Learning from one of Australian boxing’s greats
I was 16 when Dad took me over to meet an Australian boxing legend.
Jeff Fenech has been close with my family for a long time. My uncle, Pat, was a police officer around where Jeff trained and helped him get into the local police club, and my grandmother was his dietician and nutritionist when he was fighting.
It’s funny, boxing wasn’t my main sport when I was younger. Growing up in Cronulla I was playing rugby league from a young age well into my teens with my local club. I wanted to be a footy player, not a fighter. I’m fighting now at 55 kilos though, so I was pretty small for rugby league.
But league was what got me into boxing in the first place. When I was 15, a few of the boys from the team started doing a bit on the side as part of training. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than that, but it was enjoyable, something I really started to get into.
Once I began to spar with people, all I could think was, “This is for me. This is more like me. This is what I want to do”.
It felt there was more of a future for me there, that the ring was somewhere I could achieve something. That was when I started to pursue boxing.
Fast forward a year and Dad’s taking me to Jeff’s house. I thought we were just going over there to meet him as a one-off, not to train or for him to have a look at me or anything like that. Even then, being such a big fan of his and having watched all his fights, it was unbelievably exciting.
Nervous as I was when he took me out the back to watch me do some training, I wasn’t worried about not living up to his expectations or not having what he was looking for. The focus was just giving him my all. I haven’t talked to him about it much, but I think that’s why he took notice of me.
Whatever the reason, from that day, that was it. He asked me to come back, decided to take me on and I’m lucky for that.
Six years on, he’s still training me and I’m still giving him my all every day.
Stuck in the gym
I was scheduled to fight on March 21, which was about a week after Australia started to really be impacted by the pandemic. The bout was cancelled six days before it was meant to take place.
Had everything gone to plan, I could have had three fights by this stage of the year. Instead, I don’t have any on the horizon, and no one knows what’s going to happen, whether it’s going to get better or worse. It’s just a case of keeping on training in case something does come up.
Not having any fights is affecting me pretty badly, but everyone’s in the same situation.
My last fight against Ernesto Saulong was nearly a year ago now.
The preparation was… let’s say a bit different than usual. We were training in Thailand and about two months out from the fight, I suddenly had to be rushed to hospital to have testicular torsion surgery. It was a bit of a shock, but I was out of there and healthy again in no time.
Had everything gone to plan, I could have had three fights by this stage of the year.
It set us back and cost us a lot of sparring, but there were still six or seven weeks to prepare. I never let myself get out of shape, so that much time is plenty for me to get ready. It wasn’t a disadvantage once the fight came around.
Early on in the bout I was hit with a few clean shots, but it didn’t faze or rattle me. It certainly didn’t put me off my game. You can imagine the hours that we spend in the gym to work on everything, so I know what to do in any situation.
He caught me a couple of times, but that’s boxing. That’s what I prepared for. I just tried to stay relaxed, and ended up winning after the full ten rounds.
I don’t pay too much attention to the commentary around me, people saying I might be contending for world championships in the future.
I’m not worried what others expect from me or anything like that. I’m only here to prove this to myself. People can think and expect whatever they want of me, but at the end of the day I’m not worried about what they think.
Talking yourself up and having a big ego is in fashion at the moment, but it’s just not me. If that’s how someone is, that’s how they are. But you can’t go around pretending to be someone you’re not.
I’ve got some good people around me and they all keep me level headed. All I care about is continuing to show up every day and keep doing my thing.
Meeting (more) boxing royalty
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet Mike Tyson. He and Jeff have a history together and are good friends, so we wrote to him and I got to spend a bit of time with him.
It wasn’t training or anything like that, just speaking together. He’s actually a pretty quiet guy and didn’t say too much, but he still gave me some good life advice.
It was one of those unreal, pinch-yourself moments and I can’t stop talking about it.
I’d be excited to see him fight again in this exhibition against Roy Jones this year, but it’s not the old Mike, the Mike everyone’s used to seeing. He’s 54 these days, and Roy isn’t exactly young either.
Hopefully it’s just a bit of fun that isn’t taken too seriously. But I’ll definitely be watching.