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Jeff Horn: Australian contender, world’s toughest school teacher

Photo credit: Glenn Hunt
07
Dec

Have Jeff Horn stand on a street corner and ask people to guess what his occupation is. Professional boxer isn’t likely to be in the Top 10 answers.

He has no tattoos or piercings and his idea of vice is the occasional hand of poker. He’d probably get a few guesses of school teacher and those people would technically be correct. Horn does hold a Bachelor of Education degree to teach secondary school from Griffith University and had previously worked at a child care center.

Credit to his teachers, who served as positive role models for him in school, he says.

But beneath his clean cut look is a fighter born out of necessity, a man who took to the sport of boxing as a way to retain his self-respect. Along the way, he became a contender.

“What got me into boxing was getting picked on in school. I got into a couple of fights; I came off second best in the majority of them. I was outnumbered in one of them. I decided I’m not gonna let this keep happening and I’ve just gotta give it a good fight,” remembers the Brisbane, Australia native, now 28, about being jumped by a gang in high school.

His current trainer, Glenn Rushton, was the first man to put gloves on him. After a year of showing him self-defense tactics, Rushton made him a prophetic assurance.

“He said, ‘I reckon you could do boxing and I could take you to the Olympics in four years time and make you a world champion some day.’ He’s done half of that so far,” said Horn (15-0-1, 10 knockouts).

Horn did make it to the Olympics in 2012, winning his first two matches in London before dropping a decision in the quarterfinals. And he’ll take his next step toward the second half of that promise on Saturday, when he faces two-time world title challenger Ali Funeka (39-5-3, 31 KOs) at Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

The 10-round welterweight fight will support the vacant WBO heavyweight title fight between unbeaten big men Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr.

The fight itself should be a test for Horn, who is fighting a durable South African, who has been in with Joan Guzman, Nate Campbell and Zahir Raheem. Though 10 years Horn’s senior, Funeka has been on a roll of late, decisioning unbeaten fighter Viskhan Murzabekov in Russia earlier this year and has won his last three fights.

“I guess age can be experience at some point. I don’t think 38 is too old, definitely not over 40. I’m sure (Funeka)’s come to fight and he’s got a lot of KOs on his record, so I’m expecting him to be a hard puncher, just to stay away from his hard right hand,” said Horn.

“Ali Funeka is the tallest opponent that Jeff’s fought as a professional,” said Rushton, who manages and trains Horn out of his Stretton Boxing Club, while Dean Lonergan of Duco Events promotes him. “You don’t want (Funeka) chasing you around the ring because he’s like a giraffe coming after you. He can move around the ring, so Jeff will certainly need to be on his game.”

More so than just getting the win, Horn will be trying to make a name for himself on the international stage. That’s because Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank Promotions, will be in the crowd as Ruiz’s promoter. Among the names mentioned for the next opponent, another 38-year-old fighter: Manny Pacquiao.

Rushton says Lonergan brought up Horn’s name while they were negotiating the Parker-Ruiz fight. What was said must’ve appealed to Arum.

“I think he’s looking at Jeff and going, ‘Here’s a young guy, the world’s toughest school teacher and he’s the ‘Wonder from Down Under’ and certainly he’s tough.’ He’s a very marketable guy, Jeff. He’s what we call a middle-class Australian. He’s a former school teacher. He’s very promotable,” said Rushton.

And if he got the shot, Horn naturally thinks he’d pull it off.

“I think Pacquiao’s getting on a little bit. He’s probably past his best days; that’s for sure. He hasn’t stopped anyone at welterweight for a while now. I don’t class myself as a big guy but, compared to Pacquiao, I’m a little bit bigger than him. I think I’d out-muscle him,” Horn says.

Rushton is realistic about the changes of getting tipped for Pacquiao’s upcoming fight date, which would likely take place in April or May to work around the Filipino fighter’s day job as a senator in his country.

“We realize that when it comes to fighting a legend like Manny Pacquiao, you have to take a ticket and stand in line. We’re not fools; we just realize that all we can do is keep winning as many as we can, put ourselves into the mandatory position and then be nimble and ready to fight in any opportunity that we’re given.”

 

Brought up tough

Horn has been used to tough fights since he was facing odds on the schoolyard as a teenager. That penchant for taking on a challenging syllabus has carried over into the boxing ring. In just his second amateur fight, Horn won the Queensland state title and drew the defending champion David Biddle at the Nationals in his fourth fight.

Horn lost the fight but Rushton prophesied yet again that he would never lose to that fighter. And in three subsequent meetings, Horn’s hand was raised en route to three straight national titles beginning in 2009.

As a pro, Horn faced Samuel Colomban, who entered at 21-5, in just his fifth fight, knocking him out in 78 seconds to win the Australian welterweight title. Colomban had never been stopped before or since.

Two fights later, Horn faced Naoufel Ben Rabeh, who fought Juan Urango and Lovemore Ndou in close bids for the IBF 140-pound title in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Horn banged out the six-round decision, effectively sending Rabeh into retirement.

The most tense moment for Horn so far as a pro came in the third round of his fight earlier this year against Randall Bailey, a former WBO junior welterweight and IBF welterweight titleholder. Horn had put him down earlier in the fight before a right hand high on the head from Bailey rang his bell, perforated his ear drum and forced Horn’s glove to touch the canvas for a knockdown.

“I learned how to take a very good shot; that’s for sure,” said Horn, who won after Bailey retired in the corner.

The philosophy so far has been to constantly force Horn to adjust and grow working toward something bigger.

“Why take the easy fights and then, by the time I’ve got a title shot, I’ll be probably 40 years old?” Horn asks.

On Saturday, Horn will try to remain unbeaten and hope another win over a ranked fighter is the difference in him usurping Timothy Bradley Jr.’s No. 1 ranking for the WBO welterweight title, improving his odds ever just so of getting the call for a Pacquiao fight. First he must deal with Funeka, who is no one’s steppingstone.

“It will not be an easy fight but, then again, I never look for easy fights for Jeff. That doesn’t harden you to fight the likes of Errol Spence Jr, Kell Brook, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman or Manny Pacquiao, does it?” asked Rushton.

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.

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