“I knew I had to keep go­ing on”

He went from be­ing a bul­lied school­boy in Bris­bane to a world cham­pion boxer. But as Jeff Horn tells writer Jor­dan Baker, it’s fam­ily that packs the big­gest punch

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JAMIE HAN­SON Styling JOE RICHARDS JNR

He went from be­ing a bul­lied school­boy in Bris­bane to a reign­ing world boxing cham­pion. Now Jeff Horn re­veals to Stel­lar that when the go­ing gets tough in the ring, it is his fam­ily he’ll fight for.

The worst hit came a minute into the ninth round – a coun­ter­punch from one of the world’s great­est box­ers, straight to Jeff Horn’s head. His brain be­gan buzzing. His legs be­gan wob­bling. His eye­sight be­came blurry, maybe from the blood or maybe from the blow.

But the punch left one per­son in more pain than Horn: his wife, Jo. To her, the man on the other end of Manny Pac­quiao’s fist wasn’t a Bris­bane un­der­dog on the verge of an in­ter­na­tional sport­ing up­set. It was Jef­frey, the boy she met at high school, the guy she be­gan dat­ing at schoolies, the fa­ther of her un­born child. “I was frozen,” she tells Stel­lar. “I was ter­ri­fied. I was think­ing, ‘End the fight, I don’t care, end it, stop it, it doesn’t mat­ter, you’ve done so well.’”

She wasn’t the only per­son who felt that way; even the ref had to be talked into let­ting Horn con­tinue. But Horn tells Stel­lar the fight was won when he sat in the cor­ner af­ter that bruis­ing round. “I re­mem­ber go­ing through ev­ery­thing that fight meant to me, ev­ery­thing it meant to Jo and our lives, and what I was fight­ing for,” the 29-year-old says. “I knew I had to keep go­ing on. I wasn’t go­ing to sit down in the cor­ner. My head was sore, but I wasn’t go­ing to give up.”

So he didn’t. He went harder. And when the fi­nal bell rang, it was Horn’s hand that was raised in vic­tory, stun­ning the world. The crowd at Sun­corp Sta­dium went crazy. Back in her seat, Jo dis­solved into tears of re­lief. Those 12 rounds had changed their lives, but Jo wasn’t think­ing about that. “It was like, ‘Thank good­ness that’s over,’” she says. “He was OK, he was still stand­ing. You don’t even re­ally think k about if he wins or loses – the main thing ng is if he is OK at the end of the fight.”

Nine years ago, be­fore he’d ever had a fight, Horn sat down with his coach andd drew up a plan. Olympics in 2012. Tick. World cham­pion. Tick. Next on his to-do o list: be­come undis­puted cham­pion of the wel­ter­weight class. He only has six years to achieve that, be­cause the last point on the list is to hang up his gloves at age 35 with his brain in­tact.

As proud as she is of her hus­band’s achieve­ments, Jo is look­ing for­ward to that par­tic­u­lar birth­day. “You are stress­ing that one wrong punch will change our lives – and not for the bet­ter,” ,” she says. “That’s al­ways there. At that point I won’t have to worry so much any­more, and I will know he has done what he wants to do.”

IN EARLY APRIL 2006, when he was justt 18, Horn pulled up out­side the boxing gym run by trainer Glenn Rush­ton. Even n as a novice, he knew the space was out of the or­di­nary. The gym sits in the wing of Rush­ton’s sprawl­ing man­sion in Bris­bane, which is dubbed the Dol­phin n House be­cause of an enor­mous foun­tain with four stone dol­phins com­ing out of it. It’s less a house than a palace, re­ally; there are seven bed­rooms, nine bath­rooms, a pool and a Star Wars- themed games room.

Rush­ton is no or­di­nary trainer, ei­ther. He’s a mar­tial arts afi­cionado, a prop­erty de­vel­oper, and an in­vest­ment man­ager. Above ev­ery­thing, though, he is a dreamer. He left home at 14 with $20 in his pocket and dreamed his way to the $10 mil­lion man­sion. He nick­names his gym The House of Dreams.

