Anthony Mundine Biography
Professional rugby player, boxer
Anthony Mundine is one of Australia's most celebrated—and controversial—athletes. A member of the Aboriginal, or indigenous Australian, community, Mundine began speaking out on racism during a storied career as the country's highest paid rugby player, and continued to do so after he made a major switch over to professional boxing. "People don't like me for speaking out and being my own man, but it doesn't matter," he told a journalist from the Canberra Times for an article that appeared in the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire news service. "To be totally honest I really feel that we live in a society that wants to dictate the person: become a certain type of man, tell you what to do. I'm an Aboriginal man that speaks out and if I see something, I speak the truth."
Mundine was born on May 21, 1975, at a time when his father, Tony Mundine, was enjoying an impressive run as one of Australia's top boxers. The elder Mundine had held Commonwealth and national boxing titles, and went on to a second career as a sports trainer and promoter. As a teen, Mundine spent great deal of time at his father's gym, and even took part in some amateur boxing matches when he was 17 years old.
But he was also a talented basketball player, and excelled in rugby, the somewhat brutal version of football that is popular in Britain and other nations with historical ties to the former British Empire. At the age of 18, he made his debut in league rugby, and went on to a stellar career as a member of the St. George-Illawarra Dragons, the Sydney franchise in the National Rugby League (NRL), the top professional organization for the sport in Australia. He played the position known as the five-eighth, also called as the standoff, who serves as an additional center for the team's attack line.
Mundine emerged as a top athlete in the sport, but bore the nickname "Choc" on his team. The term seemed to represent the lingering racism that members of Australia's Aboriginal population still endured. They were the first inhabitants of the continent, with origins dating back perhaps as early as 48,000 BCE, but were nearly wiped out thanks to the encroachment of European settlers beginning in the eighteenth century. Once, in a 1998 championship game, Mundine was the target of nasty racist comments on the field from an opposing player, who paid a hefty fine. That incident and others spurred Mundine to become more outspoken about race relations in Australia, and his sometimes inflammatory statements aroused major public debate. Invited to write a newspaper column for The Australian, a national newspaper, Mundine earned further scorn for some of his opinions.
Despite being one of the top rugby players in the country, Mundine was consistently bypassed for membership on the Australian national teams. Other players of Aboriginal origin had often been selected by the sport's judges, he conceded, but never ones who attracted as much attention as him for their views. In 1999, he aroused further scorn with his conversion to Islam. Then, in April of 2000, he vanished for nearly ten days. He had gone to United States to visit a family he once lived with as a high-school basketball star in the early 1990s, and resurfaced carrying the autobiography of Muhammad Ali, the American boxing great and convert to Islam. At a press conference, he announced he was leaving rugby, and turned down a contract that would have set a new NRL salary record.
Mundine spent a year working on his own autobiography, which he titled The Man—a nickname for himself that he had often used—and trained with his father to enter the ring once again. His career switch was a major media story in Australia, and critics waited with some degree of gleeful apprehension to see him knocked out by far more talented fighters. Instead, Mundine racked up an impressive record, winning seven of his first nine fights by knockout. His detractors claimed that the boxing wins came from being matched against older or less able boxers in the Australian super-middleweight class.
Mundine was the subject of further controversy when he was asked by a television interviewer for his opinion, as a Muslim, on the 9/11 attacks on the United States. "It's not about terrorism, it's about fighting for God's laws and America's brought it upon themselves for what they've done," he replied, according to Kathy Marks in London's Independent newspaper. The reaction, both public and official, was swift and severe: he was stripped of his world ranking of No. 26 by the World Boxing Council, and the International Boxing Federation advised him not to visit the United States any time soon. He apologized on television for his comments, noting that he knew Americans who had been personally affected by the tragedy, and publicly repudiated terrorism.
Mundine eventually resumed his boxing career, and in June of 2003 won the World Boxing Association (WBA) super-middleweight title by beating Antwun Echols, an American fighter, in a points decision. He defended his title once successfully, but then lost it to Manny Siaca of Puerto Rico. Later in 2003, Mundine was forced to drop out of some scheduled fights when he became ill from a virus that was sweeping through Sydney. He suffered an injured ankle in 2004.
In August of 2005, Mundine fought Denmark's Mikkel Kessler for the world WBA super middleweight title, but lost; even his strongest critics noted that it was one of the best fights of his career to date. He also seemed to have mellowed somewhat. His penchant for "headline-grabbing comments are starting to give way to a more measured, considered approach," noted the writer of the Canberra Times article. His next bouts were to be with onetime Australian Olympic boxer Danny Green, also known as "The Green Machine," and were scheduled for April of 2006. The fight was expected to be the largest grossing bout in Australian boxing history with a shared purse of $5.5 million for the boxers, according to the Web-based Australian journal The Age. But Mundine was also hoping to use his celebrity status to achieve more philanthropic goals. "My people are pretty much on the brink, with health, with housing," he explained in the Canberra Times interview. "I've got major plans: building hospitals, building schools, you know—giving back to the community and the people. Using my status—that's why I have to be the best—to get governments to look at certain issues."
The Man, Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2000.
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, September 7, 2005.
Independent (London, England), October 26, 2001): 31; November 30, 2001): 27; August 5, 2003, p. 22.
News of the World (London, England), June 12, 2005, p. 81.
Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), September 2, 2001): 36, p. 39.
"Millionaires in Working Class Fight," The Age, www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/01/31/1138590503795.html?from=top5 (February 16, 2006).