It smells like sweat, eucalyptus, beer and smoke. There’s a hungover feeling of hope. The narrow urinal is three deep.
Brian Ciccotosto, a broad little bloke; a club colossas, is upbeat. He’s had one instant coffee too many. Some punters can’t get enough of his jittery enthusiasm. Some can’t get far enough away.
Laurie Flanders is low key. Tough.
The young Tiwi southpaw looks relaxed. Supremely fit and with a charisma that needs no words. Few have any idea the heights this kid is going to scale.
Another young bloke, Alec Leatherday, is clearly a gentleman …. already with the first of two national titles. Today he’s fighting up a division for the vacant welterweight title of Western Australia.
An old SP bookie near the makeshift bar looks like he stepped out of the 1920’s. He even has a ticket and a pencil under his hatband. A whippet thin smoke dangles at that angle from his lips as he does a brisk, anxious trade.
2/3 Leatherday. 7/2 Rioli. But the South Freo blokes have seen this kids hands work. The 7/2 is belted and when the bell goes, Maurice is fighting at 68.5 kg and evens. Alec’s at 63.5, and evens.
The first round is a draw. Leatherday is a boxer. Rioli is an Athlete. But with lightening reflexes. When the bell goes, blokes argue about who is in front and look to the bar.
When the fighters touch gloves to start the second, someone calls out ‘stop dancin’ and start fightin’ Maurice’.
Someone responds with ‘show him how to box Alec’.
The crowd sing a chorus of rowdy joy.
Half way through the round, Leatherday tries an old trick thats served him well. He rocks forward, springing his weight onto his left toes. He drops his left glove almost to his waist, shifts his right shoulder back, and his right glove out. Just a fraction both ways. Less than a quarter inch.
In his mind, it goes like this. His southpaw opponent thinks he is telegraphing a right, and counters with straight right. Alec anticipates this, brings up his left, and delivers the telegraphed right, dead straight and hard. Whack! A double stooge.
But it doesn’t go like that. How was he to know this kids hands moved like a puwatingini (1), baked on a road?
Maurice falls for the trap. He does thinks Leatherday is telegraphing a right. Indeed, he is. So he retaliates first. Straightening his knees, he pushes up onto his right toes, and delivers a short, straight, right of his own.
The punch is so fast, Leatherday’s left guard is still at his chest, and his right is still a half inch to the East of his chin when Rioli’s jab lands hard like a riled muntamunta (2), under Alec’s left eye.
Most of the crowd only really see the blur of Maurice’s left and the right that follow in a whip, and the outcome of the first jab. A cut on Leatherday’s right cheekbone that looks like it was done with the slash of a cutthroat. Wide, deep and beautifully neat. A smile of meat and fat and bone.
The Referee steps in, takes a quick look at Leatherday’s wound and motions to his cut man.
Rioli walks to his corner, where Laurie Flanders quietly offers him a stool and a hand on the shoulder.
Leatherday’s cut man doesn’t even enter the ring. He just shakes his head with tight lips.
The referee beckons the fighters to the centre of the ring, and holds Maurice’s left glove aloft.
He grins and nods humbly to the crowd, who are mostly already queuing boisterously and heckling, before the bookie by the bar.
Maurice is the Welterweight Champion of Western Australia. Of course, this is only just the beginning.
- Puwatingini – Tiwi, western brown snake (male)
- Muntamunta – Tiwi, hornet (female)