What better way than to spend a Wednesday night than some “World Championship” Boxing. I’m not 100% exactly sure what the “Silver” title is or entails but it certainly doesn’t entitle the holder to be a “full” World Champion. Anthony “The Man” Mundine is certainly no stranger to these type of titles, as although he claims to be a 3 time World Champion, he has only ever been an “Interim” title holder (as there was a “Super” Champion above him at the same time) or the very lightly regarded IBO Champion, which is akin to me saying I was Formula 1 World Champion after winning a go-kart race down the local track.
On paper though, this really does look like a genuine fight. Rabchenko is from Belarus, and has won all of his 25 fights. He’s trained by the legendary Ricky Hitman Hatton – although only a fledgling trainer at this stage – and has come all the way to Australia to further his big fight credentials. It’s Mudine’s last chance saloon. If he gets beaten up, like he did in last fight against Clottey, it’s all over for him. If he manages to sneak a win, then it might present a last gasp “real” title shot. If he blasts the Belarussian out of the fight early, he would be reliant on becoming a mandatory challenger to get a match-up.
But first, the 8,000 strong sell-out crowd would settle in to enjoy the support fights. The Melbourne fight public is predominantly Mediterranean in heritage – and predominantly 40+. Paunches were at a premium and fair credit most of them made the effort to put on their best trainers for the night to mingle with the strippers and promo girls. The women that weren’t being paid to be there were at best and more politely mutton dressed as lamb. If people watching was a sport – you were at the Olympic Finals here!
I did get to see possibly the best nickname in boxing – “Mr. Frenzy” Kye McKenzie! You can’t help loving that. He won too! But the fight that caught everyone else’s attention was the Heavyweight bout between Australia’s Commonwealth Champion, 118kgs “Big Daddy” Browne taking on New Zealand’s (via Washington) #4 Chauncey Welliver.
Welliver tipped the scales at 138kgs (304lbs/22 stone). It is fair to say that the majority of the middle aged men in attendance were in better shape than the Yanwi (not sure Kikee is better??). Browne is unbeaten in 21 fights and is ranked in the top 20 in the world and looks menacing with the 6ft 5 frame and tattoo laden body (and head!). He is a bit of a plodder though and I feel will get found out if he moves up a level. He is around in a time however, where there are few decent heavyweights and could go on a make some decent money if he is prepared to have a go overseas. No matter what interest you have in boxing, everyone wants to see the big guys go at it – and they will ALWAYS pay for it!
Onto what everyone was here to see. Quite strangely the National anthems of both countries were played to an empty ring. I later found out that there were issues with Mundine’s gloves which delayed the fight by 20 minutes. Comically introduced to the crowd as “the greatest cross-over athlete in the history of boxing” Mundine has always been the king of self promotion. There is no question with what he has achieved in both rugby league and boxing to the levels he has succeeded, but I will never forgive him for ducking Joe Calzaghe constantly and then still continually claiming he was the best around!
The opening exchanges were very even. Even early on Mundine kept claiming he was being hit on the back of the head which was incredibly annoying. You could tell that the Belarussian was a come forward type that wasn’t overly flashy, with a decent, textbook style. Mundine looked busier, even though he probably wasn’t throwing as many punches.
In a new innovation – in what they term “open scoring”, the scores were announced to the crowd after the 4th and 8th rounds. I can see the positives and the negatives in this and I guess anything to eliminate the chances of fixing or corruption can only be a good thing. At the end of the 8th round it was officially all square – 1 judge had Mundine up by 2 rounds, one had Rabchenko up by 2 and the other had it as a tie. 2 judges then scored the last 4 rounds even, but crucially, the judge that scored it as a tie after 8 rounds, thought Mundine won all of the last 4 rounds. Now, I was there live and you get much different impressions than watching on TV. Mundine was blowing out of his arse after the 8th, and struggled to make much of an impression after that – although the crowd roaring when he landed any sort of punch must have been a factor! If ever there was a hometown decision – then this was it.
