How Lionel Rose Inspired a Nation

By Daniel Attias on January 7, 2014
How Lionel Rose Inspired a Nation
When asked what he thought of the reception Rose replied, “I didn’t think so many cared.”

Rose was named Australian of the year in 1968 following his world title and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire…

Lionel Rose embodied the hopes and dreams of a nation when he won the world bantamweight title in 1968. A young Aboriginal kid from a poverty-stricken settlement, Rose would inspire not only his people but a nation that had only just given the Aboriginal people the right to vote. His rise to the top couldn’t have been better timed and his positive affect on Aboriginal relations will never be forgotten.

Rose was born and raised in the Aboriginal settlement of Jacksons Track in Victoria, Australia in a time when Aboriginal people suffered from poverty, discrimination and were treated as second-class citizens. His father was a tent boxer who earned money fighting on the tent show circuit and he was the first one to show Lionel how to throw a punch and defend himself when he was all but seven years of age.

Rose was a talented young boxer who would become Australian amateur flyweight champion by the age of fifteen and after being overlooked for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 he turned professional.

He racked up five quick wins to start his professional career before dropping a six-round decision to Singtong Por Tor, whom he had beaten over 12 rounds just weeks before.

The loss wasn’t to affect his confidence as he would go on to win twelve of his next thirteen fights before facing Noel Kunde for the Australian bantamweight title.

The Canberra Times left little doubt as to who was the superior boxer.

“Rose dropped Kunde with a right to the head within 30 seconds of the first round and dropped him again with hard punches to the head in the last. In between, Rose took nearly every round from Kunde, hitting him with every kind of punch in an attack to his opponent’s head.”

Rose had won the Australian title at just 18 years of age. He would fight another eight bouts, including a win over the French bantamweight champion, without loss, before defending the title against fellow Australian and former Australian flyweight champion, Rocky Gattellari.

Gattellari was highly touted, the more experienced fighter and had , just two years prior, fought for the WBC flyweight world title against the legendary Salvatore Burruni, which he lost via a 13th round KO.

The fight turned out to be a classic with Rose retaining the title with a knockout. Gattellari would fall into a coma after the bout but thankfully, fully recovered from the injuries he sustained.

The world was now calling. Rose’s trainer and manager, Jack Rennie received a phone call from world champion Fighting Harada’s team and they were officially offered a title shot. Many thought the young, nineteen-year-old Rose wasn’t prepared for a tough, experienced fighter in Harada, not to mention travelling to Harada’s hometown in Japan to fight him but Rennie thought otherwise and they agreed to the fight.

He was seen as an easy mark for the champion Harada, who had been in his fair share of tough fights. It was meant to be a routine defense for the hall of famer but Rose’s exceptional boxing skills would say otherwise.

Rose won the fight, becoming the youngest ever world champion, in a unanimous decision in what was an entertaining and competitive fight. Rose used his longer reach and superior footwork to outbox the champion but it wasn’t until late in the fight that he felt confident in winning the fight.

“Harada is a tough game fighter. I didn’t feel I had him until the 13th or 14th round – that’s when I thought he started to tire.”

The arrival back home in Australia was something much unexpected for Rose and those around him. Five thousand people were there to greet him at the airport when he arrived from Japan; in a parade organized in his honor, more than 100,000 people lined the streets singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” which Rose was more than surprised about. When asked what he thought of the reception he replied, “I didn’t think so many cared.”

Rose was never a brash, big talker but he always wanted what was best for his people, the Aboriginal people, and though he wasn’t accustomed to speaking in front of so many, his love for his people showed in his speech at the civic reception when he simply said, “I won the title for my family, my race and Australia.”

So few words have been uttered and meant so much. Both Aboriginal and white Australians took note of those words and both could find something to take out of them. It was the first time an Aboriginal person had gained such a foothold on the mainstream and it was a real step forward for the Aboriginal cause.

