Ben Damon will be calling the shots once again on Wednesday.
The shots will be thrown by 154lb fighters Tim Tszyu (17-0, 13 KOs) and Dennis Hogan (28-3-1, 7 KOs) inside the Newcastle Entertainment Centre down under. And the shots themselves will be described by one of Australia’s most well-known and familiar sports commentators Ben Damon.
The 40-year-old has been the man behind the mic for so many of Australia’s biggest boxing events over the years and the emergence of Tszyu, now a pay-per-view star on Main Event, means there are many more to come.
“It’s a great fight to see where Tim Tszyu is at,” said Damon who spoke to Boxing Social recently.
“We know he was good enough to beat and stop Jeff Horn (last August) which in the Australian scheme of things is a massive achievement. Jeff was very tough and at his peak he beat Manny Pacquiao of course. He’s someone that the country really got behind and Tim just broke him down and destroyed when they fought. Then was saw him fight against Bowyn Morgan (last time out) and he blasted him out in a round very impressively so now we get to see him against a fighter who has fought for two legitimate world titles and who provides a really tricky prospect for Tim. Someone who is going to move differently to what Tim has seen before and is going to make Tim do things that he hasn’t had to do before so it’s extremely exciting in that sense.
“Dennis Hogan is also such a likeable character. Someone who I’ve had the fortune of calling a lot of his fights here in Australia and who ultimately should be a world champion after what happened in Mexico against Jaime Munguia. It’s a fantastic story if Dennis can spring an upset here and win himself through ultimately to a rematch and to then come close to another world title shot. It’s a really good fight both ways and one that’s really captured the imagination here. The tickets have just been marching out the door and we’re expecting a huge audience on TV as well.”
With his thoughts on the fight and an impressive, albeit unintentional, piece of salesmanship over with conversation turned to what else Australian boxing has to offer other than Tim Tszyu. The 26-year-old son of super lightweight royalty Kostya is nearing a world title shot thanks to his number one slot with the WBO where the next stop would presumably be a fight against champion Brian Castano. But, as Damon told us Tszyu isn’t carrying the country’s flag by himself.
In the past the likes of Jeff Fenech, Kostya Tszyu, Jeff Harding, Lionel Rose and Daniel Geale were all world champions and represented their country admirably. But from the outside looking in it has often appeared that the country has lacked depth, a good supporting cast to pick up the baton when it’s been dropped. Damon gave us a few names to keep an eye on for the future.
“There’s a few names domestically that are the next big things in Australian boxing.
“There’s (featherweight) Brock Jarvis (18-0, 16 KOs), he’s world ranked (7 with the IBF). He’s got a major fight coming up on April 23 in Canberra (against Nort Beauchamp). He’s got the added bonus of being trained by our greatest ever fighter in Jeff Fenech. It’s a really good story around Brock Jarvis and he’s getting better all the time. I watched him spar recently and he’s adding new things to his artillery as he goes along and he’s only very young.
“Liam Wilson (8-0, 6 KOs) is another one who is having his path blasted open by Tim Tszyu. He’ll be fighting on Tim’s undercards in the indefinite future and having some domestic headliner events of his own. He’s an extremely impressive fighter. Scored the knockout of the year last year in Australian boxing and seems to have all the skills to make it in and around the super featherweight division.
“Justis Huni (2-0, 2 KOs) is our heavyweight hope at the moment. He’s still heading to the Tokyo Olympics assuming that boxing and the Olympics go ahead. He won the Australian title in his first bout which has never been done before and he’s a heavyweight so we’re very, very excited about Justis Huni. There are others that have been around for a while but still provide a great deal of interest and excitement. There’s the Moloney twins, and George Kambosos finds himself in a fight for most of the belts against Teofimo Lopez. A major opportunity for an Aussie on the international stage as well.”
Damon believes that Australian boxing is in as good a health as it has been for a while. Crossing over to the mainstream is an important barometer as to how the sport is doing.
In the past the watching world would witness the likes of Anthony Mundine and Danny Green wheel themselves out for one fight too often more than once. But on the flip side Australian boxing produced Daniel Geale who did unify the middleweight title in 2012 while Michael Katsidis, who undoubtedly was in some thrilling fights, never achieved the heights that some predicted.
Interest in the sport appears to be growing once again. Jeff Horn has played his part and has thankfully now retired after a career to be proud of. And just as a new cast of fighters emerge on to viewers screens so do the men and women who are responsible for their careers.
“We’ve seen a number of new promoters coming to the sport and renewed interest from television which thankfully I’ve been able to be a part of,” said Damon.
“Jeff Horn, he captured the imagination by beating Manny Pacquiao. Now there’s a real emphasis by promoters on doing things the right way and developing these fighters via Fox Sports and launching them as pay per view fighters on Main Event. The sport’s probably in the healthiest space it’s ever been in in this country due to a lot of people working and pulling in the right direction. It’s exciting for that crop of boxers, for the next generation and for everyone that’s passionate about the sport. It is a sport in Australia that can become a bit of a circus act at times but at the moment it’s being done the right way and there’s all these fighters that are the beneficiaries. It feels like a proper sport in Australia which is all we want it to feel like.”
For Damon, it was a proper sport when he was a child. His interest was piqued by growing up around it with interest coming from his family. He loved being around the sport and the atmosphere felt familiar to him. Boxing was fascinating to a young Ben.
And while he freely admits he would never have been able to dedicate himself to the life of a fighter he enjoyed some memorable years training at the Newtown Police Boys Club boxing gym. It was an opportunity that would never have come his way had it not been for Mike Tyson, Jeff Harding and a pub.
