When the bell rang to end the first round of Alex Winwood’s quarter final bout at August’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the message from his corner could not have been any clearer.
‘You’re doing well, go out and do the same thing,’ heeded coaches to their charge, who had taken the round on four out of five scorecards.
With every overhand right that he landed on Patrick Chinyemba’s chin, the Australian Flyweight’s confidence swelled. He knew he was on top of the Zambian, a man he had dropped a split decision to at the Tokyo Olympics a year earlier.
Things were going to be different this time. All of the hard work in the lead up, fuelled by a fiercely determined young mind, was manifesting before his own eyes.
“In Tokyo, I threw it away and didn’t really go for it when the fight was in the balance. It was a very winnable fight, so I was very geed-up and excited,” Winwood told The Inner Sanctum.
“I was very confident going into the Commonwealth Games and I knew that he (Chinyemba) was going to be there. When the draw came out it was pretty much that the stars aligned.
“In probably the last two minutes of the first round, I felt like I was coming on pretty strong.
“I hit him with three straight right hands at different points of that first round and I felt one of them pretty well rocked him and pushed him against the ropes.
“It wasn’t long after that the bell went and I felt like I was just warming into it and that he was gassing quite quick.”
As cliche as the saying is, the sporting world is a well-established theatre in which dreams and ambitions can quickly turn from ‘ecstasy to agony.’
In the realm of boxing, this could be caused by something as simple as a single punch. It may also come as result of something more complex, such as bad officiating, be it from a judge or a referee.
Just 14 seconds into the following round, it can be said that both of these forces conspired together in a cruel twist. A sharp right hand from Chinyemba and subsequent stoppage, one that many have labelled ‘early’ and ‘questionable’ given how quickly Winwood returned to his feet, brought an end to proceedings.
Bizarrely, a standing eight count and a proper check of his condition were not undertaken.
As the 25 year old recalls, the referee’s decision unleashed a tidal wave of conflicting emotions and feelings.
“Funny enough, we went to throw the same combination and we didn’t throw anything at each other,” he said.
“I was getting ready for a left hook-right hand and he pulled the trigger first. I swung for the left hook, got caught, went to throw a right immediately and he just caught me with a nice straight right down the middle.
“After he caught me, I still swung and I went down and lost my balance a little bit, hit the deck and went, ‘alright, here’s the time to show what I’m made of. I’ve got knocked down but I’m fine.’
“Unbeknown to me at the time, the bout was already called off. It took me about a minute to comprehend what had actually happened.
“I was very dumbfounded, waiting for her (the referee) to tell us to fight and dust my gloves off, but she was just waving in my face. It just didn’t register that there was no more fighting.
“I got out of the ring and about halfway around I saw my teammates. As soon as I looked up at them, it kind of hit me.
“It just really hit me like a ton of bricks and I thought ‘it’s a s**t way to go out.’ I felt like I deserved a chance.”
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The wounds of despair were only exacerbated with the passing of time, too.
As the national team returned home celebrating their five medal haul from the event, Winwood quietly began an exercise in soul-searching. Central to this though process was the idea of control.
In the end, the opportunity to capture glory and gain redemption for Tokyo wasn’t even in his grasp,
Reflecting in his home city of Perth, the adopted Queenslander admits that such a hurdle was tough to overcome.
“The first couple of weeks or so, it really broke the mentality coming off that loss,” a candid Winwood said.
“If it went to the cards and we didn’t win, that’s a pill that I can swallow. At that point, it’s on me. But I felt somewhat cheated out of an opportunity.
“I went back to Perth after the Commonwealth Games and just tried to make sense of everything and see where my heart’s at.
“I just remember thinking, ‘I need to get back in the gym.’ It was probably about three weeks before I got back into the gym and even then I was just kind of lost in there.”
In what can only be described as a testament to strong character, the cycle soon broke. Yet there was no ‘Eureka’ moment as such.
With the decision to turn professional already made before the Games, Winwood was left with two choices. Either walk away and wonder what could have been, or leave the past behind and continue the search for great heights.
Rather than choosing to go right at the fork in the road, he headed left.
“At some point along the line there was a bit of a transition,” Winwood said.
“I just really thought to myself, ‘it is what it is. I’m not going to protect myself from getting a s**t decision by not competing again.’
“I need to get in there, make my mark and show people that I was a good, elite amateur, but I’m going to be a way better professional.”
The chance to make a mark will indeed be there for the taking on November 25, when the proud Noongar man returns home to Western Australia to face Indonesia’s ‘Stinky’ Mario Bunda (3-2, 3 KOs) on Dragon Fire Boxing’s ‘Thunderdome 40’ show.
Far from cautious, Winwood is embracing the move to the professional game and believes he will thrive in it’s deep waters.
In his eyes, his style of fighting is much better suited to judges that favour hard punching, as opposed to amateur officials who award points based on a higher total of punches.
Moreover, the bout will be contested in the Light Flyweight division, a weight class Winwood moved up from when it was removed from high-level amateur competition.
As a result, the man dubbed ‘A-Rock’ believes that his first professional outing can open the door to even bigger prospects.
“I’ve always fought an uphill battle fighting in an amateur sport where they don’t really credit the way that I box,” he surmised.
“I feel like I’ve always had a pro style and more rounds, them scoring harder punches, not just single touch things, is going to really benefit me.
“I also get to fight at my natural weight class. The whole time I’ve been an amateur, I’ve been fighting up against it. I started at 52kgs, realised I was too small, went down to 49kgs for a year, then it got taken out of the Olympics.
“I’ve had to make the transition back to 52kgs and the guys are a weight division above me.
“I’m just going to be more suited to my natural weight class and my own style, so it just seems the right move.
“I want to make moves as fast as I can because I think I’m somewhere in the near region of my prime, in terms of age and ability.
“I definitely know that at these smaller weight classes I can give them a run for their money and in a few years time, I’ll be knocking on their doors. They’re going to know my name.”
Despite such confidence, Winwood is not losing sight of the task that awaits. After all, he has seen boxing’s harshest realities first hand.
There is, then, acute awareness that all paths to glory start with six rounds of fury with Bunda, who has all of the skills required to burst another bubble.
“Mario’s more of a come forward fighter. He throws some nice clean punches and he’s got a pretty neat style,” Winwood concluded.
“I think he’s going to come in and try and make me work for it, but the more he tries to put the pressure on, the bigger the holes are going to be for him.
“I’m going to have to tag him in between and really make my mark from the start and dictate the pace.
“I do think that Mario’s going to bring the best out of me, to be honest.”
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