When WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight champion of the world, Lucas ‘Big Daddy’ Browne returns home, thousands of Australians will be seeing their new hero for the first time. Such is the state of boxing in Australia that even with an Aussie challenging for the holy grail of their chosen sport, coverage and support for the hard-hitting heavyweight was minimal at best.
In one of my more recent interviews with Lucas he said himself that:
“It’s the Australian way, some people won’t come on board until I’ve won it one, two maybe three times before I become that household name.”
And from my experience so far in Australia that definitely rings true.
You only have to look at the likes of Daniel Geale and Anthony Mundine who, whilst highly respected within boxing circles, don’t get the national acclaim bestowed upon world champions from other sports such as swimming or tennis – even in the week leading up to his World Title challenge, more air-time in Australia was given to promoting and talking about the upcoming UFC/Conor McGregor PPV show on the same channel that very same afternoon, a fight card that included no Australians at all – but ultimately was the bigger earner for the television networks.
It’s no secret that boxing has struggled to gain any foothold in the mainstream media here in Australia – rugby league bench-warmers are more likely to be recognised on the streets of Sydney than a boxing world champion and, even on the day he became the heavyweight champion of the World, the story of Lucas Browne’s historic win came at the end of most sports news cycles that afternoon – as usual, behind the headlines from rugby league, tennis, AFL, cricket and the UFC.
But this scenario could (or should) be set to change.
Lucas Browne can be the catalyst Australian boxing needs. Here is a man that has just won the a version of the most coveted prize in boxing, the first of his countrymen to ever reach the pinnacle of boxing, the heavyweight championship – and he did the hard way, travelling to a hostile country as the underdog and ripping away the title from the defending champion.
When I first met Lucas in early September 2014, he was just getting back into training after an arduous twelve round battle with Andriy Rudenko in England and was training at the IMC prospect gym with the now current OPBF Heavyweight Champion, Peter ‘The Chief’ Graham.
When we arrived I was surprised to see Lucas getting ready for his sparring session on his own.
Browne was now apparently under the tutelage of legendary Australian Boxer, Jeff Fenech and I hoped I would have a chance to meet him as he put Lucas through his paces.
He was not to appear at this session, or any of the subsequent training sessions that I attended over the following weeks and months.
This absenteeism from his daily routine and training, coupled with the style he wanted Browne to fight with, seemed to stifle Browne’s natural movement and power and it appeared to be leading Browne in the wrong direction.
Following the grueling Rudenko fight Lucas had and lackluster clashes with Chauncy Welliver and Julius Long on Australia TV fight cards hosted by a rugby league discussion panel, it did nothing to add international credibility or legitimacy to Browne’s claim that he was ready for a world title – or indeed to Fenech’s claim that he was helping Lucas to improve his game.
It seemed Browne was going backwards both in a promotional and technical sense but one thing was constant however, and that was undeniable determination and desire to succeed, to become a champion, to be an inspiration – “to be seen as a good man.”
Following those two fights things slowly began to change however.
Lucas was mandated as the challenger for the WBA Title prior to the Julius Long fight but contractual obligations meant that Cuban Fres Oquendo was given the opportunity to fight Chagaev before Browne’s team were able to get him in the ring.
Following that fight and the circumstances around it, a court ordered that Oquendo be given a rematch and thus began the long wait for the WBA to enforce their mandatory challenger.
Facing the possibility of losing the mandatory spot he had worked so hard attain, Lucas found himself in the difficult position of having to sit and wait for the fight to happen or take the risk of losing it all.
Under the guidance of legendary boxing warrior Ricky Hatton, Browne (for the most part) stayed patient and bided his time, even courting a move home to Perth to be closer to his family once again, something he has always spoken of in our time together and sheds light on one of the biggest sacrifices these fighters make that doesn’t often get recognised.
As time passed, the heavyweight landscape for the first time in years, began to show signs that a new generation of champions was emerging.
Deontay Wilder dethroned Bermaine Stiverne to become America’s first heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs, then at the tail end of 2015, Tyson Fury shocked the world when he defeated long-time king of the division Wladimir Klitschko away from home in Germany.
Then, after Fury was stripped of his IBF Title, the world watched as a relative unknown in ‘Prince’ Charles Martin became IBF Champion after a technical stoppage of Vyacheslav Glazkov.
Since Browne had been mandated as the WBA challenger, all the other belts in the division had changed hands. Browne was still sitting patiently, waiting for his opportunity.
The waiting game was frustrating for Browne and his fans, to put it mildly. I began to lose count of how many times myself and Lucas had discussed when the fight may or may not eventually happen.