Damon picks up the story: “When I was a kid, I was trying to watch a fight through a pub window which was the only way you could in them days as a young bloke.
“I was with a couple of mates and I was nowhere near the age to get into a pub. It just so happened that Jeff Harding was one of those inside the pub in Glebe in the inner west of Sydney. He opened the door and said, ‘Why don’t you come in and watch the fight’. It was Mike Tyson’s comeback fight against Peter McNeeley. I enjoyed watching that with him (Harding). I knew plenty about who Jeff Harding was. I knew everything about the Tyson story, but I knew everything about the Jeff Harding story as well when he was the guy, so I thought this is all a bit strange but great.
“Jeff was very accommodating. He looked after us that day and when we left, I tried to show off with my boxing knowledge and he said, ‘You should go to the Newtown Police Boys Club and go say g’day to Johnny Lewis’. Tell Johnny that Jeff Harding sent you.”
Damon would travel up the next day and then trained there for a number of years. The meeting in the pub and the time spent in the gym all contributed to an ambition to become involved in the sport. A passionate writer, Damon also has a great love for horse racing and looked at the two as potential career options.
“There wasn’t a great deal of career opportunities,” he says. “So, I worked towards making it my profession in those sports, particularly boxing which I’ve been fortunate enough to make my main career in nowadays. There are not many jobs in boxing. You certainly have to work along different lines, particularly in Australia, to try and make a career. I’ve been fortunate to find some opportunities but to also dedicate myself to trying to make a living out of my passion.”
Working and commentating on some of the biggest fights in Australia has been a bit of a dream for Damon. But so, has working on the country’s most famous horse racing events which are The Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate. Being behind the mic for major stadium fights and showdowns on the turf are a near equal for Damon in terms of passion and love for him. Boxing, as it so often does, can just do that little bit extra for so many including Damon.
“I sort of feel some responsibility for the sport of boxing in Australia having worked in recent years to really try and build it up to try and help the sport. To try and give it a legitimate face and to try and blast it further into the mainstream and for Australia to feel like it is a real sport, a mainstream sport, a top tier sport, not just something that pops up every now and then. I’m really happy with personally what I’ve been able to achieve. It’s a constant, not so much a battle, but a constant bit of work, a constant passion to continue to have the sport represented that way.”
From reading the news to working on the radio to presenting two of the major breakfast shows in Australia (Sunrise and Today), Damon has become one of the familiar faces of Australian media. He has cut his teeth in print and in front of the cameras while the love for boxing continued either side of him or in the background. Now his role in boxing at Fox Sports has grown into a multi-purpose one.
“I’m fortunate enough to do some of the biggest horse racing events and other bits and pieces but now it’s very much boxing all of the time. There’s not too many involved in the process on the television side so there’s plenty to do particularly when we’ve got a busy period like this.”
Just as the careers of the fighters grow so do those of the people who help bring them into living rooms across the country and around the world. More memories are being created. Ask Damon for some of his own and he recalls when Daniel Geale went to Germany not once but twice to take the verdict on the judges’ scorecards against Sebastian Sylvester and Felix Sturm respectively. Damon’s love for Jeff Horn is like many other Aussies and the day ‘The Hornet’ beat Manny Pacquiao is an unforgettable one for the whole country.
Another trip down memory lane brought Damon back to the Jeff Horn-Michael Zerafa rematch. Every commentator has a famous line that they are remembered for. Jim Lampley and Harry Carpenter to name but two. Ben Damon had one of his own just one week before Christmas in 2019.
Four months earlier Horn had lost to Zerafa in a huge upset in Australia. The return bout provided the typical Jeff Horn heart that had Damon off his seat as he worked alongside colleague and former world super featherweight champion Barry Michael.
“In the rematch in Brisbane he (Horn) was dominating the fight until he hit round 9 which is always the round that he looks most vulnerable in. He looked ready to go until he landed a right hand which I dubbed the ‘Punch from the Gods’ and he knocked Michael Zerafa down and ultimately won himself the fight. That was one of those moments I lost control in commentary essentially. There was a camera on us ringside. I was alongside Barry Michael again at the time. I jumped up out of my seat in shock at the moment because it did look like Jeff Horn was gone and then he reached inside himself again and produced this massive right hand which turned the tide. That’s what boxing can do. Those are the moments that make it such a fascinating sport and to be able to lend your voice to those sorts of things and to say something like a punch from the Gods… it’s a real privilege and that’s what provides you the satisfaction of being a part of those events is when you can lend that soundtrack to events like that.”
Such passionate statements are echoed by fans, fighters, and media week in, week out. There is nothing like it. The negativity persists thanks in part to consistent niggles like scoring, governing bodies and the number of belts. Those are just three. We who love the sport are constantly being told it is dead but as Damon says the sport will endure regardless.
“It will always survive.”
“Social media probably isn’t helpful to us as human beings in boxing in many ways. There’s a lot of negativity in the fanbase which I think is contributed to by elements in boxing but overall, it’s still a sport which fascinates people. It’s still a sport which provides the biggest moments throughout all of sport.
“If Anthony Joshua v Tyson Fury can fight at some stage it’s still going to be as big as sporting events get. It’s still going to create as much excitement in the world’s population as anything can in a positive light. The sport is not perfect but it’s in a very strong position and like always it is going to provide the major moments around the world.”
Featured image: Kelly Owen/KO Photos