Rose was named Australian of the year in 1968 following his world title and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

His first defense was back in Japan against the unbeaten challenger Takao Sakurai which he won via majority decision.

This was followed by a bout with Mexican Chucho Castillo in a fight that Rose won by split decision, a decision that was to see the pro-Mexican crowd riot afterwards. The fight was a close affair and many observers thought Rose done enough to earn the victory despite the crowd’s reaction.

Next up was the Commonwealth bantamweight champion Alan Rudkin and yet another split decision win for Rose.

The constant media attention, money, fame and struggles with weight were taking their toll on a twenty-year-old-kid who grew up in an environment with little in the way of material wealth. All Lionel wanted was to get back to the peace and quiet of his hometown and to be with his people but the constant media commitments meant little time to do just that.

Rose would lose his title in his next fight against one of the best bantamweights to ever step foot in a ring in Ruben Olivares. Olivares murderous punching power was too much for Rose and he was knocked out in the fifth round.

Rose went up in weight following the loss to Olivares and fought on with varied success, winning five of nine bouts including a WBC super featherweight title fight, which he lost by decision to Yoshiaki Numata.

In 1970 he became one of the first athletes to boycott South Africa by turning down a very lucrative fight in protest of the Apartheid regime.

Rose was a pioneer for Aboriginal people and an Australian boxing hero but his quick rise to fame and fortune would see him squander his money, like so many fighters before and after him.

A comeback was to follow in 1975 but it wasn’t to be a success, he won two of his final six fights.

Lionel Rose retired with a record of 42 wins and 11 losses but more than that he inspired a nation when they most needed it and was a man who transcended boxing; he was an Aboriginal star in a time when the Aboriginal people so desperately needed one. He showed just how much his people could achieve and he paved the way for future indigenous generations to dream big.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Lionel Rose vs Fighting Harada (Colour) 27 Feb 1968 Tokyo, Japan

Lionel Rose - Rocky Gattelari

Ruben Olivares vs Lionel Rose, 22 agosto 1969. Forum, Inglewood, California, USA.

Lionel Rose SD15 Chucho Castillo

Lionel Rose v Alan Rudkin 8 March 1969 Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Lionel Rose - This Is Your Life (Australia)

Former Australian Aboriginal World Champion Boxer Lionel Rose Dies

Lionel (2008) Lionel Rose Documentary

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This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Pete The Sneak 06:39pm, 01/09/2014

    Gotcha! Thanks Mate…Peace.

  2. raxman 06:28pm, 01/09/2014

    Pete - They’re all cousins!!! its a very loose term. I’m not sure if they are literally, like first or second cousins, or if its a distant, distant, distant thing that links most of them.

  3. Pete The Sneak 06:26pm, 01/09/2014

    raxman, yeah, that Mundine scene did grab my attention. I may have heard wrong, but I thought I heard Mr. Rose tell someone there that Anthony was his cousin. Are/were they related, or is that just an Aboriginal term of affection?...Peace.

  4. raxman 05:58pm, 01/09/2014

    Pete the sneak - yeah he was an amazing man. you know right up until just before he died he was still giving to his community. from memory there is stuff in the film where he has been to a fight and all these young and old aboriginals flock around him and he gives time to all of them. and that bit where Anthony Mundine - usually a mouth and an idiot - treats him with such respect, he explains to someone who doesn’t know who Rose is - bantamweight world champion when there was only 1 world champ and 8 divisions - and you can hear the deference in Mundine’s voice
    In fairness to Mundine, he also does a hell of a lot of good work for his people, and the aboriginals in general and the ones in the inner city suburb of redfern where Mundine has his gym and HQ, are doing it really hard

  5. Pete The Sneak 05:45pm, 01/09/2014

    raxman Ol’ mate, thanks much for the tip…Just finished seeing this as a youtube link. Outstanding documentary. Wow! This is HBO/SHOWTIME worthy documentary stuff. What a great fighter, awesome person and incredible individual, that Mr. Rose. Almost made you wish you’d have met him just to shake his hand… I’ve only known about this guy for 2 days, and am already a huge fan. Thanks also Daniel Attias for writing about Mr. Rose on…Peace.

