Thursday, 12 May 2011

Lionel Rose

Australian boxer and the first Aborigine to win a world title
    Lionel Rose 
    Lionel Rose after his world championship win in 1968. 
    The boxer Lionel Rose, who has died aged 62 after a long illness, was the first Aboriginal Australian to win a world title. He never forgot the welcome he received when he returned to Melbourne after defeating the Japanese champion Fighting Harada in Tokyo to win the undisputed world bantamweight title in February 1968. An estimated 250,000 people lined the streets to honour their new 19-year-old champion. Scarcely believing the crowds that had gathered, Rose recalled: "I got the shock of my life, and that's a memory that will never disappear from my mind. There had only been 10 there to see us off." Seemingly, the whole country now had a hero who had sprung from the poverty typically faced by the Aboriginal population, which had long suffered discrimination and had not been allowed to vote in the whole of Australia until the 1960s. Another leading Aboriginal athlete, the 2000 Sydney Olympics 400m champion, Cathy Freeman, said after his death that Rose had "created a path for indigenous athletes to walk proudly", while the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, spoke of him as "an Australian champion in every sense of the word and an inspiration to us all". The oldest of nine children, Rose was born and raised in the Aborigine settlement of Jackson's Track, close to the small town of Warragul, Victoria. His father, Roy, had been a fighter eking out a living on the tent-show circuit, similar to the fairground boxing booths that once prospered in Britain, taking on all-comers at big agricultural shows. Roy Rose was determined that his son should learn to fight. In those early days, the boy would have rags tied round his hands to serve as makeshift gloves, while the ring would be an area marked out by chicken wire tied between trees. He had his first gloves at 10 years old, and just five years later had shown such aptitude for the sport that he was Australia's amateur flyweight champion. Roy Rose died shortly before his son won that title. Rose turned professional in 1964 after being passed over by the selectors for Australia's boxing team for the Tokyo Olympic Games. His progress to the summit of the sport was as rapid as it was remarkable. Two defences of his World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association belts in 1968 saw Rose honoured as Australian of the Year and appointed MBE. While preparing for the second of those contests, in California, Rose met Elvis Presley, who sneaked into his gym to watch the young champion train. The astonished Rose said: "I told him I was in awe of him, and he said he was in awe of me!" Rose always loved music and was able to sing and play the guitar. An appearance on a television variety progamme in 1969 led a prominent Australian songwriter and producer to urge Rose to make records. He recorded an album, while a single, I Thank You, topped the Australian country charts for some 32 weeks. In March 1969, Rose had his toughest title defence to date when he faced the outstanding Liverpudlian Alan Rudkin. The judges made Rose the winner by majority decision, earning him the dubious reward of a fight in the US against the formidable Mexican Rubén Olivares. Rose was knocked out in the fifth round, and his days as a world champion were over. Two years later, no longer able to make bantamweight, Rose failed in an attempt to win the world lightweight title against Yoshiaki Numata of Japan, losing a points decision before announcing his retirement from boxing. After an ill-fated comeback, he retired for good in 1976 with 42 wins and 11 defeats. His popularity never lessened but, like many fighters, he had problems away from the ring. He tried to work as a musician, and owned a cafe, but suffered prolonged periods of alcoholism. In 1991, a television miniseries based on his life and a biography appeared, both entitled Rose Against the Odds. In 2005 he was honoured with a postage stamp bearing an image of his gloves. Rose suffered a stroke in 2007 that affected his mobility and speech, and had been in poor health for several months before his death. He is survived by a son, Michael, from his marriage to Jenny, which ended in divorce.   • Lionel Edmund Rose, boxer, born 21 June 1948; died 8 May 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment