The man who laughed at Sonny Bill

Last time he was in the ring, Sonny Bill Williams hit his opponent roughly 100 times a round, for eight straight rounds. The guy was big and fat and he could barely box, but he didn’t flinch. He just kept taunting Sonny Bill: Come on, hit me again. Who was this guy?

This article was first published in the March 2015 issue of Metro. Photo by Adrian Malloch.

 

It may be the best punch Sonny Bill Williams ever throws. Midway through the fifth round, Chauncy Welliver is burrowing at him, trying to shove him into a corner, and SBW stops, sets, bends his knees and uncoils a right-hand that rolls right up from the ground.

Chauncy’s still boring in and this punch, seemingly as hard as any man can hit, slides under his cross-arm defence and crunches into his right cheek. His head snaps back, wobbles, and SBW waits for him to fall.

Only he grins, sticks his jaw out, taps his forehead twice with his glove and yells, “Come on! Hit me harder!”

They play that punch over and over at the end of the round and each time, 5000 fans at Sydney’s Allphones Arena gasp. SBW, in his corner, watches the replays over the head of his trainer, Anthony Mundine. He’s not an expressive man, but a look of incomprehension flickers across his face. I’ve just hit this fat bastard with everything I’ve got and he’s still laughing at me.

They keep on. The harder Chauncy is hit, the more he laughs. Pokes out his chin. Puckers up. Then he’ll catch SBW and they’ll tussle and tangle. It’s awkward, it’s ugly. “C’mon,” the ref implores. “Stop mucking around. People have come to watch this.”

Sonny Bill hits him 100 times a round, most of the punches landing flush. Chauncy jeers: “That’s nothing. You ain’t got nothing.”

The trouble is, Chauncy has even less. He did have a plan: to wrestle SBW to the ropes and batter away. Wear him down. SBW may look like a god, but he’s not boxing fit. He hasn’t fought in two years. He’ll gas, just as he did in the last round against Frans Botha.

But Chauncy’s arms are flabby and he’s hardly throwing punches. After the first round, the only meaningful blows he lands are in the eighth. It’s a five-punch combo that rips into SBW’s body — and for a moment you see what used to be, back when Chauncy Welliver really was a fighter, when he was a contender. Back when he was ranked fifth in the world.

 

SOMETIME IN 2010, I started hearing about an affable, overweight American boxer called Chauncy Welliver who was fighting most months, and winning them all, at venues like the Otara Leisure Centre.

He’d come to Auckland in 2004 after befriending Shane Cameron, loved it, and now he was fighting as a New Zealander. While everyone talked about Cameron and David Tua, Chauncy won the New Zealand National Boxing Federation belt and by 2011 had become the top-ranked New Zealand contender — by far. BoxRec, the database of boxing records, had him at 114 points when the second-ranked guy was on just 12. That guy was Sonny Bill Williams.

Chauncy Welliver is a Native American boy from Hillyard, the poorest suburb in the poorest city in Washington state, Spokane, a railway town where the trains stopped running 50 years ago.

His father was a roofer who burnt his foot off when he slipped and slid into a bucket of boiling tar. There were eight kids. One sister is a heroin addict, another’s on meth, and you’ll likely find them both down on Spreg St, Spokane’s red-light district. There’s a half-brother, Ricky, who got caught with an unreal amount of cocaine — 25 kilos — and spent five years in prison.

Chauncy was the youngest, the little fat kid. He’s been shot at and knifed, he’s lived on the streets and been to prison himself for a bar fight.

In October 2008, his life changed. Weighing 128kg and horribly out of shape, he signed up for a fight at a week’s notice against the reigning Olympic champion, the Cuban Odlanier Solis.

Chauncy was already a boxer with a respectable record: 35 wins, four losses and five draws, though many of those were six-round club fights in Otara or Eden Terrace in front of 100 people. But now he was going to walk out in front of 15,000 fans at Berlin’s O2 Stadium. This fight seemed a stitch-up, a grotesque mismatch.