  6. raxman 02:03pm, 01/09/2014

    pete the sneak. check out the documentary - on this article as a youtube link. apart from being a good story, it is a very well made film, feature length and the recipient of awards.

  7. Pete The Sneak 08:15am, 01/09/2014

    I think both Floyd and Manny can be accused of cherry picking throughour their meteoric rises, but it is what it is and such for the most part is the boxing game today. Best versus the best? Depends on your promoter and what cable nertwork you are contracted to. I am certainly not a Floyd fan per se, though I do admire his skills. But, I can’t see Floyd’s legacy being tarnished by his not fighting Manny, anymore than Manny’s being tarnished by his not fighting FMJ. They will both be remembered as great fighters. End of story….As for this article about Lionel Rose, I find it compelling. Wish I could have known/seen more about this incredible individual (so much for my boxing history/knowledge right? But then again, this is why I come to this site), but I will now. Amazing that what he did for the Aboriginal people can be clearly comparable in sports to what Joe Louis/Jackie Robinson did for African Americans and Roberto Clemente did for Latinos…Great stuff…Peace.

  8. Ted 06:57pm, 01/08/2014

    Raxman, Floyd has turned things around and now commands a lot of respect for the way in which he has matured. He no longer will be pilloried except by Pac Tards and other such fanatics. But Floyd has done a tremendous job of makeover and his legacy will be all the better for it.

    He has an opportunity for all-time greatness depending on how many fights he has left. If he quit today, he would be considered among the best of all time. Just my opinion but I didn’t want you to think I was neglecting your sage posts. And yes, I must be very, very careful not to peak too soon , but I have a 7-wek plan to prevent that.

  9. raxman 06:50pm, 01/08/2014

    Jim Crue - I guess it all comes down to perspective. I say a blown up JMM off sets Floyd’s 20 odd months out of the ring. and it could be said mosley looked old after the second round but he was coming off one of his greatest wins. Guerrero and Ortiz don’t rate on any pound for pound list and no way had earned their shots - however both were title holders. it will always come down to how you want to look at Floyd - its as easy to make a cherry pick argument as it is to make one as a super star. I can do the same with manny, deriding him for single style opponents and catch weights or praising him for his dominance over multiply weight classes. the fact is both guys, once stardom was established became particular about who they matched with - but both, in their early years, fought the best (FMJ at 130&135; and Pac 122-30)
    the same cannot be said of a certain kazakhy who 28 fights in to his pro career is a star for beating up journeyman and gate keepers - but he is exciting doing it.
    I know I’m off topic but everyone is talking about Floyd should be fighting GGG at 154 (a weight Golovkin has never made as a pro and spent the last 3 years of his amateur days fighting at middle also but hey lets ignore that) yet if Floyd were to fight danny Garcia coming up from 140 he’d be criticised this is despite the fact that Garcia 27-0 resume shows far superior opposition to that of Golovkins’ 28-0. Garcia, by fighting Khan and Matthysse (with Judah & morales wedge between) both considered “the man” at 140 at the time has actually earned a shot at the 147 champion, yet if Floyd took that fight he’d be cherry picking - one thing mayweather says that has been proven true (both with mosley and canelo) that no matter he does he cant win. no matter who he fights, unless he is beaten, he’ll be pilloried

  10. Jim Crue 06:20pm, 01/08/2014

    Raxman, i guess we can agree to disagree on Floyd. I did not say anything about him being boring or that I did not like boxers. The great Eddie Perkins and Willie Pep are 2 of my all time favorites and boxers they were. And they did not hand pick their opponents.
    The list of fighters you named supports my case. Either they came up in weight, JMM did it for the payday and knew he had no chance, and Floyd paid to be over the limit or they were too old or too inexperienced. His legacy will forever be tarnished because he avoided Mann and others. Would Manny have beaten him? I don’t know but for Floyd to call himself an all time great when he did not meet the best is wrong.
    take care, I love this site.
    To the subject at hand, Rose was a terrific fighter and beating Harada in Japan was no mean feat.

