The most nervous I’ve felt before watching a professional prize fight were the moments before Michael Katsidis challenged Joel Casamayor for the Ring Magazine lightweight belt in March 2008.
I remember sitting in my boss’s living room above the reception of the seedy hotel we managed in Katherine, a ghetto on the edge of the desert in the Northern Territory. We locked the office door and let business go to hell as Katsidis and Casamayor faced off. I was guzzling beer, my hands were shaking and my head was spinning. It was 10.30am.
The chaotic nature of the fight and the shocking turn of events in Round 10, when Katsidis cracked under pressure, lost his mind and got TKO’d while leading, sent me on a day long bender spilling out over the side to anyone who’d listen.
For the next few years I followed MK’s career, at times obsessively (I flew to Houston for the Juan Diaz fight) and sometimes affably (I skipped the Lozado fight).
It’s in the affable sense I regard his appointment with Tommy Coyle this weekend. Katsidis has fallen from grace in and out of the ring. If his war with Juan Manuel Marquez was a monument to his dedication to the sport, and a tribute to his lost brother, getting busted for burglary in September past indicates the fall-out of his fearless brawling style. A brief union with the legendary Johnny Lewis ultimately came to nothing. His life-long friend and trainer Brendan Smith cut him loose after the burglary bust. What’s left is a career on the UK circuit. Not a bad fall-back.
An online definition of ‘watershed’ comes up with ‘an event or period marking a turning point in a situation’. MK’s life seems an endless series of watersheds played out publicly and privately.
The Sydney Olympian spent six months in a maximum security prison long before fight fans saw the first fight with Graham Earl. He fought for free as the chief support on the Mundine-Kessler card. His criminal record delayed his American debut, but his incredible war with Graham Earl in 2007 accelerated his career with help from Youtube.
The brutal war with Czar Amonsot was another watershed moment, as was the brain-snap against Casamayor, the brutal pummelling of Kevin Mitchell, the drug death of his brother, the decision to fight Juan Manuel Marquez in his brother’s memory, the critical instant when he had Marquez down and dazed but (like with Casamayor) couldn’t finish the job. An outwardly sensitive man, one imagines the seedy nature of Stathi’s death took a toll on MK. How could it not?
So Katsidis returns this weekend against the Englishman Tommy Coyle. Eddie Hearn is putting the show on. A recent interview suggested this is the first of a 4-fight deal with Matchroom.
It’s probably the best move Katsidis can make. He’s washed up (for now) in the States. And after the burglary bust in September, it’s all gone to crap (again) in Australia.
Time is just about up in this caper for Michael Alan Katsidis. It’s last drinks – after-hours with bar staff – at the Last Chance Saloon. This is really it.
He should beat Coyle. He really effin should. Tommy Coyle has decent boxing smarts and a lot of courage. In February he picked himself up four times to stop the light-punching Argentine nobody Daniel Brizuela in the 12th of a wild fight. He was knocked out late by Derry Mathews, a blood’ n guts fighter not unlike Katsidis.
Their sham-like natures aside, MK’s comeback fights this year revealed a new wrinkle on the landscape. He employed an in and out style indicative of a new ring mindset. It was different to the born-to-brawl attitude of years past, and worked a treat against Eddy Comaro and Graham Earl – two guys with no business in professional prize-fighting.
Katsidis-Earl II was unwatchable. The footage took months to appear online for download. Whether or not the new style has any currency with boxing fans, judges or MK himself is one of the factors making the Coyle fight interesting. The more defensively responsible style is almost certainly a by-product of the CT scan which wrongly diagnosed scarring on the brain. At 34, a physically exhausting stylistic makeover is a brave move. It might come and go as quickly as retirement gave way to comeback.
Prime MK would destroy Tommy Coyle in a few short rounds. However Katsidis hasn’t won a significant fight since 2010. He seems driven equal parts by desperation and delusion (it reads 3X World Champ on his Twitter profile). One senses a grim fatalism about him, be it his fearless style, his Greek warrior persona, and all the grandeur and waste it implies.
Upon retiring, Katsidis was lauded as the toughest Australian fighter of his generation. He is one hard man, and the chip on his shoulder is as large as ever. It's hard not to imagine drama and emotion when he steps into the ring one more time in Hull this Saturday night.