And yet “The Fat Dorky White Guy” — that’s what they called him — took the champ nine rounds, soaked up his best shots and frustrated the hell out of him. Laughed at him.

Chauncy lost, but he was still laughing and cracking jokes at the end.

“Can you believe this?” they said. “This fat kid’s tough. This fat kid can fight.”

Long after a sullen Solis stomped off to his changing room, Chauncy was hugging and high-fiving with the fans. Riddick Bowe, the former heavyweight world champ, came over. Chauncy asked him for an autograph. Bowe put his hand on his shoulder and said: “Kid, if you got into shape…  kid, you could be something.”

So Chauncy Welliver decided to be something. He got serious.

 

HE REMEMBERS THE day he fell for the game. “February 9, 1996. Spokane Fairgrounds. I’m 12. My first-ever live professional fight. Kit Munroe fighting Doug Holiman. Light heavyweights.

“I’d seen countless amateur fights in the past and, you know, it’s great, it’s fine… but it’s just a fight. But now I’m sitting there looking at this and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ These guys are boxing! They don’t have headgear on. They don’t have a shirt on. They’re sweating. I love this. There are lights. The crowd is ROARING. They’re crazy, they’re drunk. They want blood.

“I’m loving all this. It sounds sick, but I wanted to see blood. I wanted to see the guy get hit and his sweat fly way over there. I fell in love with boxing that night — and I’m talking passionate love.

“I mean, Kit Munroe is barely known in the Kit Munroe household, and I remember him. Doug Holiman was the bum of bums — his record was, like, nine wins and 28 losses. Nobody remembers his name. He probably doesn’t remember his name right now. But I remember him. Those two guys that no one knows, those guys made me love boxing.”

 

SEVEN YEARS LATERaged 19, Chauncy takes part in a two-week training camp as a sparring partner for Mike Tyson. This is late-career Tyson, 2003, and there are three of them, each doing a round one after the other, twice over. Six rounds a day.

“First day,” says Chauncy. “First round. First man in is Taurus Sykes. Taurus the Bull. He’s this great big black motherfucker and for the first 30 seconds he’s tagging Tyson. Pop, pop, pop…

“‘This is easy,’ he thinks. He starts to shuffle, starts to dance. He thinks, ‘Tyson ain’t what he used to be.’ He hits Tyson in the head. Buzzes him. But now Tyson’s pissed. He’s fucking enraged. Taurus goes to throw another right hand and BAM. Taurus is out. Taurus is sleeping.

“Tyson’s doing his pacing thing. Up and down, up and down. And he’s, like, looking at me. Glaring. Pacing. Ranting like a loon:

“‘I’m gonna rip his heart out. I’m the best ever. I’m the most brutal and vicious and ruthless champion there’s ever been. There’s no one like me. I’m Alexander. I’m Sonny Liston. I’m Jack Dempsey. My style is impetuous, my defence is impregnable; I’m just ferocious, I want his heart, I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!’

“They drag Taurus out by his ankles and now it’s my turn. Tyson’s got this guy, Steve ‘Crocodile’ Fitch, a mad mofo in combat fatigues, who’s screaming, ‘Who’s next? Who’s next? Who the FUCK is next? Oh. It’s YOU. Yes, it’s you, White Boy! Get in the ring, White Boy. Get. In. The. Mother. Fucking. Ring! Mike Tyson’s gonna kill you! He’s gonna rape you, White Boy!’

“And I’m standing there, shaking, and thinking to myself, ‘I can’t even beat Mike Tyson on Nintendo. How the fuck am I even gonna survive in there?’

“The bell rings. Tyson charges at me and I run. ‘Go forward, you white pussy,’ Crocodile screams. I’m like, ‘Okay, okay, okay’, and I step back. But I get through the round. And the next one. At the end of the camp, I’ve gone 20 rounds with him.”