  11. raxman 05:06pm, 01/08/2014

    Jim Crue - although i don’t agree with your: floyd = boring hypothesis, i accept its an opinion you share with many, however i feel that floyd’s defensive work is a thing of beauty and that the make em miss/make em pay school of boxing is not the same thing as running (scared or otherwise) and that is why i still think him a wonder.
    like him or hate him, it cannot be denied that he controls and dominates guys(canelo,jmm,guerrero,ortiz, mosley etc) that were in every second of every round in their previous bouts.
    and although he will never bring to the ring the excitement of a GGG, he brings a much higher level opposition

  12. nicolas 04:15pm, 01/08/2014

    When Rose won the title, he not only did it in Japan, but with all the judges being Japanese. Poor Dick Young the referee in the Castillo fight, who scored it for Castillo got injured by the debris being thrown in the ring. Later on outside, even a police officer got badly beaten by this I presume “ignorant Mexican mob”. Having written this, I do feel from what I know that Mexican fans behave much better today at boxing matches when there fighter does not win. This could be because the ticket prices are far higher than they were back then, and also because people from that country who live in LA may feel more empowered in other walks in life, and don’t feel a sense of lashing out in these ways. Amazing to me that Rose fought twice more in Los Angeles in losing efforts.

  13. Ted Spoon 12:44pm, 01/08/2014

    Can’t take away from Olivares, Irish. What a great performance that was. However, in fairness, Rose was having some serious weight trouble for that fight. He was a powerfully built little man and was never going to have a long reign at 118lbs.

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:45am, 01/08/2014

    God Bless Lionel Rose….one thing though….he seemed to have a great deal of trouble keeping his mouth piece in when Olivares set about administering to him his first genuine boxing reality check, consisting of punches hard enough to cause even a true warrior to question his career choice.

  15. Ted Spoon 08:02am, 01/08/2014

    One of my favourite boxers to watch, lovely movement. That title winning effort against Harada is textbook.

  16. Jim Crue 07:01am, 01/08/2014

    Ted and Raxman, maybe the cherry picking started much sooner. Zale and Graziano fought 3 classics, maybe the first 2 being the most savage middleweight title fights ever, but did either one fight LaMotta at his peak? Boxing has a long history of fighters avoiding top guys. I think Mayweather and Roy Jones in his day brought it to a new level. One reason I won’t pay a nickel to watch Floyd fight. He’s getting super wealthy on glorified sparing sessions.

  17. Ted 06:53am, 01/08/2014

    OK, Point taken Rax. This great article seems to reinforce what you are asserting:

  18. Mike Casey 04:45am, 01/08/2014

    Nice tribute to a beautiful boxer. Harada was really steaming along at the time of the Rose fight - a great win on Lionel’s part. Rax is right about his constant battle with weight, which was a shame.

  19. raxman 04:20am, 01/08/2014

    ted - march is a ways off - don’t go peaking too early!! have you seen the book solitary fitness by “britain’s most dangerous prisoner” charles bronson? his workout named such coz thats how he does his time - in solitary. it uses the prison staple of body weight exercises -push ups, and also calisthenic type stuff like burpees - but the thing that is interesting to me is the isometrics. my joints are shot. my elbows and shoulders (largely from holding the pads for beginners) but also my knees, hips and ankles (from running) i struggle to do any form of resistance training for any length of time without suffering. these isometric flexes could well be the go

  20. Darrell 12:53am, 01/08/2014

    Great article…...didn’t know much about Lionel Rose aside from the title wins & subsequent loss to Ruben Olivares.  It does however bring back memories of watching some excellent Aboriginal amateur boxers back in the late 70’s in my home patch in New Zealand.

