I had the privilege to be a part of boxing history last night. I was there at the Green-Mundine fight – surely the most anticipated boxing match in Australian sporting history.
It was a truly great fight – great to watch, a great display of athleticism and good sportsmanship, and just great for the sport of boxing.
It was a great match. And yet it was more than just a boxing match too. It was a watershed moment in Australian history.
This fight had so many dimensions to it: it was the East Coast of Australia vs. the West Coast, the brash young Aboriginal vs. the quite white Aussie homeboy. It was boxer vs. brawler, speed vs. power – two extremes of Australian society and yet, as the Aboriginal elder who introduced the fight put it so beautifully, they were ‘two of this land’s favourite sons’.
The build-up to this event had been like nothing ever seen before in this country. It started years ago, when Green’s one-time trainer, Jeff Fenech, challenged the cocky Redfern boy to a million-dollar winner-take-all showdown.
Mundine did not seem keen to take up the challenge. Why would he be? He was a young rising star in the world of pugilism, and Danny Green was offering to step in and cut short what was looking like a promising career!
And yet the Green-Mundine question would not go away. Every time ‘the Man’ entered the ring from that point on, the after-fight question would always be, ‘yeah, but how would he have gone if that had been Danny Green in the opposite corner?’
To illustrate the power of this question, let me tell you one of my memories from two years ago.
It was April 21st, 2004, and I was standing outside Ashkelon Prison in Israel, waiting for my mate, Morde Vanunu to be released. I was in the middle of a riot, as thousands of local antagonists screamed for Vanunu’s blood, and a far smaller contingent of peace activists, including myself and one other Australian, pressed in, along with machine-gun toting police, media, and an enormous army of prison officials, desperately trying cordon off an exit route from the prison.
In the middle of the chaos, as we waited and waited for my mate to show his face, what do you think was the main topic of debate between myself, the other Australian, and some of our interested Jewish peace-activist friends? You guessed it! We were locked in heated debate over would win the Green-Mundine fight!
And I must be honest and say that at that stage I was backing Green!
As much as I liked Anthony Mundine as a person, and counted him as a mate, at the time I just didn’t think he’d be able to stand up to the power of the Green right hand.
I’d experienced the speed of the Mundine right first hand, in an exhibition match we’d put on in the local high school, and I’d said then that I’d never seen anything so quick in my life. Indeed, he’d thrown right-hand uppercuts at me that I hadn’t seen at all until they landed!
Even so, along with a host of others, I questioned whether he was tough enough to stand up to the type of power-punching that Green was renowned for. Choc’s father, the legendary Tony Mundine Sr., had been said to have a bit of a glass jaw. Had the son inherited the same fatal chink in his pugilistic armour? If there was such a weakness, Danny Green was certainly the man to expose it.
My prediction changed completely though after I saw Mundine take on Mikkel Kessler. The Chocster lost the fight, but showed a magnanimity in defeat that did his country proud. More to the point though, he took some very heavy shots from the great Dane, and never looked seriously rattled. As far as I was concerned, that answered the question. There was no glass jaw!
If I had been a betting man I would have made some money last night. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the feeling that my late father would be looking down somehow and shaking his head, I would have at least put a tenner on Mundine for a points win and taken home a happy hundred. Even so, to be present at the spectacle – to feel the atmosphere and to see it all first-hand – was worth far more to me than any cash prize.
As the bell sounded and the two men moved to centre ring, gloves up, I had to blink a few times:“It’s really happening. It’s really happening!’ Six years in the making, so much talk, so much bravado, so much hype, and finally it’s happening!
Green looked a little stiff at first, but he was definitely determined to take it up to Mundine from the word go! He must have known that his best chance for a win was to take his man down early, and in round three he really poured on the juice. Even so, in the same round Mundine started to gain the upper hand – dancing around well to maintain his distance and using his lightning-fast jab to excellent effect.
Green continued to hammer away though – relentless and disciplined – working the body of his younger opponent with right hands that looked strong enough to fell the average oak. Even so, the Sydney-sider never looked seriously pressured, imitating his hero Ali, dancing around, counter-punching, and leaning back against the ropes.
In the latter rounds Mundine displayed some of that lightning speed, unleashing a series of dazzling combinations to the head and body of his aging opponent that had the crowd on their feet. Even so, the relentless Green hung on to the final bell, never backing down, never giving up, and never failing to look for the opportunity to throw that knockout right hand that was always there waiting but never found its mark.
It was a magnificent struggle, but we all knew who won the fight, and the scoreline justly reflected the dominance of the local boy.
Green was magnanimous in defeat, demonstrating once again that he is not simply one of Australia’s great fighters, but one of this country’s great human beings – a credit to his sport and to his people.
The man was understandably cocky after his win, having decisively answered an army of critics. He nonetheless showed grace towards his felled opponent and credited him with a great fight – once again, a credit to his sport and to his people.
I left Aussie Stadium with my wife and daughter feeling a sense of exhilaration, and yet there was a sinking feeling in my stomach at the same time that took a little while to identify. Then it struck me: it was the fact that it was all over!
Six years in the making, this event had captured the imagination of almost every citizen of this country, and now it had happened. It was over and would never happen again.
Mundine of course was not ruling out a rematch. Indeed, he was floating the idea within minutes of his victory, and I know full well that both boys had hoped to get at least two and maybe three contests out of this much-anticipated match up – giving them plenty of cash to retire on. But from the sporting public’s point of view, what would be the point?
Would anyone be thinking, ‘well, maybe Mundine will slow down next time?’ For it’s not as if Green fought badly. He didn’t. He fought beautifully – giving a great exhibition of the pugilistic arts. He was simply outclassed by a younger, faster, and slicker opponent, and it’s hard to imagine any number of rematches going any differently.
Green was the realist. In the after-fight interview he said that he had ‘no excuses’ for losing, and there’s the rub.
The legendary heavyweight, Joe Frazier, who happened to be ringside for the fight, pointed out in his autobiography some years ago that if you have no excuse for losing a fight then you have no reason to get back in the ring, and he’s right.
If you’re at the peak of your career, and you get beaten by someone simply because they are a superior fighter, what are you supposed to do with your career from that point on?
This was a tough reality for Danny Green to deal with but he seemed to be man enough to take it, swallowing hard after the fight as he thanked his many fans who had travelled with him all the way to this final destination on the Green Machine’s epic journey.
But that’s boxing! It’s like life – brutal and beautiful at the same time. That’s why I love it. And that’s what makes a great fight like the Green-Mundine bout more than just a boxing match.