Sport Can Jeff Horn usher Australian professional boxing into a new golden age?

08:55  13 august  2017
08:55  13 august  2017 Source:   MSN

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New World Boxing Organization welterweight title holder Jeff Horn.© PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty Images New World Boxing Organization welterweight title holder Jeff Horn. Although Jeff Horn's world-title win last month put Australian boxing back in the spotlight, a lack of income and opportunities has seen promising young fighters hang up the gloves. Will Horn be enough to revive Australian boxing?

Sam Ah See doesn't like to watch his professional fights.

He has never lost one, but he still picks them to pieces, finding everything he did wrong.

Seated at the dining table next to his mother at their home in the New South Wales country town of Orange, the 26-year-old southpaw lets out a sigh as he flicks through the many boxing articles kept by his family over the years.

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If you’re the sort of maniac who’s into spending thousands and thousands of dollars to attend a boxing match between an undefeated, retired boxer and a man who has never before competed in a professional boxing match Australian Jeff Horn overcame four-to-one underdog odds and, uh

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The clippings trace a career from the time he first pulled on the gloves at age 12 to join the amateur circuit, where Sam represented Australia at the Commonwealth Youth Games, through his first professional fight in May 2010.

They are a record of the growing media attention that comes with a 14-fight undefeated run (including one draw) and a reputation as one of Australia's most promising young boxers.

As the next phase in his career, Sam was due to fight in May on the undercard of New Zealander Joseph Parker's World Heavyweight title defence against Razvan Cojanu.

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Sam's manager sent him to the United States to prepare with world-renowned trainer Justin Fortune.

But just a couple of weeks into the camp, Sam had a huge change of heart.

"I was laying in bed one night and I spoke to mum and I spoke to a friend and I just didn't want to go ahead with it," he told ABC News.

"Usually when it gets tough (in sparring) I just keep going, but I thought to myself during the spar that I don't really care.

There were many factors that went into Sam's decision to retire.

He had missed too many milestones over the years, including Christmases, birthdays and events with friends.

But he also wasn't getting ahead financially. After so much sacrifice, so little came back in return. The motivation just wasn't there anymore.

"I have to take some of the blame, yeah I was a good fighter but I was missing something," he said.

"I had a job delivering pizzas two days a week for a mate's restaurant, which wasn't much money."

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Jeff Horn's recent dramatic win over Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao has raised the possibility that this could be the beginning of another golden era for the sport in Australia.

But for many lesser-known fighters, making a living in boxing can mean scraping by, and waiting on the combination of effort and luck that might see them elevated to the bigtime.

"For four years I couldn't even to go lunches with mates because I couldn't afford it," Sam says.

If one of New South Wales' top talents decides to hang up the gloves because he can't make a living - what does that mean for the future of boxing?

It may have seemed unlikely six months ago, but 29-year-old former schoolteacher from Brisbane Jeff Horn is now the WBO Welterweight champion of the world.

Horn's win over Pacquiao - considered by many commentators to be among the greatest boxers of all time - elevated him to instant hero status in Australia, earning him worldwide attention and a tickertape parade through his hometown, where he was handed the key to the city.

Boxing historian and columnist Grantlee Kieza has been involved with the sport for decades and says the Horn fight - the biggest ever held in Australia - is going to have a dramatic impact on the sport.

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In a unanimous decision — by scores of 117-111, 115-113, 115-113, Australian Jeff Horn defeat Manny Pacquiao to become new WBO Walterweight Champion of the world and boxing has a new name.

"Jeff is such a great role model for boxing... he is an inspiration to people who may not have been interested in boxing before," he said.

"I quite believe that within five years we will have a number of other world champions and that boxing will be a very big mainstream sport in Australia, just as it was in the '40s and '50s and maybe to a lesser extent the '60s and '70s where we had people like Lionel Rose and Johnny Famechon."

In an industry largely based on promotion and profile, Kieza says the keys to success for young boxers is to surround themselves with people who have their best interest at heart and who can guide them through the rigours of professional boxing.

But finding the right people is no easy feat, as Sam Ah See knows from experience.

"Great fighters make it for a reason and things fall into place, people get behind them because they see something in them," he says.

Although the financial backers might be hard to find, there's no denying that Australian boxing is full of promising talent.

This includes Luke 'Action' Jackson, who is still chasing his dream of becoming a World Champion.

The 32-year-old from Tasmania was the captain of the 2012 Olympic boxing team and is undefeated after 14 professional fights.

But his boxing career is not keeping the lights on at home.