How hard did Tyson hit? “Here’s the thing with boxing,” says Chauncy. “A shot that hurts is a shot you don’t see coming. And his speed was unreal. His power was good — don’t get me wrong — but he had the hand speed of a lightweight.”

 

AFTER THE SOLIS fight, Chauncy calls Roland Jankelson, an old-school manager. “I can do this,” he tells Jankelson. “I can stand with these guys. But I need your help.”

The old man moves him back to the States. Takes him into his home. Jankelson’s lonely. His wife has died after a decade-long struggle with cancer; he carries a framed four-inch picture of her everywhere in his pocket; he even sets it up on the tray table when he flies.

They become father and son. A trainer’s hired — Joe Hipp, the legendary contender from the 70s, the greatest Native American heavyweight of all time — and Hipp sends Chauncy to hell.

He has to. The Fat Dorky White Guy is short — just over six foot — and he has bad knees, arthritic hands, tendonitis in both elbows, a shot hip and unusually short arms: he’s got the reach of your average 12-year-old. By heavyweight boxing standards, he’s underpowered, his knockout percentage laughably low, and he weighs 136kg.

Fat, with these weird little T-Rex arms.

But he has heart and a chin. A god-given ability to take a punch, to take 10, 20 punches in a row and still stand, clear his head when he’s been hit and things have gone “pock” like a lightbulb blowing. He has never been knocked down.

And he’s young — in his mid-20s — in a world full of frauds and bums and chumps and busted old champs. Evander Holyfield, still fighting, is nearly 50; even the mighty Vitali Klitschko is on the wrong side of 40. The heavyweight division, they say, is the weakest it’s ever been. There’s an opportunity for a hard-jawed journeyman to battle his way to the top.

It helps that he has a bustling, all-action style that fans love — with such short arms, his only option is to bore in, get inside and throw a lot of leather. Work the body. Wear them down. Chop the body and the head will fall.

It’s a fearful and exhilarating prospect: when you don’t have much punching power, you’re going to get smashed as you fight your way into range.

In this tattered, fading game clogged with ponderous behemoths who scrag and hold and throw lazy, looping right hands, an attritional fighter who guarantees war whenever he steps into the ring is gold.

And Chauncy has his chin. “That genetically was given to him,” Jankelson says. “There are many great athletes who fail as boxers because they can’t take a punch. It isn’t anything to do with heart. Or courage. They just weren’t given the neurological, physiological capability to absorb a shocking blow. But Chauncy can.”

 

THE FAT DORKY White Guy gets down to 106kg and becomes The Hillyard Hammer. One year later, he’s back in the ring, at the start of what will become a 16-fight winning streak.

He picks up minor belts: the WBO Asia Pacific title, the New Zealand National Boxing Federation title, the WBC Continental Americas title, the WBO China Zone title and the WBC Asian Boxing Council title.

At the start of 2011, two of the four main sanctioning bodies rank him inside the top 10 in the world. The WBC has him at No 5. Chauncy, they’re saying now, is just a fight or two away from facing a Klitschko. (Ukrainian brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have dominated heavyweight boxing this century, and in the period 2011-2013 held all the recognised world titles between them.)

He’s Rocky. He’s more incredible than Rocky, or so it seems: a man with the most unimpressive physique you’ve ever seen, but with the heart of an ox and a chin of steel, who fights his way up.

He’s the Contender. Chauncy Welliver has earned a chance to be the next heavyweight champion of the world.

Or has he? In the boxing forums, they’re not impressed. “Chauncy is a horrific fighter. A disgusting fat hog. He is so fat and so without power. They should feed this fat fuck to a young lion.”

And, they point out, apart from the Olympic champ Solis, Chauncy has never fought anyone ranked higher than himself. In fact, he hasn’t fought anyone else in the Top 50.

He has a more-or-less plausible explanation for this: the top guys won’t fight him because there’s nothing in it for them. Everyone knows they can’t knock him out, so the best they can hope for is a messy points win — against a fat boy with no punch. Where’s the upside in that?

