Daniel Geale trying to become a star the old-fashioned way
NEW YORK -- For decades, longer even, the middleweight division has been the domain of some of the boldest, baddest men in boxing. There was Sugar Ray Robinson, the flamboyant great who would wage war in the ring one month then come back a few months later and wage another. There was Marvin Hagler, the man who did his road work in army boots and couldn't stand fights that ended in decisions.
There was Jake LaMotta, Carlos Monzon and James Toney.
Today, there is Daniel Geale who... well, frankly, looks and talks a lot like your favorite English teacher.
It's true. Gary Shaw, Geale's track-suit-wearing, tough-talking promoter is more intimidating than him. Ask Shaw about the first time he met Geale. It was 2011, in Germany, where Geale was preparing to face Sebastian Sylvester for the IBF belt. Shaw had heard of Geale -- he scouted him at the 2000 Olympics -- but didn't think about promoting him until he was approached by Vic Darchinyan's people, who were friendly with Geale, asking him to do it. When Shaw arrived at Geale's press conference, he noticed a nondescript 5-foot-10, 160-pound man in a T-shirt leaning against a wall.
When told that was Geale, Shaw said, "I'll be honest, I didn't think I had much."
One look at Geale, and chances are you would share Shaw's reflexive reaction. At an open workout on Monday, Geale sat on a ring apron and chatted up a group of reporters. Had Geale not been sporting boxing shoes and hand wraps, he could have been mistaken for one. Mop topped with thin black hair and a slender frame, Geale quietly answered questions. He talked about his boxing beginnings in Tasmania, an island state in southern Australia, where he began boxing at eight. He talked about playing cricket, tennis and Aussie rules football, but gravitating towards boxing because nobody in his gym could handle his speed. He talked about his gym, Gringe Old School Boxing, where he trains kids between fights.
He talked and talked and talked, blandly, boringly, with the only trace of controversy coming when he remarked that WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin -- the wrecking ball who has laid waste to several contenders in the 160-pound division - -"has not been tested."
"There is nothing I can say about Daniel that is going to be a headline catcher," Shaw said. "He is just a hard worker."
But he can fight. Geale (29-1) doesn't possess the crunching power of Golovkin or the flash and style of Sergio Martinez, but he is pinpoint accurate and fights with relentless pressure. He picked up the IBF belt in 2011, beating Sylvester in Germany by split decision. The next year he was back in Germany, taking the WBA title off of Felix Sturm in another split decision. A little context: For an outsider, winning a decision in Germany is near impossible. Winning twice? Winning Powerball twice is easier.
Yes, Geale's a winner, but winners don't always sell tickets, draw TV ratings or generate pay-per-view buys. There usually has to be more. Geale doesn't have much power. His last knockout was in 2010, against the then-shot, now retired Roman Karmazin. He's not going to talk tough, either. Recently, Geale was asked by an Australian news organization for some outlandish sound bytes. He was asked to rip Barker and deride Anthony Mundine, his Aussie rival who Geale has split two fights with. Geale politely declined.
In a sport where boorish behavior makes network execs giggle with excitement, Geale is trying to become a star the old-fashioned way.
"All I can tell you is I hope he can," Shaw said. "You shouldn't have to be the type of guy who flushes money down the toilet, who curses, who talks disparagingly about your opponent in order to be appreciated. I'm hoping that's not the case. I believe in the see, feel and smell. You meet Daniel Geale and you say, 'That's a nice kid.' You watch him fight and you say, 'Hey, this kid can really fight.' I hope that's enough."
HBO does, too. On Saturday, Geale will make his U.S. debut when he defends his title against Darren Barker at the Revel Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City (HBO, 9:45 pm). The embattled network has appeared less interested in building stars these days than finding palatable opponents for the ones it already have (Golovkin, Martinez, Andre Ward), and Geale is high on that list. Geale plans to return to Australia for his next fight, presumably for a mandatory title defense against Sturm, but HBO executives are hoping he will be ready for a unification showdown with Golovkin in the spring.
Of course, they will have to make it worth his while. For the privilege of fighting in the U.S., Geale is making in the neighborhood of half a million dollars less than his last fight in Australia with Mundine. And they will have to hope that viewers respond, too. We can pound our fists and decry the lack of interest in the likes of Ward and Guillermo Rigondeaux, two fighters with superstar skills but a fraction of the fan base, but fans want blood, and if they don't get it, they want brashness.
The mold of a great middleweight, a star, is there. Soon, we'll see if Geale can be the one to break it.