The Man, the mouth - the colourful career of Anthony Mundine

The Man, the mouth - the colourful career of Anthony Mundine
The Man, the mouth - the colourful career of Anthony Mundine

Australian boxer and former rugby league star Anthony Mundine speaks during a press conference after being defeated by Jeff Horn during the River City Rumble boxing match at Suncorp Stadium. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

And just like that, it’s done. One left hook to the face and the eminently colourful 25-year journey of Anthony Mundine, from NRL grand finals and State of Origins, to boxing world titles and bouts in Germany, the United States and across Australasia, is over.

At 43 years old, and well past his prime, ‘The Man’ has finished. There should be no more jaunts in the ring, no more outlandish claims about a fairytale NRL return, no more crazed headlines or outrages.

Knocked down and beaten easily in less than 97 seconds, on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium by Jeff Horn, it was a sad way for such an impressive sporting odyssey to end. Like him or loathe him, Mundine deserves respect for his feats on the footy field and with the gloves on.

The Sydneysider was arguably Australia’s first real cross-over star, a multi-skilled athlete who went from the top in one code to the peak in another. It’s something few others have been able to do.

But Mundine probably won’t get a lot of respect because of the public way this career has played out. His media profile and outspoken personality has always clashed with the wider Australian public. He played the pantomime villain role perfectly and made millions doing it.

In general Australia likes its sports stars humble, quiet, respectful, restrained, wholesome. Think Steve Waugh, Harry Kewell, Ian Thorpe, Cameron Smith and the like. Not brash or arrogant teetotalers.

‘Choc’ has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He has always railed against stereotypes and preconceived ideas of how athletes should talk and act. In a way he has been more American in his approach, outlandish and unpredictable, a kind of Aboriginal Floyd Mayweather Jr or Charles Barkley, rather than a Cathy Freeman, Lionel Rose or Mark Ella.

This trash-talking African-American style has rubbed many Australians up the wrong way. So have his ill-informed rants about homosexuality and 9/11, which undoubtedly damaged his international boxing prospects.

In his 57 fights, which go all the way back to 2000, Mundine boxed only three times in America, Germany and Canada. One of those bouts, an IBF super-middleweight world title fight against Sven Ottke, ended in his first loss. As the old boxing idiom goes - if you want to make it you have to conquer the United States, and Mundine was never able to.

That’s not to say he didn’t achieve on the canvas – he did. He claimed WBA, IBO and WBA belts at three different weights and beat opponents like Antwun Echols, Danny Green, Sam Soliman, Daniel Geale, Rigoberto Alvarez and an ancient Shane Mosley. In his pomp he was fast, stylish and possessed fantastic defence. He was elusive, swift and pretty to watch. He entertained.

But he was also bested by the likes of Ottke, Manny Siaca, Mikkel Kessler, Garth Wood, Joshua Clottey, Charles Hatley and in rematches by both Geale and Green. Now Horn can be added to the mix.

Without an amateur career to fall back on Mundine was often playing catch-up. His incredulous boasts of supreme greatness were never quite fully matched by his talent. And as father time caught up with him, as it does with every pugilist, ‘The Man’ was robbed of his best quality – speed.

At Suncorp Stadium he looked an old man, out of his depth, frail and brittle. It only took a handful of punches for Horn, a man 13 years younger, to put him down. Boxing is the cruelest of sports when any weakness, age included, can be so ruthlessly exploited. And so it was on Friday.

How will he be remembered? That remains to be seen. In his quest to be Australia’s version of Muhummad Ali, Mundine has burnt many bridges. He would do anything, say anything to sell a fight. But those days are done. His actual persona might be vastly different to his media one, as he does plenty for his community and those in need, but many won’t care. Some wounds take an age to heal.

Some contrition was in the air in Brisbane when he admitted after his loss that Horn fully deserved of the win. “I’ve had a great career,” Mundine said. “Jeff proved he was the better man … that’s the next generation. I past it on.”

He evened tried to explain his combustible media image with a final mea culpa.

“All the shit I talk, you have to build the fight. It’s the entertainment business … I just want to be remembered for someone that’s real, that speaks the truth.

“I want to say to the Australia public, I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, you guys played a big role in supporting me and getting behind me. Whether you liked or you didn’t like me, my time’s up.”

A future as an Aboriginal activist, or maybe even as politician, beckons. Whichever way the human-headline Anthony Mundine now turns, it unlikely to be dull. Just like his sporting career.

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