was hospitalised after the beating Peter Quillin gave him; Jarrod Fletcher, knocked out by Daniel Jacobs; and Blake Caparello, who felt the thunderous power of light heavyweight kingpin Sergey Kovalev.
Caparello was knocked down three times in the second round of that bout, before the referee saw fit to put a stop to such a one-sided contest.
Some of our more decorated fighters of recent years have also hit the canvas and tasted the agony of defeat in recent times. Geale, once a unified champion, was demolished by two of the sport’s top dogs in Gennady Golovkin and Miguel Cotto. Billy Dib was badly knocked out by Japanese powerhouse Takashi Miura, and Vic Darchinyan continues to fight on, despite the losses piling up.
A number of factors have led Australian boxing to its current predicament.
Firstly, there’s a lack of quality trainers available to teach kids the basics of the sport. In a recent conversation I had with former IBF world super featherweight champion Robbie Peden, this was a sentiment he agreed with wholeheartedly.
“Raw talent is not being taught the basics correctly,” Peden said.
“Kids need to surround themselves with good people. You need a decent teacher who knows what he’s doing. A lot of trainers haven’t got the knowledge or experience to mix it on the world stage and this is where our guys fall short.”
Peden is certainly qualified to give his take on such matters. An Atlanta Olympian who turned professional not long after his Olympic campaign, Peden moved to the United States, and while his schooling in the professional ranks was a long one, it was ultimately successful.
Too few of our professional fighters are willing to do the hard yards these days. There is an enormous emphasis on a fighter’s record, as opposed to who he has fought. Many guys are padding their records, a process that involves fighting less-than-stellar competition to improve.
Then when the boxer with the pristine 23-0 record finally does step in the ring to challenge for a world title, the step-up in class is often too large, and our fighters pay the price.
One such solution to this problem is for more fighters to take the overseas route, like Peden did. Boxing is a niche sport in this country and one of the inherent downfalls is the difficulty gaining the experience needed to win at the top.
The boxing scene in the United States is filled with hungry fighters willing to test the most talented of prospects, not to mention a plethora of world-class trainers to impart their wisdom to young boxers.
The key is for our guys to ensure they are battle tested, and this needs to happen early in their careers.
Will Tomlinson is a name that comes to mind when discussing top boxing prospects making the trip to the United States, but it may have been a little too late for ‘Wild Will’.
Tomlinson was 27 years old when he was signed with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in 2013. He had a record of 21 wins, no losses and a single draw, but his level of opposition was questionable for a veteran of 22 professional fights.
Tomlinson ended up losing two of the four bouts he was signed on for, and with those defeats went his chance at a world title shot.
Mark De Mori’s recent capitulation against ex-champion David Haye is another example of one of supposed best fighters padding their record. De Mori went into the Haye bout with a record of 30 wins, one loss and two draws. It looked great on paper, but the majority of those wins were against average fighters, and it showed when Haye made easy work of the big Aussie in the first round.
Unless we see some miraculous spike in the number of Aussie boxing fans who are willing to part with their hard-earned money to see our fighters perform in the ring, there will always be difficulty in attracting the better overseas fighters to this country. Without this strong competition, our own fighters will lack the necessary experience needed to become world champions.
If our up-and-comers have their sights set on world championship glory, perhaps they need to consider the overseas route – if not permanently, then at least for the sake of gaining quality experience against world-class fighters.
Until this happens, I fear the sport will continue to waver, and our best guys will keep falling short of the mark.