The Manny Pacquaio vs Jeff Horn bout sees a popular champion in Pacquiao place his title on the line against an unknown Australian contender. Australia has a rich boxing history, with many great fighters such as Jack Johnson, Archie Moore, Sam Langford and Emile Griffith having fought in Australia during their rise to the top. Throughout boxing history, similar matches have been made where popular world champions have defended their titles against Australian boxers, who were heavy underdogs as they were yet to make their mark on the world scene.
Tony Mundine vs Carlos Monzon
Argentina’s world middleweight champion Carlos Monzon made the tenth defence of his title against Tony Mundine in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the 5th of October, 1974. Monzon, born in the small town of San Javier in Argentina’s north, was wildly popular in Argentina but was well-travelled during his title defences. His title defence against Mundine would be just the third in his home country, with Monzon often fighting challengers in their own backyards, making successful defences against Dane Tom Bogs in Denmark and Frenchman Jean Claude Bouttier in France. Monzon also won the title by defeating Italy’s Nino Benvenuti in front of Benvenuti’s home crowd with a thrilling 12 round stoppage in a fight that was voted “Fight of the Year” in 1970 by Ring Magazine.
Monzon gave Benvenuti a rematch in his first defence the following year, stopping him again, this time in three rounds, in Monaco, in what was the Italian’s final bout. Monzon followed this with successful defences over former champion Emile Griffith (twice), European champion Bouttier (twice), former junior middleweight champion Denny Moyer, longtime contender Bennie Briscoe, whom Monzon had previously drawn with prior to becoming champion, and, in his most recent defence, welterweight champion Jose Napoles, who remained on his stool after the six rounds with Monzon in France. The Argentine was infamous for his wild lifestyle, which included an apparent 100 cigarette-a-day smoking habit, nights of hard liquor when he was supposed to be in training and violent episodes with various women, one where he was shot in the leg by his wife in 1973.
Tony Mundine was a heavy underdog heading into the Monzon bout, but this was due to Monzon’s dominance as Mundine was one of the top ranked middleweights in the world. Born into abject poverty in Baryulgil on the Clarence River in central New South Wales, Mundine showed promise in rugby league and relocated to Redfern in Sydney’s south when he was 17 to play for the Redfern All-Blacks, an Indigenous rugby league team. To stay in shape outside of rugby league training, Mundine began training at a local boxing gym, owned by trainer Ern McQuillan, who had trained former Commonwealth champions Vic Patrick and Ron Richards. Mundine showed natural ability and McQuillan turned him professional the following year.
Mundine progressed quickly through the Australian ranks, fighting 16 times in his first 12 months as a professional, losing just once, a knockout loss against hard punching New Zealander Kahu Mahunga in a fight that was one of the best witnessed in the televised era of Australian boxing. In February, 1970, Mundine knocked out Australian middleweight champion Billy Choules in four rounds, but didn’t win the title as Choules was over the weight limit. Two months later, with the title on the line, Mundine again knocked Choules out in the fourth round, dropping him at least once in every round to win the Australian title and establish himself as the hottest prospect in Australian boxing.
With no one in Australian able to compete with Mundine, a series of international challengers were brought in to test the young Aboriginal but none were able to handle the speed of Mundine and four more stoppage victories in 1970 led to a shot at Commonwealth champion Bunny Sterling. Sterling, born in Jamaica but fighting out of London, was already in Australia to defend his title against Mahunga, who he easily outpointed over 15 rounds. Sterling’s experience helped him build an early lead on the cards but Mundine finished stronger, almost stopping Sterling in rounds 12 and 15. The referee and sole judge, former world bantamweight champion Jimmy Carruthers, scored the bout a draw, prompting an altercation between Mundine’s trainer McQuillan and Carruthers post-fight.
Mundine’s rapid rise then hit a wall. Former world welterweight champion Luis Rodriguez was attempting to rebuild his career after losing a middleweight title challenge to Benvenuti in 1969 and accepted the bout with Mundine in Australia. A left hook to the head in the opening moments of the bout decked the Australian and a right hand put him down for the count just 52 seconds into the opening round. Forced to regroup, Mundine rebounded with a series of eight stoppage victories, including one for the Australian heavyweight title to set up a rematch with Sterling in April, 1972.
Sterling had jumped to number five in the world with wins over Rodriguez, Tom Bethea and Tom Bogs but had also lost in a European title challenge to Jean Claude Bouttier at the end of 1971 by 14th round knockout. Mundine had improved dramatically with the experience he had gained since losing to Rodriguez. After fighting on even terms during the first five rounds, Mundine hurt Sterling in the seventh round and began to take over. A delay to change a torn glove saved Sterling from a knockout in round nine but it only delayed the inevitable as Mundine scored a knockdown in round twelve and three more in the 15th to force the stoppage.
Over the next 18 months Mundine established himself as the number one contender for Monzon’s crown. Extending his undefeated streak to 22 straight victories since the loss to Rodriguez, Mundine made four successful defences of his Commonwealth title as well as scoring stoppage wins over ranked contenders Denny Moyer and Antonio Aguilar, before dominating former welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith to score a decision victory over in Paris. The win over Griffith in November, 1973, was to give Mundine a shot at the winner of the Monzon vs Napoles bout in December but after the Napoles bout was delayed until February and a bout on the undercard with Colombia’s number two ranked Rodrigo Valdes fell through, Mundine agreed to meet Bennie Briscoe in Paris.
