Mundine was at the height of his popularity at the time, with the former world champion setting numerous PPV records in Australia on the way to earning a reported $30 million inside the ring. Yet that didn’t stop a teenage Zerafa from sending a message to the star on social media.
“He still remembers it,” Zerafa tells Wide World of Sports.
Being 17 years Mundine’s junior, Zerafa should never have realistically had the chance to turn a childhood dream into reality. Age alone should have been a barrier along with other fights that fell through for the Victorian boxer in 2020.
Now he gets the chance to officially end the controversial Australian sporting legend’s career for a second time at Bendigo Stadium on March 13 for the World Boxing Association Oceania Middle Title.
Mundine vowed to “sail into the sunset” after his concerning defeat to Kickboxing great John Wayne Parr in 2019. It was his second loss in as many years after the 45-year-old was embarrassed by Jeff Horn in just 96 seconds in 2018. Both losses threaten to taint the lasting memory most boxing fans have of the star after a highly successful domestic career. How another defeat will impact his legacy, only time will tell.
Mundine’s lost six of his past 10 fights bringing his overall record to 48-10-0. While plenty of questions should be raised about Mundine’s age and concerns for his health, Zerafa couldn’t knock back the chance to fight the former Dragons’ five-eighth, especially with a bigger purse on offer which the Victorian fighter claims is double what he was offered to fight Tim Tszyu.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mundine,’ Zerafa said. “He called me and said I motivate him and I’m his way back in. He thinks he can beat me so who am I to decline that?
Mundine beaten by Parr
“My first preference was Tim Tszyu, then Jeff Horn, but they didn’t want that. Horn said no to a trilogy and Tszyu is still running from me.”
While doing his best to sell the virtues of the match up with the fight veteran, Zerafa admitted Mundine “wasn’t impressive” in his last fight and acknowledged the Indigenous sporting great was “past his best”.
“I’m taking this fight very seriously. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting I’m training the exact same. Whether it’s Mundine at his worst, or at his best, I’m still training hard.
“But it’s just like saying Jeff Horn in his last fight looked absolutely pathetic, but he was the man that dethroned Manny Pacquiao.
“Everyone has their off days. There’s a plan to this.”
The fight against Mundine might not give Zerafa’s career a huge injection in terms of credibility but it’s a money spinner and also gives him a chance to raise his profile when his career hit a few hurdles after he beat Horn in August 2019.
The shock victory should have been the perfect launching point for Zerafa to reignite his career and he was offered a shot at the WBA title held by Japan’s Ryota Murata. But Horn’s management kiboshed his dreams of fighting for the title belt, insisting he honour the rematch clause in the initial fight contract.
Zerafa pleaded with Horn and his trainer Glenn Rushton to let him fight Murata first and guaranteed Team Horn a shot at the world title if he won. That request was knocked back and he was forced to fulfill his contractual obligations in a return bout with Horn in Brisbane.
Zerafa’s manager Sam Labruna claimed Zerafa had an offer worth over $800,000 to fight Murata.
Instead, Zerafa had to commit to fighting the Queenslander for a considerably smaller pay purse of around $120,000.
Horn scores controversial win over Zerafa
Making things even harder to swallow, he was seconds away from winning the rematch and had Horn on the ropes, bloodied with a cut to his head in the ninth round. Horn’s corner was contemplating throwing the towel in when the referee called for the fight doctor to inspect the cut.
The medico ruled Horn could fight on, and having had a rest for 30 or so seconds he came back and knocked Zerafa down twice to win on points.
Zerafa then watched on as Horn and Tszyu took to the ring earlier this year, with the son of boxing legend Kostya scoring a TKO in the eighth round.
That win should have seen Tszyu and Zerafa face off but the Tszyu camp put in a “pathetic” offer to Zerafa’s team, believed to be just $70,000 despite the Tszyu-Horn bout pulling in $6 million.
Zerafa found himself out in the cold and watched on as Tszyu was crowned Australia’s best boxing prospect with a WBO super-welterweight title shot earmarked for early 2021 after defeating New Zealand’s Bowyn Morgan, the man Zerefa says replaced him after he knocked back their offer.
Horn says ‘The Man’ is different ‘behind closed doors’
The pandemic has worked in Tszyu’s favour, with WBO champion Patrick Teixeira unable to leave his native Brazil because of travel restrictions, giving him the Aussie a chance to win a world title in unprecedented fashion.
On the other hand Zerafa hasn’t fought in a year and while most people might be justified in rolling their eyes at the prospect of the Bendigo boxer fighting a man nearly 20 years his senior in Mundine and all the issues that come along with it, in truth it’s a fight Zerafa needs during these uncertain times.
Most fans may doubt how much competition there will be in the ring on March 13 but Zerafa says the former title holder is committed to going out on a positive note. The 28-year-old is “hoping” to receive A-side privileges against Mundine, although his primary concern is to be ready and for both fighters to entertain.
“He’s taking this fight very seriously. He’s training a few times a day he’s eating well he’s recovering well,” he said.
“Age is just a number, you can’t buy experience and it only takes one punch. I’m going in there to make statement.”