However this time in limbo did offer one positive – it was in his time off between fights that Browne teamed up with highly respected Sydney-based trainer Rodney Williams.
This would prove to be a pivotal moment for Lucas Browne.
Revitalised, he thrusted himself into training camp for this fight under the guidance of Williams with the intensity, regularity and the discipline required for a true world championship contender.
Instead of training alone, having to motivate himself and just having a big-name-trainer in the corner for the sake of it, Lucas now had a trainer and coach dedicated to making him the next heavyweight champion of the world.
Williams and Browne worked tirelessly from their Blacktown base in Sydney’s west, sharpening the tools and game-plan that would eventually see him dethrone Ruslan Chagaev last weekend.
With Williams working on his technique and strategy, Lucas also had the benefit of ‘the ultimate cheerleader’ in famed UK boxer Nigel Benn, who provided Lucas with not only motivation but also the wisdom of a man known as one of the WBC’s greatest super-middleweight champion in history, a man who knows a thing or two about tough title fights himself.
Going into the biggest fight of his career in Grozny against Chagaev, Browne had done it all right and was adamant he had left no stone unturned.
Both himself and head coach Rodney Williams were full of confidence that they had the game-plan they needed to rip the belt from the reigning champion – after a long year of waiting, his chance to write history was finally upon him.
However there was still one obstacle that stood in his way, ‘The White Tyson’ Ruslan Chagaev and his army of fans in Chechnya – fans that included the country’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov – a colourful character to say the very least.
Because of this, and because well, boxing is boxing, going in to the fight there was a lot of speculation surrounding how likely coming away from Grozny with a decision from the judges was and Browne had himself on many occasions stated that he wouldn’t take that risk and would look for the knockout.
And look for the KO he did.
As the fight began, I saw the Lucas Browne I’d seen over so many hours behind closed doors at Rodney’s gym in Blacktown, the movement around the ring, popping the smaller man with his jab and not leaving himself too exposed.
Things seemed to be going to plan but in round 6 the worst happened, Browne was put down on the canvas from a hard left hand and looked to be out on his feet as he beat the count from the referee. Chagaev went to work and tried to finish things off as a suspiciously long final ten seconds drew to a close.
Eventually the bell went, Lucas had survived the onslaught for now.
By the time the next round began it was apparent Chagaev had emptied a fair bit of his tank trying to end the fight in the previous round and this allowed Browne to regain his composure and foothold in the fight as he re-established the jab and began to move freely again on previously heavy legs.
After two more solid rounds the fight was once again in the balance. Chagaev appeared to be growing in confidence and was walking the challenger down but as he threw a powerful left hand that glanced off Aussie Browne, he was countered with a plum of a right hand from Browne that sent him lurching backwards, falling almost in slow motion to the canvas – Browne stalking him menacingly as he fell.
Chagaev beat the count but there was still time left in the round, he faced a barrage of brutal right hands from the challenger as he lay against the ropes trying to survive.
Browne had seen his opening and was not letting this chance slip by and as he continued to press forward he gave the referee no decision but to step in and stop the fight, as he bounced the Uzbek’s head back and forth – the ring ropes the only thing stopping the now former world champion from hitting the deck once again.
History had been made, against all the odds, Lucas ‘Big Daddy’ Browne had traveled to a hostile environment and ripped the World Heavyweight Title away from the home fighter in Ruslan Chagaev.
Just as Tyson Fury did last year, Lucas Browne has won the title under circumstances nobody thought were in his favour and achieved the impossible dream.
It’s been a long, bumpy road up to this point for Lucas and his team but it is no more than their hard work and dedication deserves, and Browne will now return home as a conquering hero, Australia’s great hope for the future and the reason Australian Boxing will now be once again on the world map.
Looking back to that first meeting now at the IMC gym, it is hard to believe that Browne will go anywhere alone any more, too.
The man who has had to so often keep himself on track and motivated without the help from others will now have a country behind him to add fuel to his fire – and rightfully so.
There aren’t many more genuine and likable people in the sport of boxing and as Lucas’ profile grows, I have no doubt Australia will grow to love their new champion as many have already.
Browne will now be the first name on many big-name fighter’s lips with David Haye already expressing that he “would love that fight” in the UK – although a unification fight with Tyson Fury may also be on the cards later this year.
First a mandatory defense against Fres Oquendo as per the ‘WBA tournament’ is ahead next for the new champion, with the fight needing to be agreed within 90 days from the time of Browne’s victory over Chagaev.
For now though, it is time for Browne to enjoy his new-found stardom and well deserved status as WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight champion of the world.
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