by Charles Jay
On Monday at the 2012 Olympic boxing tournament in London, Damien Hooper demonstrated why he is the #2-rated light heavyweight in the world.
But he was told to go to his room anyway.
Hooper, who fights for Australia, did not have it easy against the American representative, Marcus Browne. And he did not forge an advantage in the first couple of rounds. But the third stanza was a spirited affair, and Hooper showed more aggressiveness, overwhelming Browne, an aggressive type himself, to win the verdict from the judges. The final tally was 13-11 in his favor.
Browne was relatively well-known among U.S. boxing fans, and was very clearly the best American light heavyweight, but he had not been accorded as much recognition on the world scale as had Hooper, who has talent and charisma, but hasn’t been able to keep himself out of little bits of trouble with Australian boxing officials.
For example, he’s had to issue an apology to the Olympic squad because he wore a T-shirt with the colors of the Aboriginal flag into the Olympic boxing venue. He was somewhat non-apologetic. “I’m an Aborigine representing my culture and my people here at the Olympic Games,” he said.
Of course, another rebel, former world champion Anthony Mundine, also an Aborigine, saluted Hooper’s gesture.
“It takes a person with big balls to make a big stance like that,” Mundine was quoted as saying. “I’ve got his back, all day every day, because he’s in the right. We want to be proud of a flag that we fly and the current Australian flag just doesn’t sit well because of its dark history.”
Mundine is no stranger to injecting himself into the middle of a controversial issue. After the 9/11 attacks, he was quoted as saying, “They call it an act of terrorism, but if you can understand religion, and our way of life, it’s not about terrorism. It’s about fighting for God’s law, and America’s brought it upon themselves.”
Hooper has been warned not to repeat his “offense,” and there is the possibility that it could become a more serious matter with the International Olympic Committee. If the IOC determines that such a thing is a violation of the Olympic Charter, falling into the category of a “political statement,” he could possibly find his medal quest in jeopardy. For the moment, the IOC is leaving the “discipline” in the Australian Olympic Committee’s hands.
For Hooper’s part, he insists that there is no political statement at all, but just a recognition of one’s heritage.
Hooper has always been something of a “problem child,” having come to boxing by way of the streets, and with the guidance of a Queensland police officer. He does figure out a way of misbehaving. He’s been dismissed from camp in the past, and in general is thought to be incorrigible, though generally in a rather harmless way. He has a shot, however, to bring the Aussies a medal in this competition, upon which most would be forgiven. And if he wins a gold, which is a distinct possibility, there are going to be a lot of doors opening for him, both in his native country and elsewhere.
In the second round of the tournament, he’ll face Egor Mekhontcev of Russia, a 27-year-old former world amateur champion who had defeated Browne in the 2011 Championships in Baku.
The loss by Browne, who fights out of a gym financed by commentator Teddy Atlas’ foundation in Staten Island, was the first defeat suffered by any U.S. boxers in the Olympics.