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"The reason I own a fitness centre and gym is because that is what makes me money. Boxing does not make me money. I am down before I even get in the ring," he told ABC News.

Jackson has attracted interest in a fight with WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez from Mexico.

The state of the industry means he's asking the State Government to help make the bout a reality.

"It's very hard because it is about getting the right opportunities at the right time, and I haven't got the opportunity to fight on television yet," he said.

"He (Valdez) has already said he will come here he is keen, you know there is money that has got to be involved.

"I mean I just want the opportunity I deserve after the hard work that I have done and I will be happy."

Part of the problem, as Jackson sees it, is the huge interest that athletes from other sports attract when they cross over to try their luck at boxing.

He says the public interest in fights such as the upcoming bout between NRL Sharks captain Paul Gallen and All-Black Sonny Bill Williams draws attention from professional fighters - those who have dedicated their life to the sport - still chipping away for their chance at the big time.

"They put NRL players and ex-footy players on television and people pay to watch that, and they forget about the actual fighters," he said.

"You don't see us boxers running onto the field and trying to take their limelight.

Jackson is also sick of boxers being given a bad name.

He says many still think it is a "mug's game" - one you are more likely to lose than win, no matter the odds.

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The word "dodgy" is employed to describe the people and organisations behind the scenes who make the sport tick.

Take, for one example, US boxing great Shane Mosely, who described the state of Australian boxing as "behind the times" and "almost like the mafia days", after he walked out on a fight with Anthony Mundine in 2013, claiming a breach of contract by promoter Vlad Warton and that he was owed $700,000.

Grantlee Kieza contends that these incidents are rare, and says the sport mostly operates at a grassroots level, run by people whose motivations are far from the limelight.

"It is an old cliche that so many people in boxing are shifty. That is only a very small element, most people involved in boxing are involved at the grassroots level, most coaches in Australia are amateur trainers, they don't make any money whatsoever."

Whether or not the business side of the sport needs reform, no amount of good publicity can make up for when someone dies after stepping in the ring.

It was the end of the penultimate round of the International Boxing Federation Pan Pacific Super Featherweight title fight at Ingleburn RSL in September 2015.

Just before the bell sounded, Davey Browne stumbled back onto the ropes after being rocked by another blow to his head. He had already been knocked to the canvas five rounds earlier.

Four days later, the 28-year-old would die in hospital from bleeding on the brain, after his family made the heartbreaking decision to withdraw life support.

Browne's death from a fatal punch would lead to an inquiry in the NSW State Coroner's Court and calls for the sport to be overhauled.

Just last month, the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon, told the ABC that he believes boxing and other combat sports are "legitimised forms of violence".

"People used to toss Christians in with lions and bay for their blood but we have moved forward from those kinds of contests," he says.

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"I've seen the pictures of what the blows have done to Jeff Horn's face, and I shudder to think what that's done to his brain. That's the ultimate danger of this sport.

"If you face blows like that continuously, it gets damaged, and, sadly, so many heroes like Jeff, three years down the track, 10 years down the track, 15 years down the track, are brain damaged."

It puts long-time followers of the sport like Kieza in a difficult position.

  Can Jeff Horn usher Australian professional boxing into a new golden age? © Provided by ABC Grandstand

He says he can't argue with the AMA's evidence and acknowledges the danger of being repeatedly hit in the head.

Perhaps counterintuitively, he believes this sense of danger may be part of what attracts people to the sport.

"It's an alpha-male kind of thing. They want to race cars, that's a very dangerous thing, they want to surf huge waves, that's very dangerous thing, they want to smash people in tackles," he said.

"But boxing has survived for over 100 years in the present form and I think it will continue to survive."

Every boxer has a different story to tell. For Sam, he says that after all his experiences he still loves boxing and all it has given him. But he will never miss its business side.

  Can Jeff Horn usher Australian professional boxing into a new golden age? © Provided by ABC Grandstand

"I hate that. I love the pure art of the sport. As a professional, everything is about money," he said.

"That (financial support) is a huge thing and I didn't have it."

"But that's not to say I didn't get the opportunity."

After hanging up the gloves, he now works with young people in his hometown and says he loves helping others. He is grateful he has a steady income and more time for himself.

He is also grateful for the discipline, life skills, friendships and experiences from boxing that have helped shaped the person he is today. Although the idea of fighting again always lingers, Sam hesitates when asked if he would be able to take up the sport again fulltime.

"I would do it for the fun, but to come back and make it my life again, I don't know if I have that left in me," he says.

"But never say never."

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