Since his unsuccessful challenge against Monzon, Briscoe had won six from seven with the one loss coming to Valdes. Briscoe had a fearsome reputation and carried knockout power in both hands as well as being incredibly durable. Despite opening a cut over Briscoe’s right eye and building a lead through the first four rounds, Mundine’s speed wasn’t enough to keep Briscoe, who the French press described as a “rhinoceros on wheels,” at bay and in the fifth round Briscoe cornered Mundine and knocked him out with a barrage of punches punctuated with a huge right hand. It was another big setback for Mundine and, despite his knockout losses coming to world class punchers, many in the Australian media were beginning to label him as a fighter with a glass chin.
The win earned Briscoe a title shot, but not against Monzon. Mundine had established himself as the number one contender before the loss to Briscoe but with Briscoe having previously lost to Rodrigo Valdes, Valdes was the logical choice to challenge Monzon. The WBC named Valdes their number one contender and then stripped Monzon of their title, stating that he had refused to fight Valdes and for refusing to pay a fine issued by the European Boxing Union following his defence against Bouttier. Monzon’s excuse was that he wanted time off to appear in a movie in his native Argentina but the WBC wanted him to defend his title by a certain date that he was not prepared to meet. The WBC ordered that Briscoe, the number two ranked contender, would fight number one Valdes for the vacant WBC title which left Monzon, still the WBA champion, without a challenger when he returned to the ring. After Tony Mundine stopped American Nate Collins in August, it was announced that he would travel to Argentina to fight the WBA champion.
Monzon had stated that, after defeating Mundine, he would fight one more time before retiring and vacating his title. Mundine overcame a boil on his right hand, which he had lanced following the win over Collins, but otherwise had a solid training camp for his title shot. Mundine and trainer McQuillan arrived in Argentina just under two weeks out from the bout and impressed the local media with their workouts leading up to the bout. The champion wasn’t expecting a hard fight, predicting a knockout and stating that Mundine wasn’t in his class. A capacity crowd of 25,000 was expected at the Luna Park Stadium to see Monzon’s first fight in Argentina since he outpointed Briscoe two years prior.
Despite the hostile reception, Mundine showed no intimidation from the home town crowd and stormed out at Monzon to open the first round, firing a left hook and a right hand that missed the mark but immediately put Monzon on the back foot. Continuing to stalk the champion, Mundine fired right hand leads over the top of Monzon’s jab as well as shooting his own jab to Monzon’s midsection. Monzon patiently circled and halfway through the round gained the challenger’s respect with a pair of right hand counters to the head which forced Mundine to curb his almost reckless charges.
Using his piston-like jab, which he doubled and tripled to keep Mundine at bay, Monzon successfully slowed the pace of the fight and looked to land to Mundine’s body. Mundine used sharp head movement to make Monzon miss with his jab throughout the second round and scored with combinations when he trapped the champion on the ropes. Despite the strong start from the Australian challenger, Monzon found his range in the third and was circling to his left with his jab rather than giving up ground. One minute into the frame he scored with a five-punch combination to the head and body then later in the round found success with clubbing right hands to the head on the inside and in the clinches. In the final 30 seconds of the third, Monzon stunned Mundine with a series of nine punches and was landing with heavy shots as the round ended.
Monzon kept Mundine off balance in the fourth and fifth rounds with his jab and began to back up the challenger for the first time in the bout. In the final 30 seconds of the fourth Monzon again hurt Mundine with a barrage of punches, most notably a hard right hand followed up with a left uppercut that crashed into the side of Mundine’s head. Mundine returned fire with a hard left hook at the end of the fourth but offered little offensively in the fifth as Monzon’s ring generalship and almost unmatched control of distance was on display, forcing Mundine to repeatedly fall short with his counters. Round six was one-sided as Monzon now showed Mundine no respect and marched forward behind a stinging jab, backing Mundine up while punishing him with repeated right hands to the head. Mundine looked tired at the end of the sixth round after eating two hard right hands just before the bell. Monzon proceeded to close the show in the seventh. After first stunning Mundine with a pair of right hands a jab-right-left hook combination put Mundine down for the count at 1:20 of the round.
It would be the one and only time that Mundine would fight for a world title. After losing his next two bouts at the middleweight limit, Mundine moved up to light heavyweight and won the Australian and Commonwealth titles with a 12th round knockout over Steve Aczel. Mundine held the title for four years but never established himself as a world title contender there. He regained the Australian heavyweight title in 1980 that he had previously vacated as well as adding the Australian cruiserweight title to his collection, making him the only Australian to hold national titles in four weight divisions. Mundine retired in 1984 with an 80-15-1 mark, 64 wins by knockout and while he was often criticised as a fighter with a glass jaw by the Australian press, Mundine fought a number of the top middleweights of his era. His wins over Griffith, Moyer, Sterling and Aguilar make him one of Australia’s greatest ever boxers. He bought a gym in his adopted suburb of Redfern, most notably training his son, Anthony, who challenged Sven Ottke, Mikkel Kessler and Daniel Geale for world titles.
Despite stating he would retire after the Mundine defence, Monzon fought on until 1977. In 1975 he fought for the first, and only, time in New York, scoring a technical knockout over Tony Licata. Valdes stopped Briscoe in 1974 to win the vacant WBC title, the only time in Briscoe’s 96-fight career that he would be stopped, and Monzon and Valdes finally re-unified the titles in 1976. Valdes’ brother was murdered one week before the 1976 bout, causing a lacklustre performance and he lost a wide decision to Monzon, and his WBC title. A rematch in 1977 was Monzon’s last bout. He survived a second round knockdown to score a unanimous decision and retired having not lost since 1964. His 14 defences of the lineal middleweight title is still a record in the division. In 1988 Monzon was convicted of murdering his second wife, Alicia Muniz, and sentenced to 11 years in prison. In 1995, while returning to prison after a day out for good behaviour, Monzon crashed his car and died before help could arrive.