A century of history around the ring

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

You could almost feel over a century of history around the ring, when the Boxing New Zealand senior titles were decided in Rotorua on Friday night.

The first National Championships of the newly formed New Zealand Boxing Association were held in the Theatre Royal in Christchurch in 1902.

While the first national titles were contested by a handful of men in four weight divisions, the Rotorua Nationals involved young men and women, in a myriad of senior and age-group competition divisions.

One aspect that has never changed over the years is the motivation to return home as the current New Zealand National champion. 

Laid out on finals night, is a glittering array of serious silverware that tells their own tale of the history of the sport in New Zealand.

The most prestigious trophy up for grabs is the Jameson Belt awarded to the most scientific senior boxer at the championships. 

First presented by Dublin (whisky) distillers John Jameson and Sons in 1927, the names on the most scientific prize read like a who's who of New Zealand boxing over the decades.

The first man to be presented with the Jameson Belt was Jack O'Sullivan, who annexed the Bantamweight title in Invercargill. 

An interesting aside is that Jack was the father of legendary thoroughbred trainer Dave O'Sullivan and grandfather of champion jockey Lance O'Sullivan. 

Over the years the majority of Jameson Belt winners have come from the lighter weight divisions, where the boxers danced round ring, instead of engaging in heavy battle.

The only heavyweight to earn the right to have the Jameson Belt wrapped around his waist was Shane Cameron in 2001. 

Before the introduction of junior championships in the 1960's, the titles were open championships, with the youngest man to win a senior national crown being Paddy McNally from Otago, who won the flyweight title in 1958 at just fourteen years of age. 

The diversity of the sport changed forever, when the 1996 NZBA Annual General Meeting passed a resolution that allowed women to participate in amateur boxing contests.

The growth of women's boxing in the country is shown by the rise from just two female bouts in 1997, to female entries making up over a third of the 150 competitors in Rotorua.

The Boxing New Zealand National Championships have become a Mecca for many who stepped into the ring in combat.

Tall tales and big punches accompany proceedings as the old-timers reminisce about former days of glory. 

Along with the history engraved on the championship trophies, there was a multitude of stories of the past, being told ringside in Rotorua.

There were a few veterans at the Rotorua Nationals who have forgotten more about the sport than most will gleam in a lifetime.

Like Tom O'Connor, who was recognised for his services to boxing in the 2017 Queens Birthday Honours List.

Tom, who has lived most of his life in the Deep South of the country, quietly stated that he had been to 58 National Boxing Championships. 

Another is Matamata's Keith Walker, who has the distinction of officiating and administrating boxing at six Olympic Games. Starting as a fresh faced ten year old, Keith has been part of “Our” sport in New Zealand for some sixty-six continuous years. 

When the curtain came down on the Boxing New Zealand showcase in Rotorua on Friday night, focus and attention, quickly turned to next year's Nationals in twelve months time. 

Go the Steamers.



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