21 April, 2009
Lionel Edward Rose is an Australian bantamweight boxer, now retired, who became the first Aboriginal in boxing history to win a world title.
Born and raised at Jackson's Track near the Victorian town of Warragul, Rose grew up in hardship, learning to box from his father, Roy, a useful fighter on the tent-show circuit. According to the boxing historian Grantlee Kieza, Rose "sparred with rags on his hands in a ring made from fencing wire stretched between trees".
At the age of 10, Rose struck up a friendship with a press photographer, Graham Walsh, who encouraged him and bought him his first pair of gloves. Aged about 15, he came under the tutelage of Frank Oates, a Warragul trainer. He won the Australian amateur flyweight title at age 15.
Rose began his professional boxing career on 9 September 1969, outpointing Mario Magriss over eight rounds. This fight was in Warragul, but the majority of Rose's fights were to be held in Melbourne. Along the way he was helped by Jack and Shirley Rennie, in whose Melbourne home he stayed, training every day in their backyard gym.
After five wins in a row, on 23 July 1965, he was rematched with Singtong Por Tor, whom Rose had beaten in a 12-round decision. Por Tor inflicted Rose's first defeat, beating him on points in six rounds. On 14 October of the same year, he had his first fight abroad, beating Laurie Ny by a decision in 10 rounds at Christchurch, New Zealand.
Over his next nine fights, he had a record of eight wins and one loss, with one knockout. The lone loss in those nine fights was to Ray Perez, against whom Rose split a pair of bouts. Then, on 28 October 1966, Rose met Noel Kunde at Melbourne, for the Australian bantamweight title. Rose won the title by defeating Kunde in a fifteen round decision.
He won one more belt in 1966, and eight in 1967 (including a thirteenth round knockout win against Rocky Gattelari to defend his Australian championship) before challenging Fighting Harada for the world's bantamweight title on 26 February 1968, in Tokyo. Rose made history by becoming the first Aboriginal to be a world champion boxer when he defeated Harada in a 15-round decision. This win made Rose an instant national hero in Australia, and an icon among Aboriginals. A public reception at Melbourne Town Hall was witnessed by a crowd of more than 100,000. On 2 July of that year, he returned to Tokyo to retain his title with a 15 round decision win over Takao Sakurai. Then, on 6 December, he met Chucho Castillo at the Inglewood Forum in Inglewood, California. Rose beat Castillo by decision, but the points verdict in favour of him infuriated many in the pro-Castillo crowd, and a riot began: 14 fans and fight referee Dick Young were hospitalised for injuries received.
Rose was Australian of the Year in 1968, the first Aboriginal to be awarded the honour. The same year he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
On 8 March 1969, Rose retained the title with a 15-round decision over Alan Rudkin, but five months later he returned to Inglewood, where he faced Ruben Olivares on 22 August. Rose lost the world bantamweight title to Olivares via a fifth-round knockout.
Rose continued boxing after his defeat against Olivares, but, after defeats against practically unknown fighters, many believed he was done as a prime fighter. However, he was far from finished: he upset future world lightweight champion Itshimatsu Suzuki on 10 October 1970 in a 10-round decision, and once again, he positioned himself as a world title challenger, albeit in the lightweight division, 17 pounds over the division where he crowned himself world champion.
Despite having lost to Jeff White for the Australian lightweight title, Rose got another world title try when he faced WBC world junior lightweight champion Yoshiaki Numata, on 30 May 1971, at Hiroshima. Numata beat Rose by a fifteen round decision, and Rose announced his retirement soon after.
In 1975, he came back, but after losing four of his next six bouts, including one against Rafael Limon, Rose decided to retire for good. Rose compiled a record of 42 wins and 11 losses as a professional boxer, with 12 wins by knockout.
Lionel Rose was able to manage his money and make good financial decisions, and he has enjoyed the monetary benefits his career brought him. Lionel was showcased in 2002 in the Ring Magazine section Where are they now?.
During his off time from boxing in the 1970s, Rose embarked on a successful singing career in Australia having hits with I Thank You and Please Remember Me in 1970.
In 1996, Rose presented young burns-attack victim Tjandamurra O'Shane with his world-title belt, hoping to speed the youngster's recovery. O'Shane, also an Aborigine, had been the victim of an horrific attack in Cairns the previous year.
In 2007 Rose suffered a stroke that left him with speech and movement difficulties.