He’s tried. Twice, he says, he almost had a Klitschko. Once, in China, where Chauncy is revered as “The Fighting Panda”, they had Wladimir ready to sign. He wanted five million; the Chinese wouldn’t budge from four.

Besides, the big promoters — and HBO, who rule boxing — don’t want a fat guy in the ring. They want a guy who looks good on the telly, with pumped-up muscles, mean, primal, atavistic. A guy who looks like the heavyweight champion of the world is supposed to look.

IN JANUARY, 2012, Chauncy fights Moyoyo Mensah in a crappy little venue, The Corporate Box, in Albert St, Auckland. Moyoyo, a super-fit Ghanaian who reputedly runs 20 miles a day and looks incredible. But, really, he’s a blown-up cruiserweight.

Chauncy wins, but looks nothing like the real deal.

He has an excuse: a perforated eardrum that stopped him sparring and wrecked his timing. It’s a decent excuse — kind of — and I want to believe him. I want to believe in him.

But other things aren’t right, either. The venue’s a joke. The promotion is a shambles. If Chauncy really is a contender, why is he fighting in a mouldering shithole in front of 100 people, most of whom were given comps to be there?

After Moyoyo, I took Chauncy, along with his girlfriend, Sarah, and her daughter, Tymen, down to Rotorua. They came to a family barbecue, and Chauncy was warm and generous, especially towards Alex, my youngest brother and a boxing fiend.

When I dropped Chauncy back at the hotel afterwards, we talked for another hour. I asked why he always wears the same old hockey shirt to his fights.

“The worst part of my life,” he said, “is when I get in the ring and have to take my shirt off. I’m not deaf. I can hear what’s being said in the crowd. ‘Oh my God… look at him! His body looks like a lot of chewed-up bubblegum.’

“So I tell Joe, I tell Roland — the second that last bell rings or I’m stopped — have my shirt ready. Put my shirt straight on. I don’t want you or her or him to have to look at this body. Because at the end of the day, I’m not built like a man is supposed to be. There’s something wrong.

“I feel embarrassed taking my shirt off in front of my girlfriend. I feel embarrassed taking it off in front of my mother. And I have to do it in front of 15,000 people. On TV. It’s humiliating. Nobody should have to do that.”

He looked out the window, didn’t speak for half a minute. Seemed to wipe his eye. “You know what?” he said. “You know what I want more than the title?

“I’d like to be able to take Sarah to the beach. Take my shirt off and lie next to her and not have people going, ‘What the hell?’ and looking at me sideways. It sounds absolutely dumb, but it’s something I’d like.”

This from the fifth-ranked heavyweight in the world.

 

AFTER MOYOYO, CHAUNCY goes back to America. His next fight is supposed to be against Seth Mitchell, the leading young American heavyweight, with the winner guaranteed a Klitschko. But that falls through and he takes on Bert Cooper instead.

Cooper is a respectable opponent, Chauncy says. A step up. He’s fought George Foreman, Riddick
Bowe, Ray Mercer, Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer and Chris Byrd. Six world heavyweight champions.

But that was back in the early 90s, and now Cooper is 46 years old, a broken-down journeyman with 25 losses. A soup can.

Chauncy beats him easily enough on points, but he doesn’t knock him out. If you’re going after a Klitschko you’ve got to put guys like this on their arse in the first round.

Chauncy says it doesn’t matter because the next fight will be the big one. Then the same thing happens. And again. It’s gonna be this guy, it’s gonna be that, it’s gonna be on HBO... then he’s gonna come back to New Zealand and fight Monte Barrett.

Then he tells me he’s fighting Sherman “The Tank” Williams. This is not good. The Tank’s a respected hard-hitting journeyman, but he’s 39 years old. Another can.

Chauncy says he knows that, that this will be just a keep-busy fight. The next one, he says. The next one will be the big one.

