The cab is on time. It's a 20 minute drive from suburban Sunshine in Melbourne's west into Docklands to see Kambosos-Haney.
“Marvel Stadium please, mate,” I tell the driver as my son and I jump into the back seat of the black Genesis. “We’re going to the big fight!”
“Who’s playing?” our driver asks.
The 28 year old George Kambosos from Sydney is “playing” Devin Haney, with the Aussie defending the lightweight straps he took from Teofimo Lopez last year. Kambosos, with a 20-0 mark, is the underdog, as Haney, age 23, holds a 27-0 record along with the WBC 135 title.
Heading east on Sunshine Road we engage in small talk I tell my son about the chat I had the day before with a lady from the cricket club of which we are both members. One of our junior players has finally been released after a four month stay in The Royal Children’s Hospital, being treated for severe burns suffered in a house fire which also injured her younger brother, step-father and tragically claimed the life of her mother. After emerging from a coma the step-father has been charged in relation to the matter. Family destroyed. The six children will now be separated and head into the care of their birth fathers. The injured girl from our club is heading interstate. An uncertain future awaits. “Some kids just never have a chance,” I offer as we head under the Napier Street Bridge.
We arrive at the eastern side of the stadium on Bourke Street. The fare is $29. “Make it $35 mate,” I inform the driver. His reaction says he’s unused to tips.
My son checks the tickets. Given my eyesight he is the best man for the job. “Gate 5,” he says and we head up the steps and make a right. Past 3 and 4 before arriving to a short queue that has assembled at Gate 5. By this stage we’re a few fights into the card so I’m safe to assume the vast majority of the 42,000 that will make up todays record crowd are well and truly seated and enjoying the festivities. We hear a big roar erupt and later discover its when Aussie Big Daddy Lucas Browne (age 43; 30-3 coming in) bowls over fringe contender– I just love the term fringe contender!– Junior Fa (age 32; 19-1 entering). The humongous, heavily tattooed heavyweight from Perth underneath the Kambosos-Haney scrap can still pack a wallop.
The winter chill–yes, it is winter in this part of the world– is biting, but the queue is moving rapidly enough. There’s more gate and security staff than patrons at this point although only two mobile metal scanners as we await the bag check and pat down. The last thing the Melbourne fight game needs is a shoot out so a two minute scanning delay is a small price to pay. My red jacket pocket contains a banana, muesli bar and a Cherry Ripe, surely sufficient to ward off the afternoon hunger pains and not contravene Marvels' admission policy.
From this Northern side of the stadium you can see the roof of Festival Hall on Dudley Street. Five hundred meters in the distance beyond the rail yards for over fifty years “The House of Stoush” stood alone as Melbourne's premier fight venue. Although holding only 7,000 when the local hero gave reason to cheer we could literally lift the roof off the old girl. I can’t believe its nearly forty years since fellow Sunshine boy Lester Ellis packed them in for three epic championship fights inside seven months. Yes, that’s right. Three championship fights inside seven months, two of them going the full fifteen! Glory days indeed. These fights ignited a passion for the fight game that flickers to this day. At its best there is no sport that compares. None.
We enter the concourse and before heading to our seats in Section 41 I ask my son to fetch some coffee. Did I mention it's freezing? I wait to hear from an old fight buddy so I can pass on a gift I have brought for him and pass the time by taking a survey.
“Excuse me sir, but have you two minutes to complete a brief survey?”
I oblige. Happy to complete any survey which might assist Melbourne Events in bringing another big fight to Australia’s sporting capital.
Survey completed after four attempts at communicating my email address: “No mate its G A Y.“ My son arrives coffee in hand and with my fight buddy a no show we head down the aisle to the seats.
We’re four rows from ground level and fortunately for me and my heavyweight dimensions, the seats to my left are vacant and thankfully remain so. The worry of avoiding Covid and the isolation and health impacts it may cause has seen me continue to mask in crowds and thankfully I’m not alone. So far I’ve noticed only one other fella masked in this multitude of thousands. It's nice to have company. The empty seat is welcome.
Bell sounds for round 1 of a five round cruiserweight contest.
“Five rounds?” enquires my son.
“Never seen that in the pros,” I say.
It's a well matched affair. Genuine back and forth and the switch hitter in black trunks emerges victorious when the bout goes the full five. I learn on Monday he is the 2020 Olympic Bronze medalist David Nyika, from New Zealand. A recent spell in Tyson Fury's Morecambe Camp has served him well. He looks a fine prospect.
It's not long before little Aussie battler Jason Maloney enters the ring for a genuine crossroads fight with Aston Palicte. There’s big wraps on Palicte and in spite of a few losses on his ledger I tell my son, “Maloney better be ready for this tough Filipino. He’s no slouch!”
Maloney is all business and after a wonderful short right hand knocks Palicte down heavily in the closing stages of round 3 a quick follow-up flurry and second knockdown ends Palictes' afternoon. A show stealing performance from the boy who grew up out in Mitcham in Melbourne's east.
As we await the main, I get a text from my old school mate Mike. I guess you’d call Mike a “casual.” Over the years we’ve seen a few fights together but they have to be top-notch affairs for Mike to bother dragging himself along. We sat there in the rain when The Professor Azumah Nelson proceeded to snuff out the four belt aspirations of The Marrickville Mauler Jeff Fenech at Princes Park in '92.
We watched Jeff Harding v Dennis Andries 2 in 1990 at Rod Laver Arena.
