'He gave us something to fight for'

Tributes pour in for Lionel Rose, the first Australian aboriginal to win a boxing world title, after he died at age 62.

    Rose lands a left on Harada as he claims the belt over 15 rounds in Tokyo in 1958 [GALLO/GETTY]

    Sports and political figures paid tribute to "greatest Australian boxing hero" Lionel Rose, the first Aboriginal fighter to win a world title, who died over the weekend aged 62.

    Rose outpointed Masahiko 'Fighting' Harada in Tokyo in 1968 at the age of 19, becoming a national hero and an icon for Australia's indigenous community.

    Hundreds of thousands lined Melbourne's streets to welcome him home after his triumph.

    He was named Australian of the Year later that year, the first aborigine to be awarded the honour and was also appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

    Rose went on to make three successful world bantamweight title WBC defences against Japan's Takao Sakurai, Mexican Chucho Castillo and Englishman Alan Rudkin before he lost the title to Mexican Ruben Olivares in a fifth-round knockout in August 1969.

    Abiding respect

    Rose, who had been in ill health after suffering a stroke in 2007 that left him partially paralysed in a wheelchair and with speech difficulties, won abiding national respect for his achievements.

    Former Australian Boxing Federation president Brad Vocale, who is also Rose's cousin, said on Monday that the late fighter was an Australian sporting legend.

    A teenaged Rose enjoys a pipe as he wraps his hands before a 1963 bout [GALLO/GETTY]

    "He created history. He made all Australians proud, especially my race, my people," he said.

    "He gave us all something to fight for and something to live for."

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement: "Lionel Rose was an Australian champion in every sense of the word, and an inspiration to all of us."

    Aboriginal Anthony Mundine, the two-time WBA super-middleweight champion, said on Twitter: "To all my followers it's a sad day as the best fighter in Australian history has passed, Lionel Rose. RIP mate."

    Three-time world champion Jeff Fenech said: "Lionel was not only a great fighter but a wonderful human being. He was an absolute legend and I was honoured to know him as a friend."

    WBC president Jose Sulaiman announced a day of mourning on Tuesday for the 170 countries of the World Boxing Council as a mark of respect.

    'Special champion'

    On the WBC website, Sulaiman called Rose a "special champion, who had the passionate idolatry and support not only from his Aborigine people, but also from the whole (of) Australia and the world.

    "The president of the WBC, Jose Sulaiman, on behalf of the board of governors, deeply regrets to announce the passing away of the greatest boxing hero of Australia and former WBC bantamweight champion of the world, Lionel Rose, who was an Aborigine and who struggled all of his life to project and defend his people."

    WBC official Frank Quill said Rose was one of the first sportsmen to make a stand against the apartheid regime of South Africa.

    "He became world champion at a time when, in two or three states of Australia, Aboriginal people weren't entitled to vote," Quill said.

    Quill said Rose refused a big money fight in South Africa in 1970 at a time when he was in need of money.

    "He considered the fight and if he had taken it he would have had to go there (South Africa) as an honorary 'white'," Quill said.

    "So he said: 'I'm not going'.

    Rose finished his professional career after 53 fights with 42 wins, 12 of them by knockout.

    His death follows that of English boxer Henry Cooper and Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros last week.



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