    There were occasional visits by Australian age group amateur teams which were chock full of young Aboriginal kids.  They were usually a lot more polished in their techniques than us Kiwi boys, especially in the lighter weight classes, us Kiwi boys were a lot more competitive in the heavier weight classes.

  21. raxman 07:52pm, 01/07/2014

    Ted - there is something going on here - maybe its the Australian accent - but you’re misreading and misrepresenting what I’ve said.
    I am a SRL fan. I don’t suggest he cherry picked at all. I don’t really believe in cherry picking for the most part. match making is what it is and always has been. Ray didn’t fight Pryor. for whatever reason. that is my point always when people raise Ray as this pillar of how great boxing used to be. Ray should’ve fought - and had he fought him I think he’d have had him easily. why the fight didn’t happen is never as simple as “Cherry picking though”. I Feel the same about the great Floyd v Margarito debate (I think Floyd wins that easier than Corrales but that’s a moot point). everyone ignores the fact that Baldomir had beaten Gatti and Judah that year while Margarito at that point had hardly fought for a year and was more reputation in the way he won than legit scalps on his belt (at that time) it was after Floyd v Baldomir that Marg fought clottey. at the time of the talk marg had beaten citron in 05. and only fight in 06 was a journeyman in 1 round - but I digress terribly.
    and I’m not arguing with you the existence of the mayweather model - I’m saying that its foundation lays at the feet of sugar ray - it was sugar ray holding out for big closed circuit tv deals etc - it was Ray that pioneered what would become the mayweather model

  22. Ted 07:36pm, 01/07/2014

    To be continued, Raxman. I have to go to bed. Had a brutal powerlifting workout today and came very close to moving into world record territory on the strict curl. My next meet is March Madness in Boston on March 15 and I want to be in perfect lifting shape.

  23. Ted 07:33pm, 01/07/2014

    SRL didn’t cherry pick as much as you imply. He had grueling fights from the beginning. Hagler, Hearns and Duran each had a lot of fights. No, I’m not kidding myself about the new business model because I have researched the stuffing out of it and am very confident about my conclusions. At one point, I used to say that Mayweather’s cherry picking was not based on opponents as much as it was based on time intervals. But then I finally realized that he was going for the biggest ban for the buck using the risk-reward equation as his context. I truly believe someone in his camp—maybe Ellebee—came up with this model and also counseled him on how to behave more maturely. Whatever the case, he is sitting at the top of the pyramid right now and calling the shots.

    And yes I may have misunderstood your point.

  24. raxman 07:25pm, 01/07/2014

    Ted - and aaron pryor? how many times did hearns and leonard fight him? hearns leonard #2 was at least 5 years too late. Leonard vs Duran #3 a joke and not even worthy of being called a trilogy.
    who said anything about the light heavies and heavies? I think you misread what I wrote, and misunderstood what I meant.
    what I said is that there are always critics of “today” who claim yesterday was where it was at. not just in boxing. woody allens’ “midnight in paris” has that as its central theme.
    but as for boxing there is always someone that didn’t get a fight that should of. if you’re talking about the great brit era of Benn, Watson and Eubank that all fought each other - I say great, they did, and it was wonderful - but herol graham’s name isn’t on any of their resume’s and it should’ve been. for whatever reason Bomber couldn’t get those guys in the ring. its just the way it is and was.
    But Ted - if you think it started with Mayweather you are kidding yourself. re read 4Kings and you’ll see it all started with Leonard and Hearns - the blue print started back then. and I think you know this:  the mayweather model could just as easily be called the sugar ray leonard 3.0 model

  25. Ted 07:11pm, 01/07/2014

    And that’s why we agree on GGG.

  26. Ted 07:09pm, 01/07/2014

    Duran - SRL 3 Times

    Hearns - SRL 2 TIMES

    WTF, Rax, you doing the Fosters?  The heavies and light heavies fought each other multiple times. That’s why it’s called the great era of Light Heavyweights.

