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Mundine a victim of his own making

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Jonathan Horn

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Real Deal beats The Man

Daniel Geale retains the IBF Middleweight belt after beating Anthony Mundine in a twelve round bruiser.

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When he quit rugby league to become a professional boxer, Anthony Mundine donned his leather jacket, sucked on a Chupa Chup and fielded questions. Throughout the press conference, he clutched a faded hardback, Muhammad Ali's book The Greatest. He was glowing. Like a young Ali, no one quite knew what to make of him.

For Mundine, Ali was always the blueprint. The PR stunts; the self-aggrandising; the hands-low, head-high fighting technique; even the move to Islam - they were all from the champ's manual. He even sought to emulate his crusade. In Inside Sport magazine, Robert Drane called Ali ''Anthony's invisible friend, poorly channelled'' . . . ''As an imitator of his hero,'' Drane wrote, ''he's little more than a cultural skeuomorph''.

Ali never pretended to be perfect. In matters marital and fiscal, he was frequently all at sea. His humour was often scripted. When the talk turned to race, he could be every bit as clumsy, contradictory and odious as Mundine.

<i>Illustration: Simon Letch</i>

Illustration: Simon Letch

But his deft touch, rhythm and unpredictability - the hallmarks of his success inside the ring - were also the makings of him outside it. Most of all, he had a certain irony. He would say things like, ''If someone told you some nigger boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, would become famous as Jesus Christ you'd tell them, 'You crazy'. But I did it.'' And then he would start laughing and reel off a poem. He revelled in the absurd theatre of it all.

Whereas Mundine's glower betrays a certain anger and distrust, Ali's radiated warmth. His pupils danced. ''You ain't as dumb as you look,'' he'd say to Soviet general secretaries, sports broadcasters and second graders. Momentarily mortified, they'd quickly see that glint. And they were won over forever.

Deep down, Mundine knew he could never match that wit or that colossal talent. But he could have a similar impact on his people. As a child, his father would regularly drive him through some of the most squalid areas of Sydney. He would point out the drunks throwing up on the streets, the drug deals, the hookers, the lurkers and the destitute. Live a clean, honourable life, his father told him. And make a difference.

Indeed, when it came to Aboriginal empowerment, Mundine initially loomed as the right man at the right time. This super-confident young athlete was addressing issues that most would not touch. In an age where most sportspeople parrot lines with all the spontaneity of a police media spokesperson, Mundine always spoke his mind.

But no one could ever work out what he was trying to say. ''My people'' always figured prominently in his sentences. The problem was, he was always picking fights with them. They were not Aboriginal enough. They did not stand up for their brothers. They were just puppets for the system.

Whereas the likes of Cathy Freeman and Adam Goodes were genuine role models, Mundine seemed forever intent on dividing, squabbling and speaking sideways.

Mundine's mouth has always been his undoing. Tact, timing and eloquence have never been his strong suits. On issues relating to the Australian flag, national anthem and racism, he was a potentially important voice. But he always made a right royal hash of it. Pressed further, he would backtrack, divert, and deflect. ''They're all Uncle Toms, baby,'' he would say, looking away. And he would revert to trash-talking his opponent.

Brash and bravado have never necessarily been deal-breakers for Australian sporting fans. When a miked up Shane Warne pre-empts bowling a batsman around his legs, we laugh. And when they stuff up, we are a pretty forgiving lot. Whether it's jockeys betting on their own mounts, Brownlow medallists wading across a river to avoid arrest or leg-spinners reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey on Twitter, we cut them a lot of slack. A dose of humility, contrition and self-deprecation usually do the trick.

With Mundine however, the irony was never there. In many ways, Daniel Geale represents the greatest irony of all: this quietly spoken, physically unremarkable and earnest young punching machine. In Mundine's world of black and white, where everyone is either with you or against you, Geale must be particularly perplexing. The narrative before Wednesday's fight - punctuated by the occasional apology and handshake - included doubts over Geale's record in the ring, his Aboriginality and his right to fall in love with a white woman.

The unanimous points decision is surely the full-stop on a strange, sometimes brilliant, often farcical and entirely unprecedented career. The Man, who wanted to be the Australian Ali, never came close to emulating him. Whether he is unfulfilled, underrated, misunderstood or all three, there is only one man to blame.

Jonathan Horn is a freelance sports writer.

