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Roll up, roll up for a big punch-up

Date

Michael Inman

The Royal National Capital Agricultural Society's CEO, Marni Tebbutt.

The Royal National Capital Agricultural Society's CEO, Marni Tebbutt. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The mullet has vanished and the tightly ripped six-pack has loosened with age. But tent boxing stalwart Michael Karaitiana still thinks he's harder than the average Canberran.

Mr Karaitiana was born into Roy Bells Touring Stadium - the oldest original boxing troupe still touring Australia - and in his 49-years has gone toe-to-toe with some of Australia's roughest men.

The third-generation promoter will bring the nomadic fight show, started by his grandfather Roy Bell in 1924, to the capital next month for the Royal Canberra Show.

Owner-operator Michael Karaitiana, of Roy Bells Touring Stadium, the oldest original Boxing Troupe still touring Australia pictured in 1989.

Owner-operator Michael Karaitiana, of Roy Bells Touring Stadium, the oldest original Boxing Troupe still touring Australia pictured in 1989. Photo: Supplied

But he doesn't expect to find much competition among the locals.

''There's a different breed of man these days, they're all on phones and computers all the time, half the blokes are sooks, not hard like they used to get,'' Mr Karaitiana said.

''Not hard yakka blokes out back drilling holes with crow bars, doing fencing on properties and what not, the calibre of men made back then, you'll never see again.''

After a decade-long hiatus, Canberra hard men will get the chance to prove Mr Karaitiana wrong by challenging the Moree Mauler and Humpty Doo Warrior to a fight.

The tent last visited Canberra in 2001 in honour of the centenary of Federation.

Another anniversary, in the form of Canberra's centenary, prompted the return of the attraction, Royal National Capital Agricultural Society senior executive officer Marni Tebbutt said.

''It's something different on our calendar,'' Ms Tebbutt said.

''They put on a great show with the drums and the fighters up on the stage so hopefully they draw some big crowds to the Canberra Show.''

Normally patrons pay to watch the fights, but Ms Tebbutt said entry would be free at this year's show.

Ms Tebbutt said a showman's guild museum, featuring boxing tent memorabilia, would be nearby.

Mr Karaitiana runs the tent the same way his grandfather did 90-years ago.

He said the show starts with the ringing of bells and banging of drums, grabbing the crowd's attention.

Mr Karaitiana then leaps on to the stage to spruik the fights.

''I'll be up on the stage and bring my fighters up after a while and introduce them,'' he said.

''That'll gee the public up then I'll put the challenge to the crowd, 'Where's the people in the crowd talking? Who's looking for a fight ladies and gentlemen? Get down the front and put your hand in the air'.

''Then I'll pick out who I want, match them against my fighters.''

Dozens of boxing tents once toured the country show circuit. But increased regulation of the fight industry has seen them disappear.

Bells is one of two left in Australia.

Tent boxing is now limited to the Northern Territory and Queensland where laws are less onerous.

Mr Karaitiana said tent boxing did not deserve such strict regulation as it was pure entertainment, rather than a blood sport.

''[Our fighters] wear big gloves and have short rounds, it's completely different,'' he said.

''It's not that cage fighting, mixed martial arts stuff.

''You're not there to win or hurt anyone, you're there to entertain the crowd, earn a quid and move on to the next town.''

■ The Royal Canberra show will run from February 22-24 at Exhibition Park.

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