In June 2012, the day before he fights Williams, Chauncy gets a call from Hagen Doering, who’s associated with the Klitschko camp. “He says, ‘How’d you like to fight Alexander Povetkin for the WBA title? July 14?’” Money’s hinted at — a quarter of a million dollars. Two weeks’ time. He just has to roll over The Tank.

 

WILLIAMS AND CHAUNCY fight in Macau: The Tank vs The Fighting Panda. The Panda loses.

It’s close: two judges score it 115-113; one has it 114-114 — but it doesn’t matter. “Tonight was a test,” says the TV caller, “and, quite frankly, Chauncy Welliver has failed miserably.”

His two biggest belts are gone. The Povetkin fight’s off. Chauncy slides out of the top 10 and suddenly his boxing career is going in the wrong direction.

After the fight, we talk for hours. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I got myself into the best shape of my career for that fight. I sparred like a dream.”

But, he says, when the bell went, he froze. “I’d see an opening. I’d see a shot and get ready to throw but I couldn’t. Couldn’t pull the trigger.”

Boxers will tell you it’s the first sign they’re shot. Their reflexes go. And Chauncy thinks maybe he’s just got old. Not in years, but in rounds. He’s had 64 fights, way more than most guys his age.

Maybe,” he says, “it’s time to give it away. I lost my hunger in the ring tonight.”

He’s a mess. Sobbing, he hugs Joe Hipp and says he’s sorry. “We put two-and-a-half years’ work in and I’ve thrown it away. What are we gonna do now?”

He calls Sarah but can’t talk and has to pass the phone over to Jankelson.

The next morning, he flies to Seattle via LA, gets in his Dodge Durango and drives five hours to Spokane. He picks Sarah up and takes her to the bar where they met a year ago — Chauncy was a doorman — and asks her to marry him. He hasn’t slept in 48 hours.

When we next talk, a week later, he’s sorted things out. He’s got a narrative together. Actually, he’s got several.

“The most depressing part is that I was number five in the world. I’d climbed the mountain: I’d scraped and clawed my way to the top and Sherman stood on my fingers and I fell. I don’t know if I have the energy to climb back up.”

He switches. “What am I saying? What the fuck am I saying? I’m gonna get my belts back. Rematch. This man has taken everything from me and now he must pay. I’m going to take him home. I’m going to take him to school.”

He switches again. “Hold on,” he says. “Maybe I should be looking forwards, not back.” He’s got a “keep-busy” fight offer with a former kick-boxing champ.

“He’s the top Japanese heavyweight, but he’s had only four fights. He’ll be easy. Then I’ll take on Sherman. In New Zealand.”

Three months later, weighing in at 113kg, Chauncy fights Kyotaro Fujimoto in Tokyo. He loses again. It isn’t even close.

 

HE’S NOT ROCKY now. Chauncy Welliver’s career is settling into another, much more common pattern. It’s the same for almost every other contender in this sport. They start with a whole bunch of green (wins), maybe with the odd red (loss) — a momentary setback. Then they record another run of green. Then a red. A green. Two reds. Green. And then a long, dismal line of red.

Bert Cooper was the last of Chauncy’s run of 16 greens, in April 2012. Since then, it’s been two reds, two greens, and Sonny Bill will be his fourth red in a row.

It could get a lot worse. For many boxers on the slide, losses are no longer on points; there are TKOs (technical stoppages), then KOs, then first-round KOs. Broken, damaged men being fed to the lions for a thousand dollars a time.

Will it happen to Chauncy? He’s smart. I like to think he’s smart enough to know what happens to boxers who keep going until the damage is done, who stop only when it’s too late.

He’s seen what can happen. In 2003, he was down to fight a guy called Billy Zumbrun in Utah, but Chauncy’s dad had died so he asked Brad Rone, a stiff who’d lost 26 straight, to take the fight for him. Fighting for $800, Rone died at the end of the first round.

Then in 2011, another boxer died, in the fight just before Chauncy’s, while Chauncy was right there waiting to get into the ring.

