By Duncan Johnstone
Ex-pat Kiwi heavyweight boxer Kali Meehan was thanking his second thoughts as he celebrated a happy homecoming with the $200,000 winner's cheque from the inaugural Super 8 prizefighter tournament in Auckland last night.
There was also a $10,000 bonus for knocking out Michael Sprott in the final and another $5000 for achieving that in the first round as he clubbed the Englishman to the canvas.
The 44-year-old ended a two year hiatus from the ring in remarkable fashion, using his height and power to dominate his way past three rugged opponents and a payday the Sydney security worker can hardly believe.
He initially turned down an approach to fight in the tournament. But encouraged by his sons, he had second thoughts and accepted the challenge.
Once good enough to be right in the mix for serious world title shots, Meehan returned to outclass an eight man field in the elimination series.
He was still struggling to comprehend his turnaround last night.
"After all the headaches I've had with the politics in this sport, I just thought stuff it, I won't fight," he said, explaining his inactivity.
"When this concept came up at first I said, no, I don't want to do it. Then I thought it was in my hometown and I wanted to show Auckland what I could do. I'm just pleased I was able to do that in front of some old friends and family."
Meehan's preparations included plenty of sparring with his second oldest son Willis, who looks capable of representing Australia in the ring at the Commonwealth Games while he's also starring in rugby league, last week being 18th man for the Roosters NRL side.
"Willis really encouraged me and I thought, OK I will do it."
Meehan was reluctant to predict what may lie ahead for him now.
"I never say anything about that straight after a fight because your mind is still fighting and you will fight anyone. So I will wait a week or so and see how I feel."
But he believed the prizefighter concept had a future, feeling it provided constant action for the crowd as seven three round fights were battled out to crown the champion, rather than wading through the traditional way of working up to a main event.
"It's an awesome concept. This is go, go go."
That had proved taxing for an aging body. But to be fair this was an aging field, including 41-year-old former world champion Hasim Rahman who was eliminated in the opening round by Kiwi part-timer Antz Nansen.
The result will surely end Rahman's career and put to bed suggestions he would lure David Tua out of retirement for a rematch. Rahman was ponderous in his loss.
"He looked to have mobility issues," admitted Mark Keddell, the spokesman for Sky TV's first foray into boxing promotion. Keddell admitted there was little hope of Rahman fighting here on another card.
Keddell welcomed the upsets though, believing they added to the night.
They included another Kiwi ex-pat, Las Vegas-based Brice Ritani-Coe getting past big American Alonzo Butler in the quarter-finals.
Ritani-Coe then got on the wrong end of a torrid three rounds with Meehan in the semifinals.
Meehan, who felt he had got the format of resting between fights right, knew he needed to start strongly against Sprott who has become something of a specialist in these one-night tournaments.
Meehan did just that although his finishing combo looked suspect as he hit the back of Sprott's head to send him sprawling and the towel came out of his corner, signalling the end of the night.
Meehan was unapologetic about the decisive flurry.
"Don't ask that," he said of questions over the legality of his punches. "If I get him and he goes down ... that's boxing."
He believed professional boxing was in good shape as it continues to be revitalised with new promoters coming on board.
"It's exciting. I had to go overseas to establish my career ... I stayed in some ghettos in the United States. Now there is a good market happening here where fighters can get fights and get on TV. It's fantastic."