    The best fought the best ever since I can remember. It just stopped when the new model of fewer fights for bigger paydays started with Mayweather, It is what it is. Too few promoters and too few fights. It will eventually lead to the downfall of boxing IMO.

  27. raxman 06:51pm, 01/07/2014

    TED - obviously you missed what time is it nod to aaron pryor. yeah they fought each other. but not pryor. and a young body snatcher was avoided. and benn, eubank collins etc were fighting each but couldn’t get jones or toney at 168.  benn and eubank didn’t fight herol graham (the awkward to fight, hard to hit lefty). and there are plenty of other examples
    anyway my point is this - risk vs reward isn’t a new thing - and as far as the modern game is concerned the guys most commonly referenced in leonard, hearns etc actually started it. although they fought each other they were very smart about other opponents so as not to disrupt their big pay days - and the pay days were the biggest ever outside of the heavy weights. and this isn’t to disrespect those guys - but lets face it hearns, leonard etc were doing what they were in there era - but if compared to the era before them? when not only did the best fight the best but they also fought the rest (leading to the discovery of more “best”). 8 divisions. 1 world champion. Léonard got his two titles in one fight. duran went through phases of being terrible. 15 rounds gave way to 12 in their era
    nostalgia will always wins out though- the critics of the 80’s cited the post war 1945 -60 as a different sport to the 70-90’s (just as that era is totally different to the one we’re in now). its hard comparing any athlete with another from a different time - but in boxing its even harder. we have 12 rounds. multiple champions (should I say title holders) etc etc

  28. Ted 06:03pm, 01/07/2014

    Rax, back in the 80’s the best did fight the best. Duran, Hagler, Benitez, SRL, Hearns had an unofficial round robin. So did Benn, Watson, Eubank, and Thompson. JC45 has a sold point IMO, but maybe not down under.

  29. raxman 03:31pm, 01/07/2014

    another thing I’d like to add - there are many - my compatriot JC45 springs to mind - that go on and on about the “good old days” when top fighters fought each other. it drives me nuts coz the old days are not only irrelevant but they weren’t always so good. although hearns-duran - leonard all fought each other they didn’t know what time it was!!! and in relation to this article in 1969 in the era of 8 world titles - 2 of them bantam and feather were not only down under but in Melbourne town. rose and famechon never fought. by todays standards it means one of them was scared right? come on. there are always reasons why fights don’t happen and even 45 years ago it was all about risk vs reward.
    from what I’ve been told, when they sparred (the ring at the Collingwood boxing club is still the same one) Famo got it over Rose. and my understanding is that although Rose was/is considered the better fighter by most, the majority, in contrast, believe Famochon beats Rose on the (same as it always was grounds) that styles make fights.

  30. Eric 03:04pm, 01/07/2014

    Heard Mr. Rose enjoyed smoking a pipe while he was still active as a fighter. As a cigar smoker and an occasional pipe smoker, I gotta love someone who competes with world class athletes and still enjoys tobacco.

  31. raxman 02:50pm, 01/07/2014

    oh and everyone, that Rose documentary on this article as youtube link is an absolute must see for all fans of our sport

  32. raxman 02:49pm, 01/07/2014

    rose was an all time great Australian boxer. as mentioned in this article the weight played a factor. if only he’d had the luxury of a super bantamweight division. he couldn’t make bantam but was too small for feather. although not a power puncher at 118 he could keep his opponents honest, and more importantly he could take the punch of 118pounder (until weight drain became an issue). at 126 he just couldn’t hurt them, this put pressure on his defensive skills and whilst great on the inside, a weight drained bantamweight and a small featherweight rose was too easily bullied and took punches that would never have hit him circa 1968

  33. Ted 01:34pm, 01/07/2014

    Everyone thinks Chucho Castillo is dead but he is not. He recently helped move in a friend of mine in LA. Chucho works for a moving company and looks fit and ready. I have a photo of him.

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