‘Show the bastard who’s boss’
On my 15th birthday, my parents gave me a horse called Trigger.
Having grown up on a riding ranch, I was confident around horses and assumed Trigger would be saddled up in no time.
I was wrong.
Every morning I’d walk out to Trigger, and every night I’d limp back.
Not wanting to look weak I kept at it for weeks, until one day I’d had enough.
I said to Dad, ‘This horse isn’t like all the others, it’s different, it’s stronger’.
Dad glared at me from across the paddock and said, ‘You need to show the bastard who’s boss, right now Trigger thinks he’s got you beat’.
I shot back, ‘It’s only round one, he ain’t beat me yet’.
A few months later, I was sitting in the dirt nursing a broken wrist and a bruised ego while Trigger strutted around like he owned the place.
Unfortunately for Trigger, the actual owner of the place had decided enough was enough and was walking towards him with a grin on his face.
What happened next is still debated at family dinners.
Dad likes to think Trigger quickly fell into line, whereas I remember dad quickly falling off.
The truth is somewhere in the middle.
My pop and dad started the ranch about 35 years ago and it was an unreal place to grow up for me and my brothers and sister.
We grew up with motorbikes and horses and the country lifestyle, working the property, doing household chores and mowing lawns, getting firewood, all of that. There was a lot of work on the weekends and during the week I went to school in Sydney so I had to leave at 7am for a two-hour trip, with a similar timeframe in the afternoons.
I’ve always had a real affinity with horses, especially the temperamental ones like Trigger. Whereas other kids would visit the ranch and ask for a ‘nice’ horse, I’d tell mum to make sure I got the ‘bad one’. When she’d tell me to make sure I wore a helmet, I knew I was in for a fight.
My boss gave me an ultimatum
I guess you could say I’ve always loved competition – I played rep tennis and high level footy from a young age and never liked losing.
I made the decision to leave school in year 10 to focus on my plumbing apprenticeship. I could have easily gone into the family business but my dad wanted me to get outside my comfort zone and earn my stripes somewhere else before coming back.
I learnt a lot during my apprenticeship. My boss was a one-man band, the days were long and the work was tough, but the lessons were invaluable.
I tried to balance work and footy but my boss needed me to work weekends, I was also smaller than a lot of the other blokes and took plenty of knocks, frequently missing work due to injuries. One day my boss said to me: ‘I can’t afford for you to have any more time off work with injuries, you either commit to the job or you try your luck at footy.”
It wasn’t easy but I made the decision to give up footy, instead focusing on my career in plumbing.
‘They weren’t asking for an autograph’
Then at 17, it all changed.
As I walked out of the shops one day, a couple of lads approached me – it didn’t take me long to realise they weren’t asking for an autograph. There was a bit of push and shove and, while nothing too serious came of it, I remember walking away feeling about two inches tall.
That was the first time where I was all alone. I had no one to call on or to have my back. I used my words and wit to talk my way out of it but it rattled me.
About a week later I saw a sign for a boxing gym and walked in, thinking, ‘I’ll give boxing a crack.’
From the moment the gloves were laced on, I was hooked.
Having two older brothers meant a scrap was never far away and it didn’t take me long to toughen up.
What started out as a hobby quickly developed into a passion and then, of course, a career.
I’d been involved in lots of sports but nothing compared to boxing. I guess you could say that I felt the same affinity with the sport of boxing that I did with the horse riding.
It didn’t take me long to get in the ring and on my 18th birthday I had my first fight down at Sharks Leagues Club.
Mike Tyson said it best
I’m not saying that I enjoyed getting punched in the face, but from day one it never really bothered me. That’s just something you either have in you or you don’t.
You can be the best technical fighter in the world, you can spend hours hitting the bags or pads, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. As Mike Tyson famously said, ‘Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face’.
Fortunately, years of fighting with my brothers had toughened me up and apart from the odd black eye, broken nose and chipped tooth, I didn’t have too many serious injuries. None that impacted my work like footy did anyway.
I remember trying to explain to Mum that I was serious about boxing, she says now that she thought I was talking about boxercise and wondered how you could make any money doing classes. Looking back, it wasn’t until I had my first fight lined up that they started paying attention.