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Sport When Tommy Raudonikis cornered Jeff Fenech

06:50  08 april  2021
06:50  08 april  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Jeff Fenech never planned on becoming a boxer. Growing up in Sydney in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Fenech was a livewire hooker who always dreamed of playing rugby league.

Despite tackling everything that moved as a promising age-group player, he says he didn’t have the growth spurt that would have allowed him to continue in the senior ranks.

The Marrickville Mauler went on to become one of Australia’s best ever boxers, but to this day, says he’d trade in all his world title belts for the chance to play footy.

So it was a dream come true when the great Tommy Raudonikis, who died this week after a long battle with cancer, worked his corner for an exhibition bout 1989.

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The exhibition – which was more of a hard spar against Dale Artango – took place on a Jeff Harding undercard in October that year, a month before WBC featherweight world champion Fenech fought Mario Martinez in Melbourne.

A solidly built lightweight, Artango was making a comeback to the ring two years after a defeat to Lester Ellis, and although they both wore headgear, neither held back on attack.

“It was an exhibition, but I wanted to belt the bloke because Dale Artango was much bigger and was trying to give it to me,” Fenech tells Sporting News.

“Tommy was in my corner yelling ‘keep giving it to him, keep giving it to him!’

“It was amazing, just walking back and seeing Tommy in my corner, it was like a dream come true.

“All I wanted to ever do was become a rugby league player, so having one of the toughest and greatest rugby league players ever there, and to just go back and talk between rounds was great.”

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A mainstay at Fenech’s fights throughout the 1980s, Raudonikis even had a tilt at promoting his own boxing event at the Sydney Opera House in April 1982.

It was the first time the Opera House had ever hosted boxing, and the main event saw Ken Salisbury fight Alex Temelkov for the Australian super welterweight title, with colourful Sydney identity and former boxer Charkey Ramon refereeing.

The fight descended into mayhem when Temelkov landed a series of illegal punches to the back of Salisbury’s head in the eighth round.

Salisbury’s trainer, Bernie Hall, jumped onto the ring apron and grabbed Temelkov by the hair. In response, Temelkov’s cornerman sprinted across the ring and launched a karate kick at Hall.

It was all on.

About 20 people stormed the ring as referee Ramon and various members of Temelkov’s corner went at it, before Raudonikis jumped in and attempted to calm the situation.

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“I was with Tommy that night, it was crazy, just crazy. Wild,” Fenech says.

“Charkey Ramon was belting Temelkov’s brother, Bernie Hall was up there and there was a karate kick across the ring.

“There were people getting thrown from the balcony, and Tommy was in there screaming and swearing and stamping his feet, going crazy.”

Raudonikis was decent on the pads and heavy bag when he trained with Fenech and Johnny Lewis and Newtown PCYC, and never took a backwards step on the footy field, but he wasn’t about to throw hands that night.

“He wasn’t scared of anybody, and there was no one in the world who wanted to win as much as Tommy – it was crazy – but he was a bit out of his category that night,” Fenech says.

“I was with him – Tommy was my idol – but that moment maybe proved just how smart he was. He wasn’t about to fight the fighters.

“Yeah, that was the first and last time they had boxing at the Opera House.”

For Fenech, the moment perfectly captures the spirit of Tommy Raudonikis.

“He was a larrikin who was the most loyal guy in the world,” Fenech says.

“If it was black, it was black and he'd tell you. In this era, where we’re not supposed to say anything, he’d just say what he wants. He’s not trying to harm anyone, he’s just saying it how it is.

“All the fame and fortune meant nothing to him, he was one of those guys who was always just Tommy.”

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