And there’s Dewey, Chauncy’s brother Dumont “Dewey” Welliver, a high-school superstar and amateur welterweight who fashioned a remarkable 104-6 record. He turned pro at 17 and continued to win, until the leeches came in, bags of drugs in hand… and Dewey fathered a small tribe of illegitimate children.

He started losing. And because he used to be something, promoters kept coming along with a new contender who wanted a piece of him. By 2011, when his boxing licence was finally stripped, he’d lost 21 of his previous 25 fights.

Dewey can’t talk properly any longer, can’t remember what he did yesterday. He’s 32 years old.

 

CHAUNCY WELLIVER’S NOT a fraud. He’s gone more rounds than anyone in heavyweight boxing history without being knocked down. He got to number five in the world, on one list. Even his harshest critics usually concede he was good enough to rank in the top 50. That’s something. One of the top 50 exponents of the most brutal game in the world. That’s something.

But he wasn’t meant to lose to Sherman Williams, and certainly not to Kyotaro Fujimoto. Over four months in the middle of 2012, when he was one fight away from scoring a title match with a Klitschko, Chauncy Welliver suddenly became The Fat Dorky White Guy again.

He’s married to Sarah now, living back in Spokane. They have a daughter, Lemyn, who’s now one, and he’s besotted with her. He’s set up a gym that’s going great. And he’s just taken a young tyro, Patrick Ferguson, to a US amateur heavyweight title. He likes to say he’s retired.

Except, since Fujimoto, he’s fought six more times.

 

NOVEMBER 2014, MELBOURNE. I’m walking down Batman Ave towards Hisense Arena, trying to see through tear-streaked eyes, trying to breathe through what feels like a set of socks in my throat. I’m crying because I think I’m going to see my friend Chauncy Welliver get killed in the ring.

He’s fighting Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne, a former MMA (mixed martial arts) champ. Browne is 1.93m and 125kg, a tattooed giant of muscle and menace. He’s said to have the hardest right hand in boxing: 21 fights for 21 wins, 19 by KO. The highlights on YouTube are frightening. Lucas Browne is the guy now ranked fifth in the world.

Chauncy, meanwhile, has ballooned out to 145kg. He hasn’t trained. He flew in last night and, when I caught up with him at his hotel, was jetlagged, woozy and fatalistic. He was the loudest guy in the room — he always is — but this time it was because no one else was talking. They all knew the score.

Because the other thing about Chauncy is this: he’s not just going to fall over and take the money. Untrained, out of shape, with no punch and a dicky knee, Chauncy Welliver is going to do his best to win the fight. So this time he really is going to get smashed.

 

I’M DOWNSTAIRS, IN a changing room with Chauncy. His trainer is a bloke from Sydney who stepped in yesterday. He’s not bothering with the pre-fight ritual: the pad work — pop, pop, pop — working up a sweat, getting in the zone. Instead, he’s sitting there cracking jokes. I try to laugh, but my heart’s thudding, my hands shaking.

He does a minute or two of slow-motion shadow boxing. That’s it. That’s his warm-up. I can’t bear it.

Then his trainer says to me, “Need you in the corner.” What?

“It’s easy. At the end of each round, just jump into the ring, reach in, pull Chauncy’s mouthguard out, rinse it, then pop it back in. Simple, eh?”

I don’t tell him that I’ve had to clench my hands shut because they’re shaking so hard. How can a man without fingers take out a mouthguard?

“Of course,” I croak. “No worries.” Awesome.

We get the call, and walk out through a maze of tables, five grand each. “Fucking knock the fucking fat fuck OUT,” a voice shouts. “What a fucking joke,” says another.

There’s a bit of that drunkish convict wit, but not as much as you might think. The thinking classes dismiss boxing as sanctioned violence and they paint boxing fans as a medieval mob, but the truth’s more complex. There’s courage — real, raw bravery — inside every fighter here, and most fans see that. Get it. Respect it.

