By PETER JESSUP
Anthony Mundine vows he will leave New Zealanders with memories of his first fight in Auckland "for years and years".
"They'll be talking about it forever."
Mundine, with a 16-1 record to back the big talk, reckons he has too much God-given talent for local veteran and fitness fanatic Sean Sullivan (54-10).
The bout is shaping as youth and speed against experience and stamina.
Mundine, despite the cries of critics who would like to see him flattened, is a talented fighter with good fist and footwork and a power-punch. The 34-year-old Sullivan's best chance is to push the fight to later rounds and count on wearing down the 27-year-old former league star.
"I expect him to come out hard. He's proved he can mix it with the best," said Mundine of the opponent he will face at ASB Stadium on February 1.
"He's courageous and willing. But really, I feel on top of my game and it doesn't matter what Sean Sullivan does. Not every fighter is as gifted with what I've been gifted with. He'll find out that he can't compete with me skill-wise.
"People will see that on February 1. I want to give the people of Auckland something to talk about, not for weeks but for years and years."
Mundine tore up a three-year, $600,000-a-season deal with the St George-Illawarra Dragons to seek his future in the ring and still pursues a world title, claiming he learned so much from his only loss, to world title-holder Sven Ottke, that he could down the German any day.
He hadn't sparred before that fight but has done 100 rounds in preparation for Sullivan.
Manager Khoder Nasser won't say what his man will earn for the bout, nor how much the Aucklander will get.
Rumour has it that Sullivan is promised $30,000. But clearly Mundine's pay-TV deal with Foxtel is lucrative enough because the pair were in no hurry to secure New Zealand screening rights. Negotiations were still underway this week with TVNZ, TV3 and Sky, and the late arrangement is a sure sign they are well-compensated already.
Nasser assured fans that there would be a deal to show the fight live in New Zealand.
Part of the reason for that is the interest in seeing Mundine get the bejesus knocked out of him. Plenty of Aussies back the other guy - whoever that might be - against the guy they regard as a loudmouth Aborigine with bad associations with Islam. His pay-per-view has always been big, the auditoriums always sold out.
The World Boxing Council stripped Mundine of his ranking after his comments following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
"Americans called it terrorism but if you understand the religion and the way of life it's about fighting for God's laws, and America has brought it on themselves with what they've done in history," Mundine said then.
Now he is more circumspect. "I was just being truthful but the message was conveyed in a way that made people want to cut me down," he said this week.
"The United States needs to look at its foreign policy and maybe they can save lives rather than take lives ... war is not the answer."
Islam is a big part of his life and he prays daily. "The more I learn about it the more I can see it is true to God. It's about humanity; protecting us from ourselves."
Many would say that protection from himself is just what Mundine needs. He accepts that some people will always find error in his ways because he is outspoken against the status quo, be it attacks on Cathy Freeman for not doing enough for Aboriginal rights, slating rival Laurie Daley for "running on old legs", or claiming racism was rife in league when he was left out of the Australian team in preference to Brad Fittler.
But there are no apologies.
"My religion makes me stronger. It gives me a sense of focus and makes my life more righteous. I don't dwell on the past."
The past includes his father's 96-fight career - an incredible number - for 14 losses. Tony's biggest fight was a loss to world champion Carlos Monzon in Buenos Aires in 1974. He was also KO'd by Alex Sua at Carlaw Park nearly 10 years later.
Sua is training Sullivan, Tony training his son. Anthony Mundine agrees that "Dad's success drives me," but denies there is history driving him, too.
"I've always had my own dreams."
Tony Mundine once held four Australian weight division titles simultaneously. Sullivan now holds five in New Zealand, from welterweight (147lb / 66.6kg) through light-middleweight, middleweight, super-middleweight to light-heavy (175lb).
The younger Mundine's website is headlined "The Rise and Rise of Anthony Mundine" and certainly Anthony's promotion through boxing's rankings since quitting league in May 2000 has been meteoric. Never before has a fighter with no amateur career contested a world title within 18 months of going pro.
"It's been good, man - a ride I'll never forget. But my passion and desire for success are still burning."
