For Australians hoping to endear themselves to the American mainstream, these are indeed g'days, mate. Paul Hogan's face is on TV more often than Hulk Hogan's, and Elle Macpherson in a bikini has done more to enhance Australia's reputation than that country's throwing John McEnroe out of its tennis open has.
One of Australia's finest natural resources, however, remains a virtual secret beyond its own shores. In just 5� years as a pro, boxer Jeff Fenech, 26, has won world titles in three different weight classes (the IBF bantamweight, the WBC super bantamweight and the WBC featherweight, and he has done it more quickly than Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns or Roberto Duran. He's 24-0, with 18 knockouts, and is considered one of the best fighters, pound for pound, in the game. And yet, this Wonder from Down Under is known only to boxing diehards, the kind of crowd that hears the name " Dundee," and immediately thinks Angelo, not Crocodile.
Of course, Fenech hasn't exactly courted the American press. All but one of his pro bouts have been fought in Australia—the other was in that boxing hotbed, Fiji—and only two have been seen on American network TV. "I'm confident that the American public will like me," he says, "if they only get more chances to see me."
They will get such a chance on July 21 when Fenech is scheduled to fight Puerto Rico's Juan LaPorte, a bout that ABC-TV is planning to televise. A win will give the 5'7", 130-pound Fenech his fourth world crown—the vacant WBC super featherweight title. The bout will also test Fenech's hands, tools that have both served and betrayed him.
Because Fenech was born with protruding knuckles on both of his hands and has difficulty making true fists, his career has been a frustrating series of ice buckets, cortisone shots and scalpels. While earning a decision over Mario Martinez in November, Fenech broke his right hand and, says his promoter, Bill Mordey, "was lucky Martinez was intimidated. Jeff got through on his reputation." Fenech underwent surgery on his right hand before Christmas, the fifth such operation of his career.
Fenech's problems with his fragile mitts are exacerbated by his ring style, an entertaining but risky game of rush-in roulette in which he wades forward and punches furiously until his hands give out, or his opponent's resolve does.
"As much as anybody in boxing today, he has an indomitable will, a willingness to do whatever it takes to win, that is extraordinary," says ABC analyst Alex Wallau. "There are moments in every fight where both fighters take a breath, and there's a silent communication between them that says it's rest time. In those moments, Fenech jumps on his man. He continues throwing punches at a time when you think he just has to rest."
The remarkable volume of his punches is a testimony to Fenech's conditioning and to his grit. Still, after he broke both hands in a defense of his WBC featherweight crown against Marcos Villasana in April '89, he announced his retirement during the postfight press conference.
After zipping shut his Everlast gym bag, Fenech pumped iron, bulked up to 160 pounds and played five games of rugby league football for a pro team called the Paramatta Eels. But by the time he traveled to Atlantic City to watch Jeff Harding, a stablemate at the time, fight last June, the urge to return to the ring was becoming more difficult to suppress.
"I spoke to Mike Tyson at the Harding fight and he said, 'Rest your hands and come back,' " Fenech says. "He told me, 'You have too much talent to retire.' "