Big Daddy roars into the ring and he looks bloody terrifying. He shadow punches, dances, gets his robe off. Rolls his neck around, rolls his shoulders, and then — he’s really showing off now — makes one pec, tribal tattooed, twitch about on its own. This is not going to end well.

Chauncy’s in the ring, too, still wearing his hockey shirt. The ref brings them together and runs through the rules. They touch gloves. Then, just before the bell, Chauncy’s trainer takes off the shirt. I hear the sniggers; I hear the gasps. “Fuck, he’s got bigger nungas than my missus!”

 

THIRTY SECONDS INTO the fight and Chauncy’s still alive. He’s even clipped Big Daddy a couple of time across the snout. He’s dancing!

One minute, then two. I start thinking, what’s the best-case scenario here? Is he a contender?

“Mouthguard! Fuckin’ mouthguard. Wake up!” The first round’s over and I’ve missed my mark. I climb through the ropes: they’re much tighter than I was expecting and I almost get pinged back out. I stick my hand inside Chauncy’s mouth — his breath’s hot and wet, like when you feed a horse when you’re a kid.

I squeeze water over the mouthguard, but leave a large pool in the corner of the ring. Shit. That’s a lot of water — and it’s pooling and seeping everywhere. Am I supposed to do that?

“Out. Out. Corners out.” It’s the ref. I wait to let the trainers go first. “C’mon. Out. Get out. Get out.” I then — and I’m not playing up the slapstick routine here — stumble over the Ring Girl.

Round Two. Again, Chauncy hardly gets hit. It’s a miracle. The smart-tabled jeerers are nodding — this fat kid can fight. Now we’re into the third and I let myself think: Chauncy might just be winning it.

All the way until 20 seconds from the end of the round when he walks into a right hand. Chauncy laughs. He winks at Big Daddy. Gets to the end of the round.

The trainer manages to stop the bleeding, but in the 60 seconds Chauncy’s on the chair, his left eye swells tightly shut.

Now he’s fighting with one eye. He cocks his head to see, but opens himself up for more thudding right hands. At one point, he turns his back on Big Daddy and the ref steps in. Big Daddy comes in to finish him — and bam. Chauncy has cut him: a sharp fast left hook, his best shot of the night, opening a gusher right over Big Daddy’s right eye. Now he just needs time.

He won’t get it. His own eye’s a slit. The ring doctor holds Chauncy’s head in his hands and pushes gently on his cheek. Chauncy yelps. It’s over. “Faaaark,” Chauncy screams.

But he’s alive. He’s still on his feet. Still never been knocked down. He clowns his way back through the crowd, and the same people who were calling him a fat shit now run up for selfies. He’s manic, despite having a probable fractured cheek socket. Fist-bumps the headline act Anthony Mundine, goofs around with some ambulance guy, talks BS with… Mick Gatto.

Mick FUCKING Gatto, the “professional mediator” who’s the inspiration for Underbelly. Melbourne’s main mobster. This is Chauncy Welliver: the man who loves boxing and everything about it.

 

CHAUNCY EARNED A miserable $30,000 that night, and even less for fighting Sonny Bill Williams. But he’s not in it for the money. He’s nearly paid off his house; his new daughter has a college fund all set up. I think he just can’t imagine not being in the game.

One month after Lucas Browne, and only six weeks before he’s due for his laughing attack on SBW, he flies to Moscow to fight Alexander “The Great” Ustinov, the colossal Belarusian who ended David Tua’s career. Chauncy loses again, but goes the distance.

Then it’s Sonny Bill, for that fourth defeat in a row. 71 fights, 55 wins. When it’s over, he spends so long soaking up the love from the fans it takes him 90 minutes to get back to the changing room.

Once there, he turns to me and says, “That’s it. I’m done. That’s my last fight. I’ve got nothing left.” He says it many times.

A South African guy pokes his head in the door and hands him a business card. He has a fight in Houston in a couple of months and needs someone who’ll go the distance. Chauncy takes the card, and there on his face, with his eyes puffed up and everything horribly bruised, you can see it. He’s going to say yes.     