And in 2005 we saw Bomber Robbie Peden's memorable second victory over Nate Campbell at Vodafone now John Cain Arena to name but three.
You’d struggle to get Mike to an OPBF Lightweight Eliminator at Moorabbin Town Hall but if the ladies are glammed up around ringside Mike will be there flashing his smile.
When I texted him six weeks back enquiring “Are you keen to come to the Kambosos-Haney fight at Marvel?’ and “Who’s Kambosos?” was the reply I thought it unlikely the stadium would be filled.
Mike's boss has gifted him a freebie and he’s upstairs in the warm and luxurious confines of The Medallion Club. Half his luck! I’m down here shivering with the “Heads,” as the police call them, the guys in the black puffers, with gold chains and sneakers sans socks. No wonder half of Melbourne has the flu. Can you believe no socks?
Michael Buffer calls Haney to the ring……”X gon' give it to ya!”…..The crowd is pumped.
The booing starts. This is more of a soccer crowd than fight crowd. The excitement ratchets up a notch. The track plays through and now it kicks in for a second time. “First we gonna rock! Then we’re gonna roll!”
“Sounds like Krazee-Eyez Killa,” I say to my son. He knows the extent of my Hip Hop intellect so he just gives me a deserved pitiful expression with the ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm' reference.
Buffer has to embarrassingly, for him, repeat his invitation for Haney to enter the ring. The look on Buffers' face says it all. Sure as Machete don’t tweet, Buffer don’t repeat.
By the third run of X Gon' Give It To Ya,' I’ve learned it is by DMX, DMX hails from Yonkers, NY, I ponder if he knows Doug DeWitt and download the track to my workout playlist. It’s catchy. The wonders of technology. Couldn’t have done that with Patty Smyth and Scandals' “The Warrior” back in '85.
Fifty metres around to the right and three or four coppers are scuffling with an unruly patron before Kambosos-Haney starts. He’s dragged through the crowd. It’s the end of his afternoon before the lads have even entered for the main. Well done, mate. I hope he didn’t part with $4,500 for ringside. At least down here in Victoria there’s probably a television in the holding cells.
Haney skips out. Full of life. Youth. Zest. Smiling as always. He looks ready. Flames shoot upwards. The Four Belt Champion Kambosos makes his way to the ring. What a moment for Australia’s latest boxing hero. The boy from the southern suburbs of Sydney carrying the weight of Australian boxing on his 135 pound frame.
He’s been training like a man possessed. Perhaps too much. But he looks ready for action. We’re all so full of hope and expectation.
We’re seated about a hundred metres directly behind George's red corner post so a large portion of the viewing will be done via the Stadium's many screens. I’m ok with this. Nothing like being there. As much as I prefer the intimacy of a smaller arena and the electric atmosphere it provides, I’m happy George and Devin are taking the kind of purses home today that only come with a Stadium crowd number. This wouldn’t be possible if Kambosos-Haney were taking place three miles down the Yarra River at Rod Laver Arena.
For the best part of the following thirty six minutes we’re treated to a master class from the visitor. Wonderful, pure boxing, all set up and fought behind what will always be the most important punch in the boxers' arsenal. You guessed it. The jab.
Kambosos is game but has few answers. Do I really have to use the phrase “styles make fights?” Well, yes. They do.
By round 2 of Kambosos-Haney crowd could already sense a tough night for Our George when the “Haney's a Wanker!’ chant echoed through Marvel. Haney should wear this harmless insult with pride. Aussie crowds reserve it for the greats. Sir Richard Hadlee, a cricketing maestro from NZ, never could come to terms with it. So amusing when it made him bristle underneath with rage. Hadlee is eternally a wanker.
The quick notes I type into my iPhone between rounds of Kambosos-Haney tell a tale.
1- Counter hook, ref warnings?
2- Counter right DH staggers
3- DH round. Speed kills. GK waiting
4- GK a step behind. GK need to get aggressive
5- GK looking for set up
7- DH jab & boxing the decisive factor. GK lacking energy. Flat atmosphere
8- GK not doing enough
9- GK not aggressive enough. Not effective
10- Bull v Matador
11- GK not landing anything effective
12-GK comes alive with 1 min left
From 100 metres back Kambosos-Haney had an 8 rounds to 4 feel about it. Two of the judges sitting 100 inches away had it the same. When I think back I was probably generous to George to be perfectly truthful. Even the two Greek Aussie boys in front of us begrudgingly acknowledge Haney the rightful winner. They’re pretty staunch these Greek Aussies.
We head outside. Did I mention it's freezing? We don’t need to suffer any in-ring interviews. We’ve heard it all before. Setting the result to one side, it's been a marvellous day for Melbourne. Through '20 and '21 no city in the world suffered longer and stricter lockdowns. In spite of a relatively low Covid death toll the good folk of this great southern metropolis had really copped a battering. To finally see 42,000 get out to the fights again, put on a black puffer and chant “Haney's a Wanker!’ stirred this old soul. It's a great fight town is Melbourne.
As we wait for a cab back on Bourke Street son and I share thoughts and observations. “Different crowd to the UFC,” he says. “Yeah, the old boxing crowd is pretty hardcore,” I offer.
Fight tickets to Kambosos-Haney were on father. Son is cooking T-bones on the barbie when we get home.
It's on us to give our sons a chance in this life and we’ve enjoyed a great Father-Son Day at The Big Fight. Bill Haney and Jim Kambosos are proud fathers tonight.