19/05/2024

From the feats of Lionel Rose to George Kambosos and all fighters in between, Australia has made a big impact in boxing rings on US shores - Photos (L to R): National Archives of Australia, WBC Boxing, George Kambosos Jr/Twitter

Ahead of Tim Tszyu's highly anticipated American debut against Terrell Gausha, we take a look back at the most memorable performances by Australians on US soil.

In recent years, we have seen Australian boxing grow tremendously. In 2021 alone, George Kambosos Jr became our latest fighter to etch their name into the record books.

Not only did ‘Ferocious’ covet himself in World title glory, but he did it at boxing’s spiritual home, Madison Square Garden.

Come March 27, compatriot Tim Tszyu (20-0, 15 KOs) will be hoping to put the boxing World on notice in a similar fashion. ‘The Soultaker’ has put together an amazing run on the domestic scene and is now ready to test himself against the cream of the Super Welterweight crop .

Making a statement, whether in triumph or defeat, on US soil is not a foreign concept for Australia’s fighters. Throughout history, there have been countless examples of those from ‘down under’ taking part in notorious contests.

Ahead of Tszyu’s US debut against 2012 Olympian Terrell Gausha (22-2-1, 11 KOs) in Minnesota, The Inner Sanctum dives deep into some of the more memorable boxing bouts fought on US shores by Australians.

In all, these fights have re-shaped boxing in one way or another. Some became the fuel that inspired the next generation of elite level competitors. Others had a profound impact on the international landscape of the sport.

Without further ado, here are our picks.

The ‘Thunder From Down Under’ strikes Judah

While some may have had other Kosta Tszyu (31-2-0 2 NC, 25 KO’s) classics in the USA over his bout with Zab Judah (44-10-0 2 NC, 30 KO’s), no other fight in the hall of famer’s 13-year career was bigger than this one.

At stake were all of the major prizes available within the Super Lightweight division at the time. Tszyu held the WBA and WBC titles, while the Brooklyn-born Judah carried IBF and Ring Magazine gold into the showdown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in late 2001.

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Right away though, it was clear that the Russian-Australian was in for a good night. An early flurry of punches from Judah had only minor success, relative to what came his way in the 2nd round.

A powerful back-hand straight from Tszyu saw the American drop hard to the floor. While he rose immediately to his feet, it was clear that he wasn’t stable and dropped right back down to the canvas, only to be waived off by the referee Jay Nady.

The second round TKO coronated the then 31-year-old as the first-ever undisputed Super Lightweight champion of the world in over three decades. Tszyu would wear the crown for a further four years before being defeated by Ricky Hatton (45-3, 32 KOs) in 2005.

‘Mission Impossible’ becomes life changing reality for Kambosos Jr

The odds were seemingly stacked against George Kambosos Jr (20-0, 10 KOs) when he entered Madison Square Garden for his clash with Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs) in November 2021.

Countless rescheduling of the fight date by original promoter, Triller caused a number of headaches for the 28-year-old. Namely, he had to be away from his young Sydney-based family for a number of months.

When the fight was eventually staged by Matchroom Boxing, the same simple question remained – what round would Kambosos Jr be knocked out in by the surging phenom, Lopez? Nobody seemed to mention the possibility of him pulling off one of boxing’s greatest ever underdog victories, in the backyard of his foe no less.

Enter round one, a period that dramatically shook up the entire Lightweight division. In three minutes, the narrative around Kambosos Jr changed. No longer was he a run-of-the-mill mandatory. Instead, he was a credible threat to the throne.

Everyone knew that Lopez would bring power and as soon as the opening bell rang, the 24-year-old launched an array of punches the way of the Australian, who stood strong.

What happened next however, changed the course of careers and world boxing generally.

As Lopez rushed in, Kambosos Jr uncorked a thunderous overhand right that floored his counterpart. Following the memorable punch, he then executed a game plan centred on hooking off of the jab, resulting in a split decision win (115-111, 115-112, 113-114).

More importantly though, a new Lightweight pecking order had been established.

Katsidis wins war of attrition

Four months prior to his bloody battle with Filipino Czar Amonsot (35-6-3, 22 KOs) in 2007, Michael Katsidis (33-8, 24 KOs) had captured the WBO Interim Lightweight title against Graham Earl.

Nobody could have expected how his first title defence was to play out, though.

Katsidis and Amonsot traded blows early on in the first, but it was the Australian who had landed the best of the shots in the opener. After backing Amonsot into a corner, he landed a flurry of big power shots late into the round.

The second started exactly how the first had ended, with Katsidis being the more aggressive of the two fighters. Having landed shots in patches, a short-counter hook then dropped Amonsot with two minutes remaining in the round.

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However, as the the fight went on, the Toowoomba native had suffered a cut below the left eye, while also picking up an immense amount of facial swelling in the process. Now with a somewhat compromised opponent, Amonsot willed his way back into the contest.

Thankfully for Katsidis though, the injuries were not enough to warrant a referee or doctor’s stoppage, allowing him to claim a unanimous decision win (116-110, 114-112, 115-111).

Though Katsidis lost his next bout, he would go on to have more memorable contests with the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1, 40 KOs), Robert Guerrero (36-7-1, 20 KOs) and Tommy Coyle (25-5, 12 KOs).

