By Dwight Ritchie
If I wasn’t a boxer I’d be in jail, 100 per cent. The things I was getting up to as a kid …
We just had no direction and we were following that same cycle that was around us then, the same traps everyone else was getting caught in.
I was lucky I found boxing, because without it there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be locked up right now instead of in the gym preparing for a fight against Tim Tszyu still working on my dream of a world title shot.
Boxing gives me structure, and routine. A bloke like me really needs structure in my life and something to work towards.
With boxing there’s so much hope and promise. Everything is in your reach if you want to go and get it. It’s different to footy because you can’t rely on 21 other blokes, you can only rely on yourself.
You can have everyone in the world around you saying this or teaching you that, but when you’re in the trenches in that ring, if you can’t pull something out, if you can’t motivate yourself, you’ve got nothing.
I like having that responsibility and onus on myself, knowing if I don’t give it everything I can’t blame anyone else.
I HATED THE WORLD AND EVERYONE IN IT
I went to McGuire College in Shepparton but I only made it to year seven. I was in a bit of trouble growing up. A bit angry.
There were programs for disengaged and troubled youths. I did a few, trying to get year 10 equivalents, but I wasn’t interested in anything to do with that.
If I wasn’t playing sport I was just roaming the street, being a bad kid. Footy and boxing was my escape.
I hated the world and hated everyone in it. Whenever I got a chance to play sport, I loved it and clung to it.
When I was a young fella I wanted to blame everyone else for my problems. Everything was everyone else’s fault. It was, ‘why is this always happening to me?’
I’m in a position now that everything is on me. I have to face it myself. I can’t put the blame on anyone else. I love that about the sport.
I started with footy but then I found boxing and, from the moment I threw that first punch, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
IT’S MORE LIKE A FATHER-SON
There’s no doubt my mum will be the loudest fan when I fight in Sydney on August 14.
She’s never really gotten used to me getting hit. Her mother instincts kick in and she wants to get in there and give me a hand. She’s slowly learning to deal with it.
It must have been hard for her at times and not just because I was trouble.
I battled cancer for the first two years of my life. Firstly at six months, and then it returned at 18 months.
I can’t imagine the pain that my mother and Nan went through with all the back and forth trips to doctors in Melbourne. Thankfully, since then there has be no sign of it returning.
At first she didn’t want me getting hit, didn’t want that for me at all. She eventually came around.
Once I got into boxing, there were a few less police station visits she had to come down for – she saved a bit of money in petrol, I guess!
I’ve been fortunate enough that the people who came into my life in boxing, even though they might not have been the best people themselves when they were younger, had a great outlook on life when I met them.
A lot of my trainers, speaking to them about their upbringings, gave me a lot of guidance.
If I wasn’t playing sport I was just roaming the street, being a bad kid. Footy and boxing was my escape. I hated the world and hated everyone in it.
Boxing trainers are usually more than trainers. The relationship is a lot closer than that. It’s more like a father-son. Not that I really know a lot about that.
My father didn’t have much us to do with us as kids, myself and a few of my brothers. He was only part of my life for a small amount of time.
He moved up to Alice Springs and later Rockhampton and still lives up there as far as a I know.
My father is well known around the Shepparton area boxing scene. That was strange, everyone knows everything about you and who you are, but you don’t know who you are.
THEY GAVE ME A SENSE OF PURPOSE
My mob, the Yorta Yorta people, come from the Shepparton area and a big area across the Goulburn Valley and into New South Wales.
The community is very strong, with a strong culture. Being a black fella means everything to me. I love my culture and my people. That also helped steer me away from the wrong path.
My sister and older cousins helped instil that culture and kept me in touch with where I’m from, even when I moved away to fight in Melbourne.
They gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of identity. I think a lot of Kooris struggle with identity. I’ve been there myself and it’s really tough when you don’t know who you are. When I got in touch with my culture and community, it helped me so much.
I’ve passed that on to my kids. I’ve got siblings that I’ve only just met recently and it was a similar situation with them.
One of the best things about being a black fella is family is always family.
A HEAVY BAG, A SPEED BALL
My father and my uncles and few of my cousins were fighters back in the day, but by the time I came around they’d finished up and there wasn’t much boxing going on around Shepparton.
There was a family friend over at my mother’s house one day and he said his dad was setting up a gym in his backyard and that I should go around and give it a crack.
I would have been about 12. It was a little shed in the man’s backyard and he’d trained with my old man. He’d set it up for fitness for him and his sons.
It was pretty simple. A heavy bag, a speed ball, a couple of other bags. There was a small clearing in there a couple of metres long and a metre and a half wide where we did our sparring and pad work, catching punches. It was modest but everything we needed, and quickly became my world.
I ended up bringing all my mates. By the end of it, there would have been 15-20 kids coming in and out of that gym.
ADDICTED TO THAT FEELING
I trained for about three years before I had my first amateur fight at the Bentley Club down in Melbourne.
I didn’t get the win that day. I was a little disheartened and it hurt me a lot that I lost but I couldn’t wait until I could go around again. Apart from losing, I loved everything about it.
It was surreal. The fight itself is a blur. I was very nervous. I just remember all the butterflies but at the same time I was happy because it was where I wanted to be.
It wasn’t until my third fight that I got a win. I remember the end where the referee calls you into the centre of the ring. I thought I had won the fight, but just wasn’t sure. Hoping to God so bad that I’d get the win. When he lifted my arm up, that feeling? I’ll never forget it and I’ve been addicted to that feeling ever since.
