BEFORE stepping in the ring with Anthony Mundine during The Man's final sparring session before next week's IBF middleweight world title bout, Yao Yi Ma was convinced Daniel Geale would win.
After his stint as the first of three boxers to spar a total of 12 consecutive rounds with Mundine in a closed session at Redfern on Tuesday, the Taiwanese-born IBF Pan Pacific light middleweight champion had changed his mind.
''Before today I thought Geale would win but now I am not so sure,'' said Yi Ma, who has also sparred with Geale in the lead-up to the January 30 fight at Sydney Entertainment Centre. ''I was surprised because he looked terrible the last time we sparred but he was good today. I did better against Geale but he has got the form coming into the fight so I was thinking Geale but I wouldn't want to pick now. It is going to be a good fight.''
Former IBF world lightweight champion Lenny Zappavigna, who sparred the four rounds with Mundine after Yi Ma, also warned Geale that he would have to be at his best to win. ''He is looking sharp, his punches are quick and he is hitting hard so I have no doubt he is going to go really well,'' Zappavigna said. ''He has got the runs up, he is pumping out 12 rounds really comfortably with three different sparring partners and it is hard work so I am looking forward to it, I think it is going to be a really good fight.
''Mundine can adapt to any style of fight and he was doing that really well today. This is the best I have seen him, the way he was getting around was unreal. I believe Choc will rise to the occasion, you can't underestimate him and he is going to come in ready to win.''
Mundine's third opponent, Sydney middleweight Josh Diab, was even more convinced after his four rounds in the ring. ''He is very fit and very sharp,'' Diab said. ''He wanted us to make him work hard and we did that. The only way to get fitter is to work harder and he is definitely ready to go now. He is looking fit, looking sharp, feeling strong - trust me, I copped a few off him - and he was like lightning in there.''
The workout was Mundine's last sparring session and an indication of how hard he pushed himself was the fact he had cut and bloodied knuckles when he removed his gloves. The middle four rounds against Zappavigna - the 2006 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist who has won 26 of his 28 fights since turning professional - were particularly tough as the pair traded body blows. ''It was quite hard but I feel good now,'' Mundine said. ''I was against three fresh boys - two really good up-and-comers and one world rated guy - so I know I can go fast and furious for 12 rounds.
''I feel that I am in great shape and I know that I have to be. That is Geale's best trait - his fitness and his will and his ability to throw a volume punches. I know that I am the better fighter, he has got pretty good skills and not bad defence but as an all-round fighter I am a better fighter - I have just got to work. Even if my workrate is a little off, my accuracy and speed and flush hitting will take care of that.''
Twitter - @BradWalterSMH