By: Ciaran O’Mahony
Less than a year ago, Jeff Horn’s camp dismissed the idea of fighting Anthony Mundine as a meaningless money grab that would do little for his legacy.
We’re now less than a week away from a catchweight bout between the two at Suncorp Stadium.
So what’s changed, you ask? Well, maybe a risk-free money fight isn’t such a bad idea after all.
As Fox Sports’ Paul Upham said after Horn’s devastating loss to Terence Crawford, the Queenslander could make more money fighting Mundine than any world-class opponent out there. Not to mention the fact that on paper, it’s probably the easiest fight available.
“It’s nothing against Anthony’s skill, I just don’t think he should be fighting at 42,” Upham said.
“The tougher route is going through America, there’s some really good guys and you’ll have to take less of a payday. So the question is what is most important [to Horn]? His career record and trying to get the welterweight world title back or a big payday against Anthony Mundine?”
Mundine is now 43 and that coveted payday has almost arrived. Love him or hate him, “The Man’s” numbers speak for themselves.
All of his professional bouts have been televised on pay per view. Four of them are in Australia’s Top 10 pay per views ever.
It’s been estimated that his 2006 fight with bitter rival, Danny Green, did around 200,000 pay per view buys- the highest grossing pay per view fight in the world (per capita) for some time. It even outsold Mayweather vs Pacquaio in Australia.
Horn’s been no slouch either, his fight with Manny Pacquaio was one of Australia’s highest selling pay per views, and was staged in front of a sellout crowd of 80,000 at Suncorp Stadium, and a worldwide television audience of 4.4 million people.
Put these two Aussie World Champions in a ring together and you’ve surely got a mega-fight on your hands.
But ticket sales must be stalling if promoter Dean Lonergan’s desperate attempts to grab the headlines, are anything to go by.
In a bid to unsettle and publicly shame Mundine, Lonergan announced that “ring cards” would be displayed by not only women, but also gay and transgender people, at the “River City Rumble”.
Mundine deservedly copped criticism last year when he suggested that same-sex relationships are unnatural and “confusing to society.”
“I always tell my gay friend, you’ve got to find a lady … God will judge you, not me,” he said.
He has since stated that he will not speak about the issue anymore, instead focusing on boxing.
It’s an approach Lonergan would be wise to follow, but he instead attempted to reignite the issue, saying “Anthony has said that he’s not into racial or homophobic slurs anymore and my sense is he will be fully supportive of this,” Lonergan said.
“If he doesn’t it will show he is still a bigot and if he does it shows anyone can change.’’
Shortly after, a series of provocative tweets were sent from Jeff Horn’s social media accounts, challenging Mundine to be a “champion of equality.”
Either Lonergan has become a staunch human rights activist overnight, or it was an insincere attempt to capitalise on an extremely divisive issue, furthering the tiresome hero vs villain narrative.
In the Fight Promo, Horn’s trainer, Glen Rushton, loosely compared his man’s fight with Mundine to his battle with bullies in school.
He’s had fights like this all of his life, according to Rushton, and “Anthony’s a bigger, stronger, more vocal opponent. Jeff just has to overcome all of that and just show that no one’s going to push him around.”
So whose side are you on? The humble schoolteacher who overcame bullying and embraces people of all genders, cultures and sexual preferences? Or the brash, apparently bigoted, loud-mouth?
If the cheap publicity stunt was also intended to get under Mundine’s skin, it surely had the opposite effect.
Horn admitted himself that a loss to the veteran could spell the end of his career and Rushton highlighted that “The Man” comes into his final fight with nothing to lose.
Australian Boxing’s most divisive star must surely feel that Horn’s camp is now feeling the pressure.
Not that Mundine hasn’t stirred up controversy himself, recently stating that Horn epitomises “white man privilege” and that the bout is a fight for “equality and justice.”
He is adamant that he will not stand for the Australian National Anthem on the night as he feels it’s a song that celebrates “white supremacy.”
But we’ve certainly reached a new low with this reckless attempt to force Australians to a pick a side in this sporting contest, for purely political reasons.
Horn has distanced himself from these promotional tactics, confirming that it was his team, not him, who were responsible for the controversial posts on his social media accounts.
“I think the lines were crossed … the promoters have put these things up making it look like I’ve said them and it is damaging to my reputation.”
Horn warned that he “would be tempted to walk away if they were to continue that way.”
With the greatest of respect to the social and political issues highlighted, those who tune in to this fight are only interested in seeing which guy can punch the other in the face more.
Building it up as anything more than that is simply dishonest.
He’s sure to make a decent pay cheque on the night, but one wonders whether this fight will do lasting damage to Horn’s brand in the long-term.