If there’s one thing Anthony Mundine understands about boxing it’s this – apathy is death.
It doesn’t matter if fans are tuning in hoping you win or you get your face caved in, as long as they’re tuning in the job is done.
On Friday night, a series of sports fans got their wish. Mundine was wiped out in the most devastating fashion of his entire career. It was a 96 second demolition. Mundine looked every inch of his 43 years.
It is the logical end for Mundine, who has excelled and revelled in playing the heel more than any athlete in Australian history. Eventually, the story has to end with the villain losing.
Mundine is not a true villain, of course. Those who know him swear by him, and behind the bluster and everything else is someone who has done much for the Indigenous community and Australian boxing.
But selling a fight to the masses isn’t about nuance. It’s about black hats and white hats, cowboys and Indians. Boxing survives on stars and when it comes to Australian fighters of the 21st century nobody had or has the local drawing power of Mundine.
There’s a reason Danny Green shot to national prominence when his feud with Mundine began.
There’s a reason Daniel Geale and Jeff Horn both passed up international competition after some of the biggest wins of their careers to fight Mundine at home.
There’s a reason that this was the biggest boxing match in Australia this year, even though Mundine has not been an elite level fighter for half a decade and Horn’s victory was never truly in doubt.
There have been comparisons thrown around to Muhammad Ali’s fight with Larry Holmes, where everyone let a well-past-his-best Ali talk them into thinking he had a chance against the much younger Holmes.
It wouldn’t surprise if Mundine loved that. He has always modelled himself on Ali and the one similarity they shared was an understanding of promotion.
It didn’t matter if Mundine believes or ever believed the things he said in the lead up to fights, what mattered was the public believed them. And they did, for years, right until Horn’s left hand flew through and shut him down for the last time.
Time will decide his ultimate place in Australian sporting history and the weight of some of the things he has said. He crossed the line more than once, once or twice in truly heinous fashion and that can’t be forgotten. Is the exposure worth the cost of the things he’s said? It’s hard to determine, but for Mundine the price was always worth paying. Fame and notoriety can be the same thing.
The next time Horn, a good fighter and seemingly a very pleasant fellow, says something controversial will be the first time. He takes Mundine’s mantle as the face of Australian boxing.
But he doesn’t inspire the same passion as Mundine, he won’t have the same legions watch his fights because he just doesn’t bring that out in people. He can draw boxing fans and sports fans to his fights but he won’t bring in the mug punters like Mundine. Mundine fights were always events, even the ones against guys like Crazy Kim and Rico Chong Nee.
That same passion Mundine inspires warps our perceptions of his legacy. The man’s own talk of being the best Australian athlete ever, the greatest specimen this country has ever produced is just incorrect. But neither is Mundine the fraud his detractors claim.
The truth, as it always does, lies between the extremes. Mundine isn’t as good as he says he is, but he’s better than many give him credit for.
Forging the boxing career that he has when he didn’t lace on the gloves as a pro until his mid 20s is quite remarkable. But he never managed to crack it overseas, with controversial remarks and ill-timed losses stopping Mundine from ever truly breaking out beyond these shores.
He was finished as a top-level fighter after his battering at the hands of Joshua Clottey in 2014 and had he beaten Danny Green in their rematch last year (which he did on this writer’s scorecard) that likely would have been the end of it all.
But there was one more fight to take, one more payday, one more chance to leverage his decades of showmanship. When he hit the canvas in the centre of Suncorp Stadium, half a nation roared with schadenfreude delight and half mourned.
Mundine’s career was over and whatever else it was over a quarter of a century, it forced everyone to pick a side.
That was the point. There were never any neutrals here and Anthony Mundine always knew what he was doing.