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30 JULY 2014

 

Gus Mercurio – “Boxing has always been my thing”


Gus Mercurio
Gus Mercurio

By Paul Upham: Australian boxing lost one of its most loyal servants when Gus Mercurio passed away on 7 December 2010. The popular actor, boxing referee & ringside judge died in Epworth Hospital in Brighton, Victoria, during surgery for a heart aneurism, aged 82. He was laid to rest at Diamond Creek in Melbourne on 20 December 2010.

One of the great characters of boxing, Augustino Eugenio Mercurio was born in mid-west America on 10 August 1928. He was a member of a fighting family with one brother and two sisters. Young Gus’s father fought under the name Vince McGurk and his uncle competed as Ray Miller. “My dad was a rough and tumble guy. He hit a referee and got banned,” said Mercurio, who served three years in the United States Merchant Service and three years in the U.S Marine Corp. “I did a lot of boxing in the Marine Corp. I found out early if you boxed, you had a good deal going for you.”

Upon completing military service, Mercurio turned professional. After being injured in his last two bouts, and being fixed by a chiropractor, he decided to study chiropractic at a University in Davenport, Iowa for a four-year degree. Upon graduation he went to California and did post graduate work. He first came to Australia in 1956.

“I knew Olympic heavyweight champion Pete Rademacher in Washington,” explained Mercurio, “and another fighter Joe Black and through them I had an opportunity to come to Australia as a doctor of chiropractor and be with the 1956 Olympic team.”

On arrival as a 32 year-old he lived in Ballarat and then Swan Hill, where he practiced as a chiropractor and had a gymnasium where he taught local children how to box. “I had a couple of kids that the police had told to see me to get them off the streets,” he recalled.

In 1966, Mercurio moved to Melbourne and was elected Vice-President of the Victorian Amateur boxing association. In 1967, televised amateur boxing saw the beginning of a new career for Mercurio where he eventually became one of the most recognisable people on Australian television. “They started amateur boxing on Channel 9, the Golden Gloves and I started refereeing and making comments on air,” he said. Mercurio’s performances as a commentator were so impressive that he was offered further work on the then Channel 0, now Channel 10.

In 1969, Crawford Productions, one Australia’s most established and respected television production companies responsible for television shows such as the “The Sullivans” and “Cop Shop”, became interested in Mercurio. “They saw me and heard me on television and offered me an audition and that’s how I got into acting,” he said.

Mercurio’s unique gruff voice, extravert persona and talent for comedy saw him in starring rolls in the television series “Cash & Co.” and “Tandarra”. He worked alongside Paul Hogan in “Crocodile Dundee 2”, “Lightning Jack” and the “Paul Hogan Show”. Other notable movie appearances included “Doing Time for Patsy Cline”, “The Man from Snowy River” and “The Blue Lagoon”. He has also been seen in episodes of the television series “Homicide”, “Division 4”, “Matlock Police”, “Mission Impossible”, 44 episodes of “The New Adventures of Flipper”, “All Together Now”, “Blue Heelers” and 39 episodes of “Five Mile Creek”. During all of this he was also seen on “World of Sport” talking boxing on Channel 7 for thirteen years.

But no matter the success he had on the television screen Mercurio said, “Boxing has always been my thing.”

The Mercurio name hit the movie headlines again in 1992 with the international success of Gus’s son Paul Mercurio in the movie “Strictly Ballroom”.

“Paul never wanted to box,” said Mercurio Sr. “I never encouraged him or discouraged him. If he wanted to box, fine, but he never had any inclination to box. He’s better on his feet than his old man was. He’s better looking than me too.”

After his success in amateur administration in the 1960’s, Gus Mercurio made the change to the professional ranks on 8 March 1969 when world bantamweight champion Lionel Rose defended his title against Alan Rudkin at the Kooyong Tennis Stadium in Melbourne. “I switched from the amateurs to the pros and judged some of the fights that night,” he said. “Then I went up to the commentary box and did the main event radio call with Jimmy Taylor, a South Melbourne football hero.”

After a tent fighter had died in Geelong, Mercurio was part of the group that made a presentation to the Victorian Government to control and regulate boxing and he became a member of the first Victorian Boxing Board of Control, which he served for twelve years. He was acting Chairman for one year and also spent time as the President of the Australian National Boxing Federation (ANBF).

Mercurio was a highly accomplished referee and was the third man in the ring for the Lester Ellis vs. Barry Michael IBF super featherweight world title fight in July 1985 in Melbourne. “Barry Michael kept talking to Lester,” he said. “He talked him out of the fight.”

When a hip injury saw him retire as a referee, Mercurio remained active as an official and judged a number of high profile world title fights. In September 2002, he was the WBC’s judge for Roy Jones Jr’s light heavyweight world title fight against Clinton Woods in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Over the last decade, Mercurio was a driving force in establishing the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame and finding a permanent home for it in the National Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

After stepping down as Chairman, Gus Mercurio was himself inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008. He is survived by Rita, his partner of more than 30 years, and six of his seven children.


Paul Upham
Content Editor
Paul Upham & Gus Mercurio, October 2009: Neil Lyon/Sportz Shotz
Paul Upham & Gus Mercurio, October 2009: Neil Lyon/Sportz Shotz


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