King of the ring bids adieu
In his 1960s heyday as a Goldfields boxing champion, John De Meis was never a physically imposing heavyweight or the hardest puncher.
He preferred to outsmart opponents and most times, he did.
But going up against bigger and stronger fighters brought with it high anxiety levels, like when he boxed at the 1969 Kalgoorlie-Boulder Community Fair against a rival 30kg heavi- er. It was the only time De Meis actually wet himself before a fight.
But he said that was more to do with letting down his hundreds of supporters in the crowd, rather than anything his opponent could do to him.
De Meis leaves the region next week, severing ties with a golden era of Goldfields boxing which included him winning the 1969 Golden Gloves championship.
In the past 47 years, De Meis said the popularity of local boxing had ebbed and flowed.
“Even after all these years, it (Kalgoorlie-Boulder) is not big enough, as far as the sport having a big following,” he said.
“These days, you’ve got other (combat) sports like judo, kickboxing and karate to compete with.
“In my day, boxing was the main (fight) sport and after Lionel Rose won the world title (in 1968), we had 60 kids at the gym, all wanting to be world champions. But after three weeks, it was back to 15 or 16 — the hype had worn off and it’s the same now. “Nothing changes.” De Meis once drove to Perth for a big fight, only to have his opponent withdraw on the night.
“I trained so hard for that fight at the Perth Town Hall,” he said.
“But an hour before, I was doing my warm up out the back, my opponent saw me and disappeared.”
Five years ago, De Meis’ struggles as a young Italian immigrant growing up in the Goldfields were documented in his book, The Will To Win.
These days, Melbourne-born and Tasmania-raised Nathan Sting is content to enjoy a relatively quiet Goldfields lifestyle — seven years removed from a fine career as a champion boxer.
Sting, 39, fought 36 times for 28 wins and a draw over 14 years as a professional. Along the way, he claimed a string of national belts and grabbed versions of a pair of world titles.
Before finally hanging up his gloves in 2005, following a loss in Jakarta, Sting — who works locally underground — had ridden on the wave of an eightfight winning streak.
They included back-to-back successes in the UK against Johnny Armour and Nicky Booth — just eight weeks apart — and WBU and WBE bantamweight straps.
Sting, who followed a younger sister, already living here, to the Goldfields three years ago, has pretty much stayed away from boxing since his arrival.
He clearly still enjoys recounting the more memorable moments of his long career when he climbed between the ropes at venues as modest as the Mandurah Aquatic Centre and Tasmania’s Bluegum Park Football Oval.
But he also graced Sheffield’s Ponds Forge Arena and London’s York Hall and trained alongside some of the sport’s biggest names, including England’s former two-division world champion David Haye.
He had spent years being trained by Keith Ellis, but eventually became a stablemate of Haye while living in London in 2001.
One of his fondest memories occurred at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff in February, 1996, when he had top billing for a clash with Neil Swain.
On the under-card was a then up-and-coming Welshman, Joe Calzaghe, who was making just his 15th professional appearance.
Calzaghe went on to forge a Hall of Fame-calibre career by retiring unbeaten from 46 fights in 2008.
“I was the main event and Joe Calzaghe fought an American on my under-card — I’ve got the poster at home to prove it,” Sting quipped.
He was just 12 when he had his first amateur bout.
“I was fighting every weekend in Melbourne,” he recalled of his entry into the sport.
“I used to get a lot of nerves and adrenalin rush, but that’s what used to make me fast.
“They reckon once you lose that, that’s it — get out.
“I ended up not having it in the end (after a fifthround knockout defeat), but it (boxing) is like a drug and tough to get out of.
“I’d always shied away from the media and boxed for the love of it.”