Dethroning the king required something a little bit special and a Golovkin like right hand!
Blood flows from the flesh exposed above my left eye. This is the first time I’ve been partially blind in a fight.
A clash of heads in the third round leaves a good chance of the fight being stopped after the fourth round and a points loss after a slower start on my behalf.
Knowing these circumstances we now face my Coach does his best to get the fight stopped earlier which would force a change in result to a TD. “He can’t see, it was a clash of heads ref, how is he supposed to fight, he can’t see”.
As a fighter my pride would never allow me to feel at peace with a technical draw I would rather the fight be stopped later and take my chances or go out on my shield.
Priding myself on having a real career there is no other option otherwise let’s face it I would have never taken a fight with a legend in his hometown, over twelve rounds on twenty days notice. “Leave it coach, it’s ok I’ll catch him, let it go, I’ll catch him”.
Up and ready to go the Doctor is called to the side of the ring. If you are familiar with the Russian sports scientist 'Grigory' the star of the Netflix documentary 'Icarus', everything apart from the colour of his hair reminds me of him. He glanced at my eye before asking in his unique tone of voice “You want to continue”? “Of course Doc” I replied, “Ok no problem” he responded with each time he was called ringside to check the vagina shaped wound now sitting just above my left eye.
Each round I struggled to work out the chaos of Sam Soliman. My backhand (the one shot I needed to land flush) would find itself a few centimetres off each time I unleashed it towards the oncoming target. Damn another opportunity missed. “Ok Mark back to what got you here, box” my inner dialogue reasons while running through what to try next.
I drop my lead hand, load my weight in the lead hip ever so slightly and begin firing my jab, bang, finally the old cliche of the jab being the most important punch in boxing comes to fruition. Sam rushed to close the space again, I fire a step back, hook, bang! For the first time in the fight I begin to land clean shots and have discovered I can outbox this old legend at long range.
Enjoying the contact between my hands and Sam's face regularly for the first time in the fight I am quick to bring myself back to the reality of the situation. Remembering all things are not fair in Love and War as the voice of reason reminds me “You won’t knock him out like this", sure I know I would out-box him if I continued to pick up rounds but the success I was having had come too late as I spent the earlier rounds figuring this puzzle out.
It was never in the plan to try our chances and box to a decision, this was after all his send off, his night to celebrate, not a night for upsets.
This was his home and our story has already been written.
Knowing the fight had to end by KO I pulled my big boy pants up, bit down on my gum shield and thought fuck it. Maintaining pressure throughout I swung for the fences as each opportunity presented and vanished almost simultaneously. Having some success I seemed to get better as each round passed. The cut above my eye worsened, my trunks now pink impaired my vision but I kept marching forward.
Each time I thought I was about to get it done the wiley old cat would adapt.
He was clever, in shape and knew every trick in the book, showing why he was able to have longevity and success throughout his storied career.
As the final thirty seconds approached I would bite down for a final effort and hope to land the one punch that ends this drama filled night like a rocky movie.
Tonight though I wasn’t watching a movie. No Cinderella man story for me. The final exchange ends in an embrace, a few words of congratulations as a fantastic career came to an end.
The Sam Soliman I remember will forever remain a great ambassador for the sport, he came across as a gentlemen and to the sixteen year old version of me was an idol as I remembered watching him at home on the TV some fourteen years earlier.
I gave it my best shot under the circumstances I faced and came up short, with that I can hold my head high.
It was an honour to share twelve rounds with a legend of Australian Boxing.
Enjoy retirement Sam.