Mundine did get tagged hard, late in the 10th which forced him to grab Rabchenko’s waist and drive him across the ring, more in homage to his former sport than the noble art. But he survived as the bell rang out and that crucially gave him enough time to recover his senses. Both looked tired over the final 6 minutes though and when the bell came to end the fight I think most people around us thought the Belarussian had done enough!
Boxing is rife with stories like this. The old adage of when going away, having to knock your opponent out just to get a draw gnaws a bit close to the bone. In all fairness Rabchenko was unmarked, but didn’t quite do as much as he should have to win enough rounds. Mundine is slick and can take a punch. He is still a phenomenal athlete, but with his restricted weight he is simply never going to knock decent opponents over any more. At 39, and with the majority of sports, when your speed goes, it is the end of the line.
Underworld figure Mick Gatto, who is heading up Mundine’s “sponsorship and promotion” team is promising a big name next up for Mundine. He will be a mandatory challenger for the title; he may get a big name by not being a “danger man” for a title. For now, the legend that is The Man will continue on for the time being. One thing is for certain though; if a big name does come to town, there will be a massive crowd ready and waiting to see if he can do it again.
WBC SILVER LIGHT-MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE
ANTHONY MUNDINE d SERGEY RABCHENKO on POINTS (SPLIT DECISION)
115-113, 116-112, 113-115
SPORT: Roller Derby
WHERE: Melbourne, Australia
WHERE IS IT PLAYED: Predominantly in the USA, but leagues can be found around the World
WHO WAS COMPETING: Victorian Roller Derby League (Women) vs Victorian Vanguard (Men)
WHO WAS WATCHING: Quite a decent crowd of enthusiasts and curious onlookers. Very much an “alternative” crowd.
HIGHLIGHTS & OBSERVATIONS:
I remember Roller Derby as once quite popular in the 90s as a Sport Entertainment “Wrestling” style TV based contest that you used to come across on Sunday afternoon TV. Upon further research it seems that Roller Derby has been popular in various forms on and off as early as the 30’s in the US. It’s peak was actually in the late 70s and early 80s where matches could regularly attract 20,000+ crowds! It’s popularity has mirrored the fad nature of roller skating over the years. However, it is enjoying a modern day contemporary revival driven on the whole, as a DIY all-female organised and run sport. It is fair to say that this ethos has naturally attracted a somewhat feminist, somewhat lesbotic, somewhat punk/rockabilly diversity to its participants and supporters – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
What was quite impressive was that the all the skaters have a innuendo laden playing pseudonym – some of the better ones we saw included “Slippery Nicholls”, “Anna Conned Her”, “Skate Bush”, “Bicepsual” and my favourite for more than one reason “G-Banger”. Even the refs had their own nicknames too!
The sport itself is very competitive. It is psuedo-violent in nature as there is charging and blocking involved as long as you dont use your arms and hands. Remembering that you can build up quite some speed, momentum & kinetic energy whilst on roller skates. The oval track is quite tight so to fulfill any of the sport’s roles you do need to be ultra-proficient with your skating skills. Speed and agility do come to the fore, and as much as it looks like being unstructured, there are tactics in play and there are specialist positions.
Matches consist of 2 x 30 minute halves and is made up of as many individual “jams” as they can fit in in that time. Each jam starts with a mobile scrum of blockers positioning themselves in order that their scoring skater (The Jammer) can get through the pack and start to lap the other team’s blockers. To score points the jammer must lap the opposition blockers as many times as they can. There are penalties for illegal blocking – which includes a sin bin scenario – and there are protocols for skaters that go out of bounds to get back in the play. The action is non-stop and there is always something going on either on the track, on the sidelines or in the crowd!!!
Now the Victorian team – who incidentally absolutely smashed the men’s team in this bout – are off to Oregon in the US to compete in the World Division I Playoffs later this month – the first Australian team to get this far. I bet that there would be some right old monsters waiting for them over there though!!!
