Michele Hewitson interview: Dean Lonergan

By Michele Hewitson

Dean Lonergan is one persuasive salesman. Photo / Natalie Slade
Dean Lonergan is one persuasive salesman. Photo / Natalie Slade

Brutally honest boxing promoter lived the high life and lost it all. Now he couldn't care less for the flash stuff

How to bill Dean Lonergan, the former league player turned boxing promoter? How about: would sell his own grandmother if there was any publicity in it. I was looking forward to writing that. He is always selling me interviews with boxing people, some of them really quite peculiar - but I have to admit they are always interesting.

I've been nagging him for more years than either of us can remember to let me interview him and he's always said no way, never, that he is far too boring. How about this then: Dean Lonergan, the most Boring Man on the Planet? That serves him right.

He now tells me that he and his Duco Events business partner, David Higgins, have always agreed that no way would either of them talk to me, ever. This is because I might take a hatchet to them, apparently. I notice they have no such qualms about throwing their clients my way. As long as they get a mention of their event at the end, I suspect they don't give a monkey's what I write.

I was to meet him at Euro, because "it's magnificent!"; most things in Lonergan Land are magnificent! He had given in only because he had, for once, failed to sell me one of his boxers. "I'm taking one for the team." The moment he arrived, he said I was to put in at least three mentions of his latest event. "Now, make bloody sure ... " Did I say: At the end? He told me at least five times where these mentions were to be inserted: "Start. Middle. End."

He's not bossy, exactly, but he is all in favour of giving it a go. So to shut him up, the event is tonight's David Tua versus Alexander Ustinov bout. He would like you to pay to watch it on Sky. He seems to think I can make people do this. He probably can. He is, as he always likes to say, a salesman.

He's also got a bloody cheek. I gave him 1,800 words earlier in the year on Ustinov, a man who speaks two words of English. He said. "Start. Middle. End. What's 60 more words?"

Is he any good at selling himself?

What he does is turn up, and be himself, and you can take him or leave him. The waiter later told me that even when he used to drink he was always polite and pleasant to deal with - and he should know because he's seen a bit of him.

I thought he might be a bit of a loudmouth, a schmoozer, one of those tough guy bloke's blokes. He's not a loudmouth.

He asked me almost as many questions as I asked him, which might be a form of schmoozing. He said that people think selling is about talking: "It's about listening." He takes being a salesman very seriously, and part of taking it seriously is that you have to have fun doing it. He's a giggler. He probably is quite blokey, but that is not all he is. If he billed himself as the Most Boring Man on the Planet, you'd ask for your money back.

He's not shy of eating (to borrow one of his phrases). I thought that we'd rip into (more Lonergan lingo) a few bottles of expensive wine. He might have once, but he hardly ever drinks now. "The explanation that I give to most people is: I've had my fill." He didn't have a problem with drink, he had a problem with money - as in not having any and owing a lot and so he gave up drink altogether for some years because it didn't help anything. "To be honest, if I never had another drink in my life, I couldn't care less. To be fair."

He used to have expensive tastes, but "to be brutally honest" (this might be his number one top favourite phrase), he now "couldn't care less" (he gives that one the odd airing) for flash stuff. He was wearing a nice suit, from Working Style, but that is more about looking the part than it is about sartorial preference. "I'm in the business of selling. It's one of the things you have to invest in."

He used to live in flash houses and he loved the high life and then he landed himself in $1.7 million of debt (over a crazy circus of a thing involving motorbike tricks and orchestras and choirs and a cast of thousands; not enough people came).

He had no assets and moved to a room in a house in West Harbour with two mates, Church and Mango (he rode motorbikes and so people used to say, "Look at that man go." Is that true? "Dead serious."). This was called The House of Misunderstood Blokes and he had the smallest room in the house and paid about $80 a week in rent, which was as much as he could afford. He chipped away at his debt, doing anything he could, and borrowed money from his dad, his sister and his girlfriend of the time to keep his creditors at bay.

You'd think he'd have minded going from having a lot of money to having none, but, surprisingly, he found he didn't.

"No. Not at all. It was just interesting." Still, that debt kept him awake at night. "Oh F! What do you think?"

