26.12.08 - By Tony Nobbs: It is a film documentary simply titled “Lionel” but it’s far from a simple story. The latest piece on the former bantamweight champion of the world Lionel Rose was released last week for sale and it would be a special Christmas gift for any fight enthusiast.

Tracing back to Rose’s early days on Jacksons Track, an Aboriginal settlement outside the small town of Drouin in the Gippslands area of country Victoria where he was born in June 1948, it tells of his rise to top amateur and then professional fighter, who became the first Aboriginal world champion in any sport, the ticker tape parade on his triumphant return, the defenses, the music career, it then shows the fall, his battles in the ring as an ex champion, his arrests, alcoholism and later heart attack, it was being filmed when the great man suffered a stroke in 2007..

Showing the character that made him so popular he is asked on his return from defeating the great Masahiko Fighting Harada in Tokyo, Japan, February, 1968 to become champion of the world was it a “victory for your people”?

“Slim”, then 19, replied: “I consider myself an Australian like everyone else here with me. I don’t go into all this black and white sort of thing”.

Married, later divorced to Jenny, daughter of his first boxing trainer, Frank Oakes, Lionel now lives at Warrugal, in Gippsland. While highlights of his ring career are shown, he sits with family and friends, with a sense of pride filling the room onto the screen. Jenny talks about how her father first brought Lionel home for dinner. He talks about (as an amateur) fighting in Melbourne after attending the funeral his father Roy, who first showed him the rudiments of boxing, that same day. Jack Rennie says why he got to train Lionel when he turned pro.

Weakened by weight, he wanted to relinquish the bantamweight championship of the world (WBA/WBC) and move up to featherweight . Having battled desperately already in two previous defenses against Chuchu Castillo and Alan Rudkin, Lionel was persuaded to defend one more time and was stopped in the fifth round b the unbeaten and murderous punching Mexican at Inglewood Forum in August ‘69. “From the first punch I was struggling. I was surprised I lasted as long as I did to tell the truth”.

There’s brief footage of all his bantamweight world title fights. Mark Rennie, son of Jack, also talks about how, prior to the first defense, against Olympic Gold Medalist Takao Sakurai in Tokyo, Jack travelled to California to meet promoter George Parnasus and set up the next defense (against Castillo). Shirley Rennie, Jacks wife took over training duties for the world champion, such was the confidence in the camp. Lionel got off the floor to win a clear decision and in the hotel after the fight was almost attacked by a Japanese man because he had punished Sakurai.

When Rose lost his title to Ruben Olivares (date) he was paid One hundred thousand dollars – a record for a bantamweight at the time – and in hindsight it most probably robbed him of a championship future at featherweight . “They brought the title” notes Jenny.

There’s highlights of his music career which he had brief success with hits “Thank you” and “Pick me Up”. He jokes: “I’m the worst singer in the world but (Australian music icon) Johnny Young didn’t think so”.

There are times he spent with his mother Gina who Jenny said “he tried to visit every day”. (Mrs Rose passes away two months ago). Early scenes are set in the dressing room of Anthony Mundine, where he is introduced to a boisterous Roy Jones snr, prior to his win over Danny Green and towards the end, after the fight as he leaves the stadium, mobbed by fans.

Including a bonus dvd featuring the Harada, Sakurai, Castillo and Vicente Garcia fights it’s an incredible buy for A$29.95 .

In 2003, Lionel was an inaugural year inductee into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame, along with fellow world champions Johnny Famechon, Jeff Fenech and Barry Michael in Melbourne. In 1996, Masahiko Harada was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

Article posted on 26.12.2008

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