Roller Derby is the fastest growing women’s sport in the world. I know those stats get bandied about willy-nilly sometimes, because if you start from a very low base, any growth can be categorised as exponential. But, you can see and understand why it is an attractive proposition. It is competitive, empowering and gives you your workout and a bonus of great leg definition! I would imagine that the camaraderie amongst the girls would be pretty rewarding too.
Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena may seem like a strange venue for a collosal ice hockey grudge match. And it was fairly safe to say that no-one in the crowd was expecting Gretzky, Federov or Lemieux to be turning out either. In fact a Kane, Quick or Boychuck would have sufficed; instead we got to experience the talents of Zenon Konopka, Emerson Etem, Tyler Bunz and Andrew Gordon (a late replacement for the world renown Kyle Quincey). When I heard the line-ups for the two teams those immortal lines from Major League were ringing through my ears – “Not bad for a couple of has-beens and never-will-bes” – which is essentially what these two teams were.
The teams were playing for the prestigious Douglas Webber Cup. Yes; I’ve never heard of it either, or him for that matter. Upon further research it seems like the promoter of the series has effectively bought himself a Trophy and no doubt loves seeing his name up in lights. But in saying that, he must be doing something right as 12,000 people packed into a sold out Rod Laver Arena at a minimum of $ 89 a ticket! A 6.30pm “start” actually turned into a 7.30pm puck drop and in the intervening hour, we had fireworks, some interesting interpretive ice dancing, and quite possibly one of the worst emcees I’ve ever seen – a self proclaimed “Ice Rinkmaster” – and then the National Anthems. Both anthems were sung by the same person, which is never a good sign. And so it proved when she sang the wrong words in BOTH anthems – to be honest I didn’t actually realise until someone a lot more knowledgeable than me, pointed it out! I still don’t know what she got wrong, but rest assured she did!
Now The Douglas Webber Megabowl is a 5 game series, and it currently stood precariously at 2-1 to Canada. Now, me being a complete sports sceptic says that it would be a great result for everyone (except for the Canadians) if the US managed to tie up the series here to go up to Sydney with everything to play for in Game 5. My scepticism was heightened when just 2 minutes into the game the first fight erupted. It was more a “it’s going to happen anyway, let’s get it out of the way early” type of fight, and it’s what was needed to get the paying punters fired up – and didn’t they lap it up!!! It was as almost as it was scripted…….
But to put salt in my porridge, only a couple of minutes later Canada had capitalised on some very leaky US defensive work to go 2-0 up. As the game took shape, there was actually a pause during the play to introduce Nathan Walker to the crowd. Yes – during play…. Nathan is the first “Australian” to be drafted into the NHL. Considering he is actually Welsh by birth makes this an even bigger achievement. Nathan also decided to incite the crowd further by claiming that the Melbourne crowd was good, but nowhere near what they would experience in Sydney…. If there is anything that Melburnians hate, it’s being compared unfavourably to Sydneysiders…..
The USA managed to grab a couple of goals back late in the first quarter to level it up. The second of which was very soft, straight from a face off which the Canadians decided to do their statue impressions en masse – including the keeper! So we went into the 1st break all even and as the ice was cleaned came the first proposal of the night. Note that I say first, because it just so happened that another couple decided to do the same between the second and third period! Now I’m not quite sure what is so attractive about a marriage proposal at an ice hockey game but clearly there is something in the (frozen) water….. The other amazing sight at Rod Laver Arena were the queues for food and drink – unbelievably long. I’m not sure whether the food outlets were understaffed or under supplied, but it was a blight on the success of the event. People were complaining about waiting over 20 minutes just to get food!!!!!
