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A memorable bout

Manoj Kumar
Monday, March 04, 2013

It was August 1979. Movie star Brooke Shields was only 14 then and was filming Blue Lagoon in the Yasawa Group.

She was on a $300,000 contract for her role as one of the two girls stranded on the tropical island in the remake of the original Blue Lagoon, shot in 1946.

The same week champion boxer Basdeo quit the sport after a good 15 years.

He won gold for Fiji at the 1966 South Pacific Games and was known for his points win over our 'golden boy' Sakaraia Ve.

A few days later, there was a big boxing showdown at Tropic Sands in Deuba.

Former South Seas Lightweight champion Josaia Dawai took on Australian Al Gattling, the Australian and New South Wales light heavyweight champion.

Aussie favourite

Gattling looked in good shape and was heavily favoured to come out on top.

Dawai though had other ideas. He wasn't looking good on paper, but he was sharp and up there with the best of them when it came to punching power and speed.

Both boxers weighed in at 12 stone six pounds.

It was very even from the start with Gattling opting for foul tactics by using his shoulder a few times.

Dawai's left jabs opened a minor cut above Gattling's left eye after the second round.

Gattling had trouble trying to land body punches as Dawai showed good ring craft and countered with lightning fast left jabs.

Gattling's frustration

Gattling was getting frustrated and few times he did not obey referee Jo Campbell's orders to break from clinch and continued to hit Dawai.

The latter stunned Gattling with some good left jabs from the opening round.

Dawai used short one-two combinations every time Gattling tracked forward.

Gattling threw some big right hands but Dawai ducked them with ease.

Dawai hit his opponent with two lefts to the nose in the third round and Gattling replied with a good right.

Dawai dominance

Dawai back-peddled for most of the fifth round but still dominated the fight.

The fight followed the same pattern for the next four rounds before the two boxers came all-out looking for that knockout punch in the 10th round.

Gattling, in particular, knew that he had to floor Dawai to get a result and was the aggressor in the final three minutes.

But Dawai hung in there with his jabs and fast feet to win the fight on points.

That was one of his most famous victories.

Helping out

After quitting the sport, Dawai set up a training place for young boxing enthusiasts at Newtown, Nasinu, in 2010.

The man from Narewa, Ra, was sharing the gospel of the sport at age 61.

"Most of these young kids come from very poor families and some do not attend school," Dawai said back then.

"So by getting the kids to learn about boxing also brings them away from taking part in things like sniffing glue and the bad things."

Dawai trained some 30 kids with sessions twice a week.

He focused his teaching on "basic stuff about the sport".

"I teach them how to throw their hands, how to stand."

The defence

"For me when I teach a person boxing, defence is something I always emphasised," Dawai had said.

"When you are not able to protect yourself inside the ring you are easily giving the fight away."

Dawai began his boxing career in Suva before he moved to New Zealand as an amateur.

He returned and turned professional in 1975.

"At that time we had some very good fighters like Tevita Tui and Mike Ravula to name a few," he had shared.

"Boxing in Fiji during the early seventies and into the eighties was very strong and fans used to enjoy watching boxing programs."

Sad moment

Dawai, one of the finest boxers of the 70s, passed away at the Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital in Suva a week ago after suffering from an illness.

His daughter Sulueti Dawai said they would miss their father, "who was a mentor to the family".

"This is a very sad moment for us. My dad is a role model to us and we will sadly miss him," an emotional Sulueti said.

Dawai is survived by his wife and six children.

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