Rush­ton re­mem­bers that night vividly. Horn, then a teach­ing stu­dent, “looked like Ge­orge Ge­orgem­cfly­Mcfly from Back To The Fu­ture, with a KICK ME sign on his back,” he tells Stel­lar. “He looked like the sort of kid other peo­ple would pick on. He was soft, just soft.”

Rush­ton was right. Bris­bane’s Macgre­gor State High School could make for a tough en­vi­ron­ment, and Horn, who is a sweet-na­tured, gen­tle guy at heart, had been a pop­u­lar tar­get for the bul­lies. He would be kneed in the stom­ach dur­ing soc­cer prac­tice and cop blows to the head that he didn’t see com­ing. Af­ter school one day when he was 15, he and a mate found them­selves sur­rounded by 30 thugs. His friend never went back. Some­times he would spend his

lunch hour in the li­brary, hid­ing. In his dark­est mo­ments, he thought about sui­cide. “I re­mem­ber think­ing the sit­u­a­tion was crap, and won­der­ing if it was even worth go­ing on,” says Horn, who opens up about those years in his new mem­oir The Hor­net: My Jour­ney From Bul­lied School­boy To World Cham­pion. “I had thoughts about it, but was never go­ing to do some­thing.”

It was self-de­fence that prompted Horn to try Rush­ton’s gym, and in the pale-faced, clean-cut and some­times cheeky young man, Rush­ton spot­ted po­ten­tial. He also saw a com­pet­i­tive spirit, re­silience – and a boxer’s calves. But at first, Rush­ton thought Horn was just there for fun. He was wrong; Horn was at a cross­roads. He had al­ways dreamed of be­ing a pro­fes­sional sports­man but wasn’t break­ing into the top grades in soc­cer, so he was think­ing about hav­ing a crack at rugby league.

Horn asked Rush­ton for ad­vice, and was sur­prised by the re­ply: “I be­lieve that if you put your heart and your mind into boxing, I can get you into the Olympic Games in four years’ time. Then if you fol­low my plan, within four years af­ter that, you’ll be world cham­pion. And if the plan goes to what I have in mind for you, you’ll re­tire in your mid-30s a very wealthy man.”

Horn dis­cussed it with Jo. She had her reser­va­tions about the sport, and “thought [box­ers] were id­iots, boof­heads”. She was a bit scep­ti­cal about this Olympics busi­ness, too. “I was like, re­ally?!” Still, if it was what he wanted to do…, she reck­oned. So Horn went back to Rush­ton and said he was in­ter­ested in buy­ing into the dream.

“I re­mem­ber won­der­ing if it was worth go­ing on”

None of this was on the cards when ro­mance sparked be­tween Horn and Jo Buck­ley to­wards the end of Year 12. “At first he was just my mate,” she says. “Then, get­ting to know his per­son­al­ity and how funny it was, I was like, ‘I think I like this guy.’ He likes to make peo­ple laugh, he likes to crack jokes. And un­for­tu­nately I laugh at those jokes, which just en­cour­ages him.”

The friend­ship turned into some­thing more at an 18th birth­day party, when they pashed in a pool. They flirted over MSN Mes­sen­ger, but on that an­cient so­cial­me­dia plat­form one could never be sure they were talk­ing to the right per­son. To de­ter­mine whether the MSN feel­ings would be re­cip­ro­cated in real life, they re­solved to shake hands when they saw each other at school the next day.

Shake they did, and they mar­ried in 2014. Their first baby is due in early Jan­uary. Jo thought she was mar­ry­ing a fu­ture school teacher and soc­cer en­thu­si­ast, not a fighter. The boxing ca­reer crept up on her as Horn’s ca­sual ex­er­cise­ex­erci ses­sions be­came more se­ri­ous, and th the more she un­der­stood the sport, the m more she re­alised there was more to it th than bru­tal­ity. She also re­alised that Je Jef­frey, as she calls him, was very good ata it. “Ev­ery fight he pro­gressed high­er­highe and higher, and it was like, gosh, we’re get­ting up there.”