One of the unique food attractions was the 2 foot hot dog. However, even billed as a meal for four (or should that really be two ice hockey fans?) I would not be shelling out the $ 35 asking price. When I saw one bloke walking back to his seat with two of these buggers, I did make a comment to the missus that for what he just spent on those hot dogs, we could have had a decent meal, in a decent restaurant!! And she added “with a bottle of wine too!” – and get some change!!! I will dig out a picture, but to be completely honest, apart from getting into the atmosphere of the event, it’s not the sort of food that you are ever going to rave about is it?
The second period yielded another 4 goals which mirrored the same pattern. Canada went ahead and the US hit back to level. It was 4-4 heading into the last period. The play was getting slicker, but the script was thickening….. As we broke for more dance cam action, extreme queueing and some rather interesting ice dancing on the rink – guess what? We got our SECOND marriage proposal. What is it with ice hockey and the urge to commit the next 5 or so years of your life to the same woman……(hard hat firmly secured; cue outrage, backlash and onslaught…)
At this stage I was expecting it to end up as a tie and we were going to see a penalty shoot out. The crowd had been fantastic all night. It was predominantly Canadian supporters – not necessarily Canadians too – the Aussies love giving the Yanks a good serve no matter what the sport…… But it all went very quiet when the USA took the lead for the first time. One of the most experienced and well credentialed players made a schoolboy error. When a soft, long shot from one of the Americans was only parried (for parried, read basted, roasted, served up with vegetables and delivered hot on a plate) to a grateful American striker who simply smacked it back past him into the net. After that incident, the USA never looked back whereas the Canadians never got going again. The Seppos ran out easy 7-4 winners in the end and sent the Series into a 5th Game decider (as scripted!), although I wouldn’t have minded seeing a penalty shoot-out!!!
All in all as an event it was quite entertaining. There was never a dull moment, even after the game was done and dusted the players were meeting punters and signing autographs well after 90% of the crowd had left the arena. The ice hockey wasn’t quite of “International” standard, but it was a good taster to the professional side of the sport. It may (or may not – you decide!) have been scripted WWE style, but it was competitive and ticked all the boxes for what anyone would have expected – unless you were Canadian of course. No matter whether it be ice hockey, curling or hot dog eating there is nothing more important to the Canadian nation than beating their southern neighbours – at anything, especially ice hockey!!!!
DOUGLAS WEBBER CUP GAME 4
CANADA 4 – 7 USA
SERIES TIED AT 2-2
On a freezing cold hung over Sunday, the attendance of Beefy and I at an afternoon session of Bike Polo seemed questionable. However with the monumental task ahead of us next year, (enduring 365 different sports in the space of 365 days) one suspects working hung over and freezing, might be a daily occurrence… so best we start training now!
So Bike Polo you say? What’s this business about? It’s quite simple really – it’s like regular polo – but with three essential changes;
- the horses are replaced with bikes
- the field is replaced with a basketball court
- the status-obsessed show pony upper class wankers, are replaced with some cider-drinking beard-growing hippies.
Wandering about Flagstaff Gardens wrapped up in scarf and long coat, the main question on my mind was “Where is this Flagstaff then?” I could not find one anywhere! And I put it to you that there is not one flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens – very poorly named, totally misleading. Although saying that, I didn’t actually circle the entire park so I could be wrong…
The next big test came as I stumbled upon the local bowls club. The force is strong in me, and as I searched my feelings I sensed the presence of beer in the clubhouse. Despite all my natural instincts, on this occasion I withheld and didn’t turn to the dark side; it seemed I would continue with the proposed Bike Polo agenda. Damn this Bike Polo!
Myself and two drunk bums made up the bulk of the spectators as I took a seat at a local picnic bench to observe. The bums brought their own beer… why didn’t I think of that?
It wasn’t an organised competition, more of a Sunday social get-together. Surprisingly though I was quite impressed with the game. There was a great deal of action and vigour, and in time I have no doubt they’ll gain a much higher calibre of spectator than what was in attendance today.
Half an hour later Beefy arrived and it was time to get to work!