One of my favourite photos is framed and located amid myriad photos in the living room of my childhood home in Gladstone, Central Queensland. It captures me and a famous sportsman in our primes, and my effulgent smile had formed as naturally as a wave because of the warmth generated, on a cold winter day in Perth, by the loathed man with his arm draped over my shoulders.
Around the turn of the century I met Anthony “The Man” Mundine for the first and only time in my life. But the impression he left on me, in that brief meeting in a quiet gym to promote an upcoming fight, one of his first, was lasting – like his career as a professional athlete.
The difference between his public persona and the man I met, in a one-on-one interview, could not be more stark. He was so genuine, so endearing. I've interviewed thousands of people, and Anthony Mundine, son of Tony, may be my favourite.
The inarticulate rambler who offends white Australia to the core, rattles their cage like few others have, never bothered me. I've always viewed him, as a boxer, as essentially playing a character, the quintessential bad guy, and playing him with aplomb. Perhaps it was easier for him, than it would be for most, to inhabit that character.
Super talented, super mouthy, super offensive, super black ... white Australia didn't stand a chance. The more he baited and the more his foot frequented his mouth, the more he was despised – the line between the rabble-rouser and the real person undoubtedly blurred.
The announcement he will fight Jeff Horn at Suncorp Stadium on November 30 is cinematic in its delicious narrative: Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker; Sméagol versus Frodo.
I always respected Mundine's ability to transition so successfully from elite rugby league player to top-flight boxer, with no amateur background and aged in his mid-20s.
In 2001, at age 26 and 10 unbeaten fights into his career, he fought the long-reigning Sven Ottke for the German's IBF super-middleweight belt, in Dortmund, Germany. Ottke would go on to have 21 successful title defences and retire as an undefeated champion, which few have. As an amateur, he won a world championship bronze medal.
Yet Mundine, incipient in comparison in experience, fought admirably, before being knocked out with a temple punch in the 10th round.
Mundine ended that fight on his back, the loser, but in my eyes he was a winner. That's how I've always viewed him. Such a gifted athlete. Such an astute promoter. But also flawed, like all of us – except he has a "megaphone", when most of us have a small social media following, and he is an outspoken Aboriginal man.
At age 43, he is obviously long past his prime, and will fight someone, in 30-year-old Horn, who is only 20 fights into a professional career that has already yielded a world title – that stirring win over Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium in July, 2017.
The Australian public has embraced Horn, but some still recoil at the media image of Mundine.
But on November 30 I will be cheering for Mundine. Not many Australians will do that, in comparison to those who will jeer him.
The Man, one suspects, won’t mind at all.
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