Harding strikes first in legendary trilogy

In the late 80s and early 90s, there was arguably only one man that could lay claim to the title of Australia’s most rugged fighter.

Jeff Harding (23-2, 17 KOs), a hard-hitting pugilist, first struck the Light Heavyweight division in 1986. Fast forward three years and 14 fights later, ‘The Hitman’ was fighting for a first World title against Dennis Andries (49-14-2, 30 KOs) at the Atlantic City Convention Centre in June 1989.

At the time, Andries was in his second reign with the WBC title, but had only held the belt for a period of four months. His first reign had in fact started three months prior to Harding’s professional debut, such was the glaring experience gap.

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Despite such a difference, the meeting became nothing short of an instant classic.

Trailing late in the fight, Harding rallied back to secure a 12th round TKO victory, after putting the adopted Brit down twice in the minutes before.

Particularly noteworthy was the output of both men, each committed to fighting behind lethal combinations on the inside.

The pair would meet a further two times, in Melbourne and London. Andries would exact revenge with a knockout victory in Australia, before Harding put a rubber stamp on the trilogy by majority decision (115-113, 115-114, 114-114) in 1991.

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‘Bud’ ends Horn’s fairy tale run in heart vs class battle

In 2018, Brisbane’s beloved underdog Jeff Horn (20-3-1, 13 KOs) stepped into the lion’s den to defend his WBO Welterweight title against pound for pound elite, Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford (38-0, 23 KOs) in Las Vegas.

Just one year and five days prior to facing Crawford, Horn had scored one of the biggest, if not controversial, upsets ever seen in boxing with a unanimous decision win (115-113 x 2, 117-111) over living legend Manny Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) at Suncorp Stadium.

Leading into the Las Vegas showdown, Horn was coming off his first title defence, an 11th round stoppage of Britain’s Gary Corcoran (18-3, 8 KOs). Conversely, Crawford was moving up in weight, having just knocked out Julius Indongo (23-5, 12 KOs) to become undisputed Super Lightweight champion.

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A war of words broke out in the build-up, with the American issuing an extremely harsh warning the way of Horn. Despite this, the opening round of the fight was fairly even.

From there though, it was all Crawford and the three-division World champion imposed his will from round two, until the fight was halted.

Although some big shots from ‘The Hornet’ landed in the sixth, Crawford immediately fired back through an open defence to land hard-body shots. By round seven, the Australian was fighting on nothing but heart, before being dropped and stopped in the ninth round.

Since the win, Nebraska’s Crawford has amassed five defences of the WBO title and continues to lobby for a meeting with fellow undefeated Welterweight, Errol Spence Jr (27-0 , 21 KOs).

First Indigenous Australian World champion meets a Mexican legend

Lionel Rose (42-11-0, 12 KO’s) was more than just a star boxer, he was a pioneer, a trail blazer and an icon. The Gunditjmara man became a national hero for life when he defeated Fighting Harada (55-7-0, 22 KO’s) in 1968 to become the first Indigenous Australian to win a World title.

After three successive WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine title defences, the Bantamweight was then matched with the now legendary Mexican Rubén Olivares (89-13-3, 79 KOs), who at the time was undefeated in over 50 bouts.

The first round saw a feeling out process take place, before Olivares flipped the bout on its head in the second, ultimately setting the tone for the rest of the clash.

Lionel Rose was the first Indigenous Australian to win a world title – Photo: Britannica

Rose was knocked down in the second and never recovered in the fight, while his opponent continued to land hard punches to both body and head.

Things went from bad to worse in the fifth as Rose was again knocked down in brutal fashion, before finally being stopped moments later.

Rose never again went on to win a World title, but in May 1971 challenged and lost a unanimous decision to Yoshiaki Numata (44-8-3, 12 KO’s) for the WBC Super Featherweight title.

The start of the rivalry

Jeff Fenech’s (29-3-1, 21 KOs) sharp rise to World title glory is one of the catalysts for the popularity of the sport in Australia today. In just his seventh professional fight, ‘The Marrickville Mauler’ knocked out Japan’s Satoshi Shingaki (11-3-1, 8 KOs) to claim the IBF Bantamweight championship in 1985.

At the time, Fenech had become the eighth fastest boxer to fight for a World title after beginning his career a year earlier. His rise was so tremendous that by the time the Australian met Azumah Nelson (38-6-2, 27 KOs) in 1991, he had won titles in three different weight class.

Now looking to climb to the top of a fourth division, Fenech entered his United States debut against the Ghanaian with the world at his feet.

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Yet the ugly side of boxing reared it’s head. Instead of an exclamation point being place on an already remarkable run, a bout with a puzzling conclusion ensued.

Fenech made a brilliant start to the fight and at the halfway point, looked to be winning the first six rounds. It was clear that he was the more dominant and imposing of the pair, largely based on an ability to throw quick combinations without being hit by Nelson in return.

The judges on the other hand, did not see the contest this way, awarding the bout a split draw (112-116, 114-114, 115-113), much to the disappointment of Fenech and many Australian fans watching on at the Mirage Hotel and at home.

The two fought again for a second time a year later. This time, Nelson’s power shone through as he recorded an eighth round knockout. 17 years later, the pair again met, with Fenech winning the grudge match by majority decision (96-94 x 2, 95-95).

While the three weight champion was able to gain some closure later on, the result and fallout of the 1991 contest remains a controversial blemish upon a decorated career.

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