He went "walkabout" from St George, disappearing to San Francisco mid-season to stay with a family with whom he was billeted during a juniors basketball representative tour in 1990 - more proof of his sporting prowess.
When he returned he declared that "boxing is a sport, the rest including league are just games," and by early July had scored his first win over a poorly conditioned Kiwi middleweight, Gerard Zohs.
Among the wreckage since then are Aussie champion Marc Bargero, Pan-Asian champion Timo Masua - KO'd in spectacular lights-out style before he hit the canvas - and fellow Auckland hardman Mike Makata. Mundine won a split decision over Sam Solimon, though some reckon Solimon was denied.
Solimon has since won a 12-round decision over Sullivan, a good indication that the Auckland crowd can expect a real contest.
Mundine last fought in November last year, a creditable R11 TKO over former Aussie and IBO world champion Ricky Thornberry, a real hard-nut also beaten by Ottke. His older brother Noel, retired from the ring, is trainer and both are coming to Auckland to help Sullivan gear up to beat Mundine.
Sullivan did the same for Thornberry ahead of his world title bid and fought on that undercard. The loss to Jerry Elliott was one of three losses from the nine fights Sullivan has had in the past year. He rates that work ethic as putting him in primo condition and position to take out "The Man". "I think he's taking me lightly and that's good."
Sua: "When I fought his father I was super, super-fit - I attacked him, didn't give him the time to think and to settle and that's how it has to be for Sean." He predicts a "magnificent fight, regardless."
Sullivan has been doing road work from 5am, weights from 9-10am with world powerlifting champion Willie Tau, sparring and bag work from 4-6pm, with yoga sessions in between.
Noel Thornberry, who will conduct the final tune-up, has great respect for Mundine. "He's fast, he's elusive. Once he gets that left jab going he moves well.
"He packs a wallop. He deserves respect - he's no mug," the elder Thornberry said.
"You can't let him do his thing from the outside. Sean has to put his chin on Mundine's chest, grapple and hold, take it to the later rounds and wear him down."
He has no doubt about Sullivan's ability to win on February 1: "I've never worked with a fighter who has more determination and stamina."
Mundine arrives on Monday. Both fighters are likely to be right on the super-middleweight limit of 168lb (76.2kg) at weigh-in.
The undercard features Auckland heavyweights Paula Mataele and Richard Tutaki, Willie O'Neill of Henderson against Tauranga's Hemi Niha, and Colin Hunia versus Moroni Schwalger at light-heavy, and Australian welterweight champion Solomon Egberime against South Aucklander Iona Taina.
JUST THE FACTS
* Born May 21 1975, seven months after father Tony lost his only world title challenge against Argentine great Carlos Monzon for the WBA middleweight title.
* 179cm, 76kg.
* Played 115 games for St George Dragons 1993-96 and 1998-2000; 11 games for Brisbane 1997; total 126 games for 59 tries.
* Partner Danielle, mother to his son Rahim (18 months), with daughter Jada, 4, from a previous relationship.
* Practising Muslim. Doesn't drink or smoke and is anti-drugs. Lives in Sydney's eastern suburbs and trains at father Tony's Redfern gym.
* Retired from rugby league May 2000
* Boxing record 16-1 (13 KOs)
1) First fight v NZ super-middleweight champion Gerard Zohs, KO R4
2) v Nic Taumafia, KO R6
3) v Heath Stanton, KO R8
4) v Ian McLeod, Pan-Asian Boxing Association middleweight champion, KO R9
5) v Marc Bargero, Australian middleweight champion, KO R7
6) v Timo Masua, PABA super-middleweight champion, KO R3
7) v Mike Makata R5 TKO
8) v Kevin Pompey, Canada, KO R7
9) v Sam Solimon, Mundine won a split decision over 12 rounds.
10) v Guy Walters, 37-year-old former Commonwealth light-heavy champion, KO R2
11) Only loss, December 1, 2001, R10 KO by world middleweight champion Sven Ottke in Dortmund, Germany.
12) v Brad Mayo KO R10
13) v Roland Francis KO R8
14) v Darren Obole KO R6
15) v Lester Ellis KO R3
16) v Soon Bates KO R3
17) Latest fight, November 2002, beat Ricky Thornberry TKO R11.