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69 comments

  • He was definately no Ali/ Mundine the younger didnt have the class, intelligence and warmth/ but he was ok in his own way- he should have left all that trash talk to the Americans and just tried to make his own way / he can still do good things for Aboriginal people- probably now that he has had a loss/defeat he will come to his senses and get more down to earth and do some real good community things- or continue what he started doin- without making himself the centre of attention/ Often defeat is the best thing that can happen to a man to help him grow/ I wish him well/Its not the wore thing that can happen/

    Commenter
    what it is
    Location
    Doncaster
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 7:17AM
    • Imitating someone to the level Mundine did, was a very bad move. Because, as the author suggests, Mundine ended up inheriting all of Ali's flaws, but without possessing, the luck and charm Ali had.
      I suspects Mundine knows very about Ali. Probably watched the inspirational 'When we were Kings', documentary, and a book. But the hard part, or trap of idolatory, is you tend to avoid critical accounts. Reading criticism, along with the glowing praise, helps paint a more balanced picture.
      The ramifications for Mundine, is that like an over-enthuastic schoolboy, he thought he found a way to use the Ali legend and some of his concepts for Australian conditions. By investing so much of himself in the Ali legend, Mundine has lost himself. That is the real tragedy, beyond what happens in the ring.

      Commenter
      davidbru
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 9:21AM
    • It took 13 years for you lot to work that out
      sharpest tools in the shed aren't ya

      Commenter
      Alex De Large
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 10:03AM
  • I would have thought some "elders" or other prominent aboriginal people/sports people would have pulled him into line by now. The fact they are so silent is really a disgrace on there behalf, in there silence are they condoning this behaviour from mundine? if not why doesnt someone grab him by the ear and have a good hard word to him. All I can say is the guy's a fraud in every way and have no time for him at all. Humility is one of humankinds best traits.

    Commenter
    buzz
    Location
    goldcoast
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 7:19AM
    • Mundine wouldn't listen to them anyway, he turned his back on Aboriginal culture and the Dreamtime when he embraced Islam

      Commenter
      Greg
      Location
      Wo
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 9:36AM
    • Whoa there, easy on the elders. Can you name any prominent indigenous Australians other than Mundine? The whole reason he carries on the way he does is to get heard. Very few people, especially the media, are interested in softly spoken elders who talk sense. Please don’t condemn the Aboriginal community before it has a right of reply.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 10:03AM
    • Agree Buzz.
      If Mundine really wants to do something for "his people", how about retiring from boxing as his best days are obviously over, and doing something meaningful for the sexually abused children in Aboriginal communities?

      Want respect? That would be the perfect way to earn it - dedicate the rest of your life Mundine, to uncovering, preventing and educating "your people" about child sexual abuse. And I don't think coversion to Islam would be the answer either...God knows, religion only seems to make matters worse...

      No matter how much money was thrown at the problem in Aboriginal communities, it did not help one bit. Over to you Mundine - be a MAN. You can't change the past (so stop bleating on about it and playing the victim) but you can still change the FUTURE of those children.

      Commenter
      j
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 11:11AM
  • Couldn't agree more, Jonathon. Choc may well be a good "athlete", but he's not a sportsman's left toe. When you make your living out of your self-promotion and controversy, seemingly intent on dividing people rather than uniting them, at some point it will all rise up and bite you on the proverbial.

    The things Choc has denigrated others for all apply to him. I don't know how he looks himself in the mirror and he comes across as one of the biggest hypocrites this country has produced. His willingness to continually use the race card to make excuses for his inability to match his words with deeds is contemptable.

    Please Choc, accept the loss, take it on the chin (no pun intended), man up and do some positive things for reconciliation for once. If you are as smart as you think you are, that shouldn't be hard for you to do. If you need to, ask your fellow aboriginal, Daniel Geale, how it is done. Here's a tip for free - stop talking about "I" all the time. It may come as a big shock to you, but life isn't all about you.

    Commenter
    Chewman
    Location
    Out west
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 7:27AM
    • I agree. Mundine never shuts up about himself and how good he is. What I've found in life is that people who have really talent never fell the need to talk themselves up. I like watching a bit of boxing but I think the talent pool is shallow enough for almost anyone to rise high with hard work even if they don't have any real talent (Mundine, but not limited to him). Why? Well, what % of the population wants to do a sport that results in having your head smacked in and getting Parkinson's and Alzheimers? Compare it to a sport like tennis where every man and his dog plays and wants to be the next Federer (or whoever). Same goes for any other world game like soccer. The abilities of the top tier players are on a whole higher level to boxing.

      Commenter
      JamesM
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 11:58AM
  • Apart from being beaten, perhaps Mundine has learned a lesson on being a sportsman. It's all well and good for him to go on about houw "wonderful" he is and how "good" he is, but the minute that is threatened, he brings out the "race card". Geale showed real sportsmanship...that is what kids should be aspiring to! Well done Daniel....you had two knockouts: Mundine and True Sportsmanship!!

    Commenter
    cammic
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 7:29AM

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