By Shaun Brown
In boxing, appreciation can be withheld until stubbornness and blindness are shaken by the sound of the proverbial penny dropping. By that time a fighter’s achievements are arguably celebrated too little too late.
Take Daniel Geale for example. It’s been over a year since he became Australia’s first ever recognized world middleweight champion. That night of 7th May 2011 in Neubrandenberg, Germany the IBF title was wrestled from the clutches of German boxing stalwart Sebastian Sylvester and 5,000 patriotic fans via a split decision
It was a time of celebration for the land down under and a chance for the fans and media to banish their frustrations at the career of their prodigal son, Anthony Mundine. Here was a blue collar guy that had travelled 10,000 miles to gain a W in the fatherland but to this day the 31-year old still doesn’t feel the connection to his countrymen and women despite his magnificent achievement.
“I’ve said all along I’ve copped it a little bit in Australia for being me and I don’t get the media attention like others do to get all the attention. I don’t say stupid things, I be myself. The media don’t go for guys like me they like the bad guys so that gives them something to write about,” Geale 27-1 (15) told Boxing Scene.
Momentarily postponing the age old theory that a win in Germany is unimaginable, the father of three will once again make the long haul back to Deutschland this time against one of the 160lb top dogs in Felix Sturm.
A proposed date of September 1st had still to be confirmed for this unification battle but the carefree sounding Geale has no qualms about leaving straightforward title defences at home for his most challenging task to date.
“Sure I’d love to have my own fans behind me in a big fight in Australia but there’s such a buzz from taking on a fighter in his own backyard and beating him,” he confessed.
“When I do fight him I’m gonna have to be pretty decisive in what I do out there. Sturm’s a very good, solid all round fighter. He can box, he can bang and he’s got great defensive skills. You don’t get much chance to hit him well or hurt him.”
With the WBA deciding that the victor will face off against the winner of Gennady Golovkin and Grzegorz Proksa (scheduled to take place on the same night as Sturm v Geale) the wheels are quickly turning in a division used to big names, big fights and the diversity of cultures that it currently offers.
Although America’s domination of the division is rich and illustrious the 160 table is used to the likes of Marcel Cerdan, Dick Tiger and Carlos Monzon as it is with Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson and Marvin Hagler.
At present only ‘Kid Chocolate’ Peter Quillin offers only any realistic threat from Uncle Sam to the pack leaders from Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Australia and Great Britain.
No matter where Geale’s gloves have to travel, the threat is as deep as it’s ever been in his weight class. Wherever he looks, a queue of contenders is lining up across the globe and the champion wouldn’t have it any other way.
“In Australia a lot of fighters say they’re out there to fight the best in the world. It may be an awesome feeling for them saying that but how many could actually do it? I’m out there making a statement. I’ve said all along I want to step up and fight the best.
“It is an exciting time in the division and like I say to the media in Australia it can be very tough to get the fights that you want because so often the best don’t fight the best. I’m just extremely happy to have this opportunity and I believe all us guys fighting one another at 160 is gonna help boxing. It’s time to sort out who is the best. It’s a tough division but the middleweights have always been tough and defending my title is very exciting. I’m here to fight any one of them I want to go and challenge myself from here on in.”
A studier of other fighters and what they do differently, the ‘Real Deal’ was happy to cast his opinion on one of his rivals who is literally going from strength to strength.
For a while the name of Chavez seemed a burden too heavy for Julio Jr. However with each passing victory, the kid is becoming a man as he proved recently against Andy Lee. A fight that Geale thought may prove frustrating for the current WBC champion.
“I just thought Andy would’ve moved him a bit more but he got caught and stuck on the ropes and he was against a very strong guy who puts on a lot of weight beforehand,” he discussed.
The ballooning weight from Chavez Jr continues to bring great scepticism from boxing’s fraternuty, a point which the IBF champion fully understands.
Currently the presence of PEDs is arguably more dominant than ever with fighters testing positive more and more frequently. Its frightening presence was once a lurking shadow but is now becoming a growing monster. When asked about the matter, Geale was simple and straightforward in his analysis.
