By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s been an important few years for Daniel Geale.
Though the native Australian became a world champion by capturing the IBO’s middleweight crown in late 2007, it wasn’t until he lost that belt to countryman Anthony Mundine 17 months later that his climb to the upper 160-pound echelons actually seemed to begin.
Three fights after the Mundine meeting – which remains his lone career loss – Geale stopped Russian veteran Roman Karmazin to earn a shot at IBF claimant Sebastian Sylvester in late 2010. He ventured to Germany the next spring to dethrone the incumbent by split decision, and has since defended three times, including a return trip to Germany to end Felix Sturm’s five-year run as WBA title-holder.
Geale is back to face a familiar foe (Mundine) on familiar turf (Sydney) this Wednesday, in his latest bid to reach the rarified air now claimed by the division’s consensus No. 1, Argentine vet Sergio Martinez.
We caught up with the 31-year-old in his final few days of training camp to discuss the Mundine rematch, his plans to one day fight in the United States and exactly where he sees himself amid the collection of viable entities at middleweight.
Fitzbitz: Not that long ago, you were an Australian middleweight with a lightly-regarded title belt and little recognition outside your home country. These days, you have recognizable credentials and you’re in the top three at 160 pounds on all legitimate lists. Talk about the climb you’ve made. Are you surprised at all? Was it always expected? How important was it to you to be taken more seriously worldwide?
Geale: For me it is a constant learning process. Boxing has been my life for 20 years and you only get out what you put in. Every day I challenge myself to improve skills and fitness so that when I face up to each new opponent they are fighting the best version of me at that time. I don't really dwell too much on what I am achieving at the moment. Whilst I am proud of the milestones on the journey, the job is far from finished and no matter how I am judged I will always be able to look back and know I did the best I could do.
Fitzbitz: Looking back, the only blemish on the record is the first Mundine fight. What can you tell me about it? Clearly, you thought you won, correct? Can you recall how the fight unfolded and what sorts of challenges he presented that were especially memorable?
Geale: The fight with Mundine seems a lifetime ago and I was a different fighter back then. On the night I believed I had done enough to retain my belt. Anthony is a great athlete, has good speed and reasonable power. Apart from me being lazy and getting caught early, he didn't present many challenges.
Fitzbitz: I’m not as aware of the state of things in Australia, but it seems that in the United States Mundine is known as much for what he says as what he does in the ring. Can you tell me how the public generally perceives Mundine? Is he seen as a legitimate fighter, more of a character or something in between?
Geale: I don't like to judge others, but Anthony has built his career more on what he says than what he has achieved.
Fitzbitz: What’s the relationship like between you two? Legitimate dislike? Simple competitive rivalry? Are you any more motivated facing him than you would be anyone else? How much does the fact that he’s the only one who can claim to have beaten you figure into it?
Geale: We have no relationship. Any feelings I have toward him will be sorted out in the ring on Jan. 30.
Fitzbitz: What is the atmosphere for a top-end professional athlete in your country? Are you recognized on the street? Do you have a significant fan base? How does it compare to the adulation that other athletes you’re aware of get in their own home countries?
Geale: I am humbled by the recognition I am receiving, when at the end of the day I'm just a man doing the best he can for his family who just happens to fight for a living.
Fitzbitz: You’ve fought a couple title fights outside Australia. Did you enjoy competing elsewhere? How important, in your view, will it be to take fights in Europe or the United States as you continue forward as a professional? Is it something you see as necessary, or are you happy enough staying where you are?
Geale: I've always enjoyed travelling to compete in other countries as both an amateur and a professional. It adds a little extra satisfaction when you venture in to someone's backyard as an unknown and an underdog then come away victorious. I can't wait to fight in the U.S.A. I thought the opportunity had arrived after my last win in Germany and my team had me ringside to look at fighting the winner of Chavez vs. Martinez. Unfortunately that was not to be, but I'm sure a stateside debut is not far away.
Fitzbitz: Look at the rest of the 160-pounders in the world. Regardless of who’s got what belt, who is the best fighter in the division? Is it you? If so, why? If not, who is it and why?
Geale: The middleweight division is a great place to be at the moment, with a lot of class opponents and great potential matchups – Martinez, Murray, Golovkin, Quillin, Chavez, Macklin, Sturm – and I am happy to fight any and all of them. Sergio is regarded No. 1 and I look forward to meeting him when the time comes. To be the best you have to beat the best.
Fitzbitz: Speaking of the landscape at 160, and assuming things go well against Mundine, what’s on the agenda? Is it Sergio Martinez? Chavez? Someone else? Is a move to 168 a thought, considering all the big names that reside there? What goals do you have remaining as a professional?
Geale: The winner of Soliman vs. Sturm will become my IBF mandatory, but I leave all that to my team. For now I'm just concentrating on my next fight and when that is over I'll get ready for whoever is put in front of me.
Fitzbitz: And, along those lines, when you decide to hang up the gloves – whenever that is – what do you have to accomplish to allow yourself to consider the career a success? Was winning a world title the ultimate goal? Do you want to be considered a top pound-for-pound fighter?
Geale: I don't really think about an end. My life is boxing and when I stop competing I will continue working with my amateur team and putting back in to the sport that has given me so much. How I am rated when my career is over is something for others to decide. All that is important to me is that I do the best I can for my family.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF middleweight title – Sydney, Australia
Daniel Geale (champion) vs. Anthony Mundine (No. 5 contender)
Geale (28-1, 15 KO): Fourth title defense; Former IBO/WBA champion at 160 pounds
Mundine (44-4, 26 KO): Twelfth title fight (8-3); Defeated Geale for IBO title in 2009 (SD 12)
Fitzbitz says: “The younger of the two Australians has improved greatly since first his meeting with Mundine, and should even the score to hold onto his third title belt.” Geale by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: None
2013 picks record: 2-1 (66.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 375-122 (75.4 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.