By Mark Staniforth
It was one of those tragic quirks of fate this week that on the same day Daniel Geale became only the fourth Australian-born fighter to win a world title on foreign soil, one of those legends he emulated passed away.
Lionel Rose did as much as anyone to blaze a trail for Aboriginals in elite sport, becoming an instant national hero when he went to Tokyo to wrest the WBC bantamweight title from Fighting Harada in 1968.
That achievement should never be underestimated: Rose edged a majority decision over a fighter who went into their contest on a 19-fight unbeaten streak, and who was destined for a place in the Hall of Fame.
So it was fitting that Geale should have to overcome equally tough odds to claim the IBF middleweight crown, pulling off what is often called the impossible in winning a points verdict over a German fighter in Germany.
Australian boxing men spoke eloquently of Rose's loss. Legendary trainer Johnny Lewis said: "It seems incredible that on the same day Lionel Rose leaves us Daniel Geale becomes world champion.
"Daniel is very proud of his indigenous background and the way was opened for Daniel by Lionel Rose and Tony Mundine.
"Lionel Rose showed indigenous Australians that they could achieve anything if they worked hard, but he was an inspiration to all Australians."
Rose was proud of his place in the pantheon of Australian boxing greats. Until Geale, his achievement in winning a world title abroad was equalled only by Australian-born compatriots Jimmy Carruthers and Jeff Harding.
It was too tough an ask even for the great Jeff Fenech, who was held to a draw by Azumah Nelson in Las Vegas in 1992, and the popular Tony Mundine, beaten by middleweight legend Carlos Monzon in Argentina in 1974.
Like Rose and Geale, Carruthers and Harding did it the tough way. Carruthers won his world bantamweight title in Thailand in 1954. Harding went to Atlantic City to stop the rock-solid Dennis Andries for the WBC light-heavyweight title in 1989.
Recent Australian boxing success has been rather more tenuous. Anthony Mundine failed to venture outside his home nation during his reign as WBA super-middleweight champion and recognition for his feat was restricted accordingly.
Kostya Tszyu and Vic Darchinyan, both long-term residents Down Under, won numerous titles overseas, but were born elsewhere. Gairy St Clair, who beat Cassius Baloyi for the WBC super-feather crown in South Africa, was born in Guyana.
Geale was born and brought up in Launceston, Tasmania. He won a gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester but admits he dreamed of defending a world title in his home town long before that.
"I think I said when I was about 16 I'd love to have my first title defence in Tasmania," said Geale, whose sudden rise to prominence puts him in the frame for a clash with widely regarded number one Sergio Martinez.
"I've got to speak to my management and work out the best option. I've always said I would be prepared to go anywhere, so if we have to go over to the United States that's the next big step for us.
"Depending on negotiations, my second defence will hopefully be in the US. I'd love to get over there and cement my name. Defend the title here in Australia then go over there and say, 'here I am, who's next?"'
It's a sure thing that Rose, who battled his way out of a dirt-poor upbringing and showed no fear when offered the daunting chance to head to Tokyo and face Harada, would approve of Geale's attitude.
Even with his title and his extraordinary popularity in Australia, Rose continued to travel, determined to make the most of his title reign. He even returned to Tokyo to make a successful first defence against Takao Sakurai.
After a split decision win over Mexican Chucho Castillo at the Inglewood Forum in California in 1968, a fight in which Rose recovered from a 10th round knockout, a riot broke out over the scoring.
After beating tough Briton Alan Rudkin back in Melbourne, Rose set off on his travels once again, and lost his title via a fifth round knockout to another all-time great, Ruben Olivares, back in California in 1969.
Before retiring, Rose would fight back in Tokyo, in Malaysia and even in New Caledonia, where he lost his last fight by second round stoppage in 1976 before entering a long and sometimes difficult retirement.
The fearless Rose achieved what few Australian boxers had done before, and few have had the talent or the heart to try to emulate since. Geale is one of those few, so it was entirely fitting that his triumph should be played out in Rose's honour.
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