“Everyone should be tested and must be tested. Everyone should be clean. I’d hate to think that a guy I was fighting was cheating against me. I really don’t know how I’d react.”
With matters returning to a more positive conversation, the former 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist really is taking everything in his stride. He may not be a celebrated sportsman in his homeland but that seems to only add to the hunger and desire. There is a realism which he understands that boxing is up against it when competing against more home grown sports such as cricket, rugby and its nemesis the UFC but Geale is content to go about his business with his team and family behind him “1,000%”.
His path and vision is clear as it is simple. He doesn’t want to just bring the one title out when people come round to see it, he doesn’t just want to be remembered for a short title reign after one great night at the office, what he craves is to continue proving himself that the decision he made eight years ago to give a boxing another shot will always be the right one.
Geale picks up the story after losing out on Olympic qualification in 2004…
“When I didn’t get that decision I had doubts about whether to keep boxing. I had already been to the 2000 Olympics and there was a chance I could go four more years as an amateur to the next games but my wife at the time was pregnant with our first child so one of my good friends got me a job at his factory.
“It was good to get a bit of money in my pocket but I had to make a big decision. I’d had a good rest after the Olympic qualifiers and I was at work one day and I had a moment where my life kind of flashed before my eyes. So it was a case of either be at the factory or go all out and have a go at boxing. I gave Jeff Fenech a call, I moved up to Sydney and my professional story began.”
For 22 fights of that story, his progress was subtle yet unheralded. An opportunity to fight one of the big names in Anthony Mundine would propel his stock to new levels even in valiant defeat. A contest that was one of such entertaining nature due to the heart and will shown by each man. With bragging rights thrown in for the winner, a domestic classic was served up. A rematch has long been called for but with both men at different junctures in their career one seems distant more than ever, but the chance to restore national pride is never far away from Geale’s mind.
“Before my world title fight in Germany the rematch with Mundine was there to be made, ideally it would be good to happen but they were also given an offer after my last fight but one million per cent they are against it. They know where their guy is in his career and they know where I am, they know he’d lose.
“He’s fighting those types of fighters that make him look good without him being challenged and he’s making good money doing it. You have to move but if at some stage the fight comes back to us I am more than happy to do it.
“It was a close enough fight to warrant a rematch for sure. A few of the press and some of the fans were left frustrated by the decision and that it happened to me. I was a bit angry but I thought fair enough and it made me even more determined. I don’t regret it, it was a great opportunity. He was a champion, I wasn’t well known at the time but it turned out good in that respect but I’d still like to settle that score.”
At present; Geale, Billy Dib, Danny Green, Anthony Mundine and Vic Darchinyan are a mix of the new and the old in what currently represents Australian boxing. Despite the country giving the sport warriors such as Jeff Harding, Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu it never really has been truly blessed with pools of talent.
Geale, who hopes to spearhead a new generation is annoyed at guys like Mundine who he feels is milking the sport for as much as he can.
“The fans are frustrated in truth. Look there are some good fighters out here and we do love our boxing over here but it’s not doing as well as it could. What we’re doing in the middleweight division helps and it’s gonna benefit everyone who follows the sport over here in the long run.”
With two title defences under his belt the IBF champion prefers to deal in the now rather than the long term. He realises a lot of work has to be done not only in the grass roots of Australian boxing but also for him to continue his title reign and also add to it. A feeling of ‘work in progress’ comes over from Geale in all manners of his life. He’s happy but not satisfied. He’s not interested in taking stock at what he has achieved so far.
“Lots of people asked me if I sit back and think about what I achieved but I don’t because I’ve still got so much to offer. I’ve said all along that getting the title is tough but keeping it is tougher. There are some distractions like the media and everything else that comes with it but you’ve just got to prioritise a lot of things.
“Boxing is massive for me and everyone around me. My family’s at the top of the world right now and you’ve got to fit in as much as you for them and yourself because as a fighter you’ve got a short window. You want to make your money, fight the best and work hard.
“Hopefully one day when I’m old and I‘m in my rocking chair I can look back but there’s still so much for me to achieve but right now there’s no time to sit back and take it all in.”
Daniel Geale’s journey has only just begun.