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Each Nation’s Best: Australia




By Derek Bonnett: The country of Australia is located in the southern hemisphere and comprises the world’s smallest continent. It is known for geographical bodies like the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast and its vast desert, which makes up the majority of its landmass, commonly referred to as “the outback.”

Australia is home to all sorts of wildlife, such as the kangaroo, wombat, dingo, and emu. It also acts as home to the most venomous snakes in the world. The best-known combination in Australia is the koala bear and the eucalyptus leaf. However, the creature I plan to focus on is one that throws combinations with a different type of venom: the boxer.

The world champion Australian greats of the past include bantamweight world champion Lionel Rose, featherweight world champion Johnny Famechon, bantamweight world champion Jimmy Carruthers and junior middleweight world champion Rocky Mattioli. Other greats include Les Darcy and Dave Sands.

A number of recent world champions such as Lovemore Ndou, Gairy St Clair, Vic Darchinyan and Kostya Tszyu have adopted Australia as their homeland while establishing varying degrees of success as world champions.

However, the number of men to win recent modern era world titles that were actually Australian born is quite small. Recently, Robbie Peden had a forgettable seven-month reign as the IBF super featherweight champion. Lester Ellis managed an even shorter reign of the same title back in 1985, before he was beaten by Barry Michael.

Danny Green’s reign as WBA light heavyweight champion lasted only three months before an unexpected retirement this past March. Jeff Harding managed two credible reigns as the WBC light heavyweight champion between 1989-1990 and 1991-1994.

The most highly regarded modern era boxing world champion to emerge from Australia is perhaps the best athlete the continent has ever produced: Jeff Fenech. Between 1985 and 1989, Fenech was a three-division world champion at 118, 122, and 126 pounds. He defeated such men as Daniel Zaragoza, Greg Richardson, Carlos Zarate, and Marcos Villasana.

Fenech also fought the great Azumah Nelson to a controversial draw in 1992 before being KO’d by ’The Professor’ in the rematch the following year. Currently, Fenech is in training for a June 24 rubber-match with Nelson at the age of 44.

No Australian born fighter has threatened to eclipse Fenech as the national boxing hero, but today’s crop could be plenty capable of matching the accomplishments of every other Australian champion not named Fenech.

Here are four of the best Australia currently has to offer.

4) Daniel Geale campaigns as a middleweight under the guidance of Jeff Fenech. Thus far, the twenty-seven year old, orthodox fighter has marched over his opposition with relative ease in posting a record of 18-0 (12). So far Geale has met a very modest array of opposition, but has improved on his previous performances in rematches with Steve Douet (W6, KO2), Gary Comer (KO8, KO2), and Lee Oti (W12, KO2). He has also shown the ability to go 12 rounds. However, he has been dropped four times as a professional.

In defeating the previously unbeaten Daniel Dawson over the 12-round distance, Geale captured the vacant IBO middleweight trinket. The win is undoubtedly Geale’s most impressive as he nearly shutout a fighter who had not yet learned to lose. His eight-round decision over Nonoy Gonzales also showed character as Geale managed to survive two knockdowns in round two against the cagey fighter.

Next up for Geale is once beaten Geard Ajetovic to defend his IBO middleweight title. The bout will take place on June 27 in front of a home audience.

3) Bilal “Billy the Kid” Dib is now being trained by the legendary Johnny Lewis and has amassed a professional record of 19-0 (10). The orthodox Dib has gained some exposure in five bouts in the United States while being managed by Shane Mosley. However, two significant bouts with Orlando Salido and Jorge Linares crumbled before Dib ever had a chance to show his true ability against a top-notch world-class opponent.

Billy the Kid scored a unanimous eight-round decision over Roger Mtagwa in his most significant win to date. Mtagwa’s experience against world-class opposition and rugged determination was no match for the speed and skill of Dib, who has been likened to a young Prince Naseem Hamed.

Dib’s most recent effort was on May 16. He scored an easy fifth round KO of Leon Maratas at super featherweight. His team hopes for one more bout in Australia this summer before a return to the United States this fall on a Golden Boy Promotions card.

2) Michael “The Great” Katsidis has punched his way to a 23-1 (20) record throughout his six year career. He’s been likened to Arturo Gatti, but so far has only proven to be a poor man’s version. In the most significant and recent bout of his career, Katsidis dropped faded, linear lightweight champion Joel Casamayor, but was dropped three times himself en route to a tenth round KO defeat. Katsidis showed true grit in getting up from a pair of first round knockdowns, but this was hardly the Casamayor of old.

Fifth round KO’s of Ranee Ganoy and Graham Earl represent the best of Katsidis’ achievements. The Earl victory was hailed as a fight of the year caliber bout in 2007 and earned the twenty-seven year old the interim WBO lightweight title that he lost to Casamayor. Excitement is sure to pop-up whenever Katsidis laces up his gloves, but that might prove to be his undoing when all is said and done.

Next up for Katsidis is a September 13 bout against come-backing former lightweight champion Jesus Chavez. Chavez looked old and worn out in his last defeat to Juan Diaz, but the same could be said about Casamayor against Jose Armando Santa Cruz. Expect another exciting, knockdown drag out fight from “The Great.”

1) Anthony “The Man” Mundine is both a professional boxer and a former rugby league player. Mundine’s career was nearly cut short recently after a severe, self-inflicted eye infection that occurred after the fighter cleaned a contact lens with his tongue in 2007. Mundine has made a successful return to the ring and bolstered his record to 31-3 (23). Mundine’s defeats have come against Sven Ottke, Manny Siaca, and Mikkel Kessler.

Mundine has failed against the best fighters he has faced, but appears to still be fighting strong at age thirty-three. Mundine cruised to the WBA super middleweight championship with a good win over a primed Antwun Echols. After losing the belt to Siaca, Mundine scored his best win over Danny Green (W12) to earn a shot at the vacant belt against previous victim Sam Soliman. Mundine impressively stopped the fellow Aussie tough guy in nine rounds to begin his second reign. Mundine has four defenses of his title. Mundine posted his third victory over Sam Soliman on May 28.

Mundine has now given up the WBA ’world’ belt at 168lbs to move down to middleweight.

Australia has more to offer than crocodile hunters and boomerangs. The boxing world is enhanced with the excitement these fighters bring with each bout. Katsidis’ blood and guts, never say die attitude will surely offer up at least one more ’fight of the year’ candidate. The emergence of Dib and Geale can only add to the quality of Australia’s contributions to the sport of boxing.

June 4, 2008


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