She also knows the sport is their ticket to fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, although that was cold com­fort when her hus­band stepped into the ring ear­lier this year with the leg­endary Pac­quiao, win­ner of 11 world ti­tles. “When I was talk­ing to him about [the Pac­quiao fight], he was like, this will re­ally change our lives, re­ally help us,” she says. “When we were talk­ing, I was like, ‘This is ex­cit­ing!’ But when he was in the ring, I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t even en­ter your mind.”

Since his win, their lives have changed, although Horn still has lunch at the same Bris­bane cafe where he is meet­ing with Stel­lar. Be­fore July 2, he was just a reg­u­lar. Now he’s the res­i­dent celebrity. “Is that Jeff Horn?” a cus­tomer whis­pers to the waiter as a teenage boy asks for a selfie. As box­ers go, his fan base is sur­pris­ingly broad; even grand­moth­ers love him. “Jeff has re­ally bro­ken through to women and fam­i­lies,” says his fa­ther, Jeff Horn Snr. Maybe it’s his clean-cut look, or the fact he was a ca­sual teacher and af­ter-school carer in the pre-pac­quiao days, read­ing The Cat In The Hat in the morn­ing and dolling out up­per­cuts at night.

Horn ad­mits he finds fame strange. “I spent my af­ter­party tak­ing self­ies with peo­ple I see ev­ery day,” he re­veals. “I’d say, ‘Why do you want a photo? You’ll see me to­mor­row.’” In the weeks af­ter the fight he would stay home a lot be­cause, Jo says, “we’d go out to get a bit of food and it took much longer than it should have”. She in­sists they don’t mind: “Un­less we have to be some­where, it’s nice.” One day they might end up with their own Dol­phin House, but those riches are still a while away; de­spite her hus­band’s suc­cess, Jo still works at a re­cruit­ment firm.

Horn’s im­me­di­ate fu­ture in­side the ring is un­clear. Next on the to-do list is to “unify the belt”, which means win­ning the wel­ter­weight ti­tle in all four of the sport’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies. In De­cem­ber, he’ll take on Eng­land’s Gary Cor­co­ran at the Bris­bane Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

In the mean­time, he’s con­tin­u­ing to reap the fruits of his faith. This month he be­came the first boxer to win The Don Award at the an­nual Sport Aus­tralia Hall of Fame func­tion, for be­ing the most in­spir­ing ath­lete of 2017.

Horn says fam­ily re­mains his big­gest mo­ti­va­tor. He is driven to suc­ceed for Jo, his un­born child, his par­ents, his three sib­lings and Rush­ton, who he de­scribes as a sec­ond fa­ther. He also in­tends to keep his prom­ise to hang up the gloves at 35. Horn might be the pin-up boy of Aus­tralian boxing, but he is well aware of the sport’s dan­gers, and even now avoids knocks to the head un­less he is in an of­fi­cial fight.

“I’ve been hit a lot of times; a lot of times I’ve been buzzed by shots,” he says. “I don’t want to get to the point where there is some­thing men­tally wrong with me be­cause of boxing. It all won’t be worth it to me if that hap­pens.” The Hor­net by Jeff Horn and Grantlee Kieza (ABC Books, $39.99) is out to­mor­row.

“Jeff has re­ally bro­ken through to women and fam­i­lies”

JEFF Richards WEARS & Richards tie, and pocket shoes (worn square Bres­ciani socks (worn through­out), all richard­sand his own wed­ding ring

TOP (from OF top THE left) WORLD Boxing champ Jeff Horn cel­e­brates his win against Manny Pac­q­pac­quiaoiao af­ter their WBO wel­ter­weight el­ter eight and wife Jo at the an­nual Sport Aus­tralia Hall of Fame event this month where he won the Don Award for...

JEFF WEARS (right) Isaia coat, jeans, pocket square and belt; Richards & Richards shirt, all richard­san­drichards. com.au; (be­low) Richards & Richards suit and shirt; Isaia tie, all richard­sand richards.com.au

GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS (be­low) Horn and Jo are de­lighted to be wel­com­ing their first child in Jan­uary.

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