He used to read a lot of self-help books. I suppose he needed a bit of self-help. He still has a weakness for the sorts of mantras self-help books offer, one of which is: "You could be the world's richest man and think you have a shitty life, and if you think you have, you probably have."

He paid the money back, by doing contract work and "charging like a wounded bull".

He's always been tough. The one thing most people know about him is that he was knocked out in a game in Melbourne in 1991, was convulsing on the field, and returned to play 10 minutes later. That was a bloody stupid thing to do. "Probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done." He just didn't want his replacement to play. "I'd worked too hard to get there." He might have had brain damage. "A lot of people would say I do have brain damage. I might. Who knows?"

A lot of people might think he's just a big thick ex-league player. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who think that." I suspect he doesn't give a stuff what people think and if they think he's thick it'd be at their peril, or to his advantage.

He found out he didn't care as much about money as he thought he did - although he's back making it now, of course. He just spends it on different things these days - much of it on travelling with his 17-year-old boy, Liam, the joy of his life, who has just had a try-out for the Junior Warriors. He might buy a house again one day but he doesn't know that it'll be a flash one. He's a different person now. He could be a different person again in a few years' time. "It's one of the great things about being human. You can change your mind."

He said: "What I wouldn't mind doing is being a food critic. I'd have to have a pseudonym."

A pseudonym! He'd have to have a disguise.

He eats out three times a day, every day. It must cost a fortune. "I don't care. I don't eat at flash restaurants all the time," he said, while considering the Atlantic toothfish with fondant potato, caper, lime and parsley emulsion. It was from a sustainable fishery. Did he care? "Yes," he said, firmly. He knew what I was getting at: that a man who once promoted dwarf boxing is not the sort of man who would care about sustainable fisheries. The dwarf bout, he tried to persuade me, was about being "an equal opportunities employer". It was selling your grandmother by another name. "They wanted to do it." Aha! His father wants to do it, he's always bugging him to have a go in a Fight For Life bout, but he won't let him. He could box his dad. "No. I'd never do that. He's 67. Goodness gracious me." He spluttered a bit, then he said: "The honest truth is I don't think there'd be a huge amount of media value in dad boxing." Now that is the honest truth. "He'd probably go well, too."

It might be odd that he's a foodie. But why not? That he's an odd sort of foodie is no surprise at all. He gets obsessions. Currently he has Nandos for his tea, almost every night. I should try it. What he eats for breakfast depends on "what stage I'm going through. If I'm at a weight loss stage, it's always porridge with two cappuccinos." If not, it's corn fritters. Or perhaps the eggs and hollandaise with smoked snapper or ... No, this could go on forever. He never eats at home. There's nothing in his fridge except fruit and coconuts.

He is mad about coconut milk and drinks it twice a day, at 2pm and 4pm. "I know what you'll say. You'll say: 'He's OCD. He has to have his coconuts at a precise time."' I will say that he spent a long time telling me about a genius invention for cutting a plug out of coconuts that is sold for three bucks at New World. He tried to make me go to New World with him, after lunch, to see the things.

But, really, he's not an obsessive sort. I was assembling a Peking duck pancake for him. "No. No. You have to put the sauce on first. That's essential. I'm very particular like that."

He is able to be very particular because he lives on his own, which he loves because "I don't have any drama". His mum does his cleaning, which I said was tragic, but he says it isn't and that he pays her. He hasn't had a girlfriend for a couple of years and has no plans to get one. He split up with Liam's mum, Julie, when Liam was just a few months old. He said they had gotten together very young. There was a bit more to the story than that, it emerged quite a bit later. He wasn't playing up? "Don't ask." he said. I asked Liam, who had turned up and stayed for lunch. "Don't ask," he said. His father said: "It's not the proudest moment of my life."

Anyway they are all great friends now and he gets on so well with Liam's stepfather that he's told him if he and Julie ever break up, he can come and live with him. God knows what he'd be like to live with. A bit tricky, I'd say. "I don't know. I got on really well with Mango and Church."

He got on really well with me, too, after all those years of avoiding me. But I suspect he knew he would. He's a salesman.

The Hydr8 ZERO David vs Goliath fight is on tonight at the Claudelands Arena, Hamilton, and on Sky Pay Per View.

- NZ Herald

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