I fought for two years as an amateur; just eight fights with six wins and two losses.
My trainer Garrie Scott sat me down and told me, ‘I’ve taught you all I know, and I have to pass you on to someone else to take you further’.
He took me down to Keith Ellis, brother of Lester Ellis, and I started training with him in Sunshine.
I was with Keith for my first pro fight. I was 17 at the time and I’d lied about my age on the registration.
You were mean’t to be 18 to turn pro. But at the time I was training with all the pros, my style was more suited to the pros and I had no Olympic dreams. The Olympics never really crossed my mind. I just wanted to be a world champion, fight 12 rounders.
Keith said to me, ‘we’ll just make a few ‘accidental mistakes’ on the registration’. It went alright for a few years but then they caught on and I had a suspension for six months and had four fights overturned to no contests.
It’s not something I’d advise anyone else to do – but I was that keen. I wouldn’t change it. They gave me a very stern talking to: ‘don’t pull nothing like that again!’
ONE OF THE GREAT TEACHERS
To leave home at 16 to go to Melbourne to chase a dream, I wouldn’t say it was that tough a decision. I was so excited I didn’t really think about it. It was almost like it was an unconscious decision, something out of my hands that needed to be done.
I started out with my cousins and eventually stayed with Keith in Sunshine until he got crook.
He had a stroke and a lot more health problems and passed away after a few years.
That was really tough, having Keith pass away. He was one of the great teachers. He was able to read a fighter like no other. He could take what a fighter had and get the most out of them.
He said that many times he’d had fighters that had no business being in the ring with the champions they were matched against, but he could figure out how to help them win. He could get that extra 20 per cent out of you that most people couldn’t.
It was a really big loss for boxing when he passed away.
I still hear him telling me, ‘always keep your knees bent, always punch to the body, keep your hands up, keep on your toes, don’t be back on your heels’.
ALL THOSE FELLAS CAME FROM NOTHING
Lester, a five-time world champion, was in and out. I’ve had a lot of conversations with him about boxing. He has a great boxing brain.
He was one of the guys I looked up to, along with Barry Michael, Graeme ‘Porky’ Brooke and Lionel Rose. All those fellas came from nothing. Very similar situations to my own, and I can really relate to them – especially Porky and Slim [Rose].
It gave me a lot of hope knowing these two Kooris, and cousins, who came from absolutely nothing, had grown up with bad things happening around them, and were able to pull themselves out through boxing. And they looked so pretty while doing it; two of the best fighters to ever get in a ring.
Even though I came along a lot later, everyone had tapes of them. A small country town like Shepparton, everyone knew who they were.
My trainer Garrie was the one who showed me Lionel. There’s the similar style. Bouncing on the toes. Defence comes first.
I watched a lot of his fights and from the moment I saw him I thought ‘he’s as pretty as a picture, he’s just the best’. To see another black fella doing so well, inspired me a lot.
THIS IS MAKE OR BREAK
This next fight holds all the promise. Everything that I’ve been working for in the last 10 years comes together in winning this fight.
The motivation is not about beating Tim as a person, because I don’t know him, but to beat him because of what a victory promises: to break into the world top five, to potentially get closer to a world title fight.
This is what all the sacrifice and hard work has been about. To get to a position where I can challenge for a world title and, god willing, win a title.
This is a make or break fight for me. I’ve got to win this. I have no choice because I want to be a world champion.
EVERYTHING WAS HANDED TO TIM
From the fights I’ve seen Tim’s an aggressive fighter, similar to his old man in that European style. He wants to put you out.
I like being on the back foot, I like fighters coming towards me and I like countering. Stylistically, on paper, this is a very good fight. It’s got fireworks written all over it.
He obviously thinks he can nail me with that punch, and I think I can get out of the way of it.
Having that famous last name thanks to his father Kostya could make things harder for him if he wants to put that pressure on himself. Everyone’s expecting everything.
But at the same time, for a guy who’s had 13 or so fights to have a contract with Main Event … his last name has opened up more doors than it’s shut.
Everything been given to him on a silver platter. The world’s his oyster. Everything has been handed to him. He’s here on his last name. I’m here on hard work.
Nothing’s been given to me. I’ve had to fight everyone who’s come along. He’s had choices. He’s got big money behind him, they can build him up, he can train overseas, do all that.
I’m still going to work in the day and the gym in the afternoon.
I work as precast Concreter. We make moulds for storm water pipes and civil works. It’s not too bad. I work with a bunch of good fellas and my managers and boss look after me.
They are definitely supportive of my boxing, and this fight has made a lot of people aware of me.
I’m getting messages from all over Australia, people I’ve never met before wishing me the best of luck. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of support I’ve got from people.
Shepparton has gotten right behind me as well, and made me feel really proud to come from Shepp. It makes my heart warm.
I moved back to Shepp 18 months ago and train with Andrew Woodall and my cousin Damien Morgan, and I’m a lot different to how I was when I left.
I’ve been blessed with four children of my own: three boys, six, five and six months, and my girl who’s nine.
They love going to the gym with me. When they get down there they grab the gloves. They run around like headless chook’s and punch everything.
They love being part of it and it makes me happy. I throw my hands up when I see them. They have no idea what’s going on but they’re just out there having the time of their lives. That’s the best thing in the world.