Interview with John Conway
John ‘The Rebel’ Conway, or as many call him ‘John Rebel’, is a well known trainer, judge, referee and x-fighter in both the international and New Zealand boxing and Thai Boxing scene.
Aside from training his fighters at Rebel Lee Gar in New Lynn, Auckland, John is often in the ring refereeing both national and international fights.
Last Wednesday March 31, 2010, ‘The Rebel’ was a referee for two of the undercard bouts at the Tua VS Friday title fight at Trusts Stadium, Waitakere. NZFighters took the time to interview John about his career, the fight night and his take on the Tua/Friday clash.
NZF: Tell me a little about your fighting background?
JC: I started training for Boxing when I was about 12 and I started fighting probably when I was about 13 – 14. I joined a gym when I was about 15; Lance Revill’s Boxing Gym, and I had a stack of fights there, and then I moved over to Australia. I’ve been to a lot of Boxing gyms but the main Boxing gyms I went to in Australia was a guy called Barnie Hall in Kings Cross in Sydney and another guy called Charlie Smith; I racked up a number of fights there.
When I was about 18 – 19 I started Thai Boxing and went to Thailand. I had a few Kickboxing fights in New Zealand but I didn’t really train Kickboxing, just trained in Boxing but still went into tournaments. Back in those days you had to do eight kicks or more and you wore long pants. It was completely different than it is now. I also did some kickboxing fights in Australia but not too many. I then went to Thailand. I just went there for boxing but I started to do Thai Boxing. So that’s how I started into the sport.
When I came back to NZ, I was about 20 – 21, I met up with Lollo Herimuli after going to several other Kickboxing gyms. When I met Lollo...I actually learnt more from Lollo than from the year I lived in Thailand; whether it was a communication issue or just a connection with a person, I don’t know....I was there for about 10 years. I ended up with my career with him until I went into professional Boxing. That was quite an experience. Probably the longest trainer I have spent time with. There was Lollo, Peter Flynn and a few other trainers that came out of the gym like Tojo Dickson who was another trainer there that was good. Balmoral Lee Gar was where I got most of my titles, pretty much had my best run as a fighter.
NZF: We have some of your titles
JC: Actually I found out that the titles aren’t really hard to get, but the important ones were the ones that were hard to get. These were: my first amateur New Zealand Wealterweight ISKA title; that was hard to get as the other fighter was a true champion and hard to beat. The other ones were the WMC titles that I’ve got. And the Hong Kong world title which was quite challenging to get. But there were lesser titles that I have got that were really just fights. I’ve probably got 7 New Zealand titles but I just talk about two of them.
NZF: So you were refereeing at the David Tua & Friday Ahunanya undercard fights on Wednesday. Tell us a little about that, and about your experience and take of those fights?
JC: I refereed two of the Americans that fought the Kiwis. Both of the American fighters I have refereed previously, so I sort of got to know them already. When I referee international opponents I always research them; who they have fought, if they are a puncher or a boxer, cause I referee to the style of the fight. I don’t have a concrete set of rules, I pretty much have an organic style. So with the heavyweight, the American (Clarence Tillman III), he was a big slugger, he wasn’t a pure boxer but a line-backer with American Gridiron. So I tend to keep closer to those people cause they tend to respond less to referees.
The other chap, Jameson Bostic, he’s more of a boxer, so I stayed away from him a little. Because I had refereed them before, I felt comfortable refereeing them this time. I had some sort of relationship with them, where there was equal respect between both of them and as a result both fights were easy to referee.
The first fight that I did between Jameson Bostic and Oscar Siale was a bit hairy in the second round where I almost stopped the fight. It was a couple of punches away from being stopped but I let the fight carry on and as a result it turned out to be quite a good fight. The Kiwi came back towards the end of the fight. It was a good experience with there being a lot of people there and a lot of media, a lot of Boxing organisations from abroad. There’s no difference between refereeing that fight than a little fight at A.B.A. There are still two people and the referee in the ring. They do their job and I do mine.
NZF: Any highlights for you for the undercard fights?
JC: I think the two fights that really stood out were the girl fight between Christina Tai and Bronwyn Wylie, they fought really well and the other fight was the American Bostic fighting Siale, that was a really good fight. Some of the fights were a bit average for a show of that status. But I think the crowd enjoyed the night and that was the main thing.
NZF: With the Isreal Garcia fight against Brett Smith, the fight was basically stopped. You weren’t refereeing that fight but were obviously watching it, what happened?
JC: Basically, Brett didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to fight so he basically forced himself to be disqualified. He had about 30 seconds at the beginning of round 1 to test himself. And when he found out that he couldn’t compete, he basically ended the fight by being disqualified, opposed to be knocked out or losing on points.
Unfortunately, the dumb part about that fight was that he should never have been matched up, it should have been....it’s like putting an ambulance driver alongside a brain surgeon...it just didn’t make sense. But I understand why it happened, as it is hard to get a quality opponent down here. You have to invest in money to get someone decent. There’s plenty of Australians that could have given Garcia a good fight or even Shane Cameron. If he stood up and took the fight that would have been quite good for everybody. It would have given some credibility back onto Shane as at the moment he’s lost a lot in the last two fights.
NZF: What’s your take on the Tua vs Friday fight?
JC: Well the fight for 99% of the people didn’t pan out like it was meant to, but there was a few boxing people inside the circuit that knew that the fight was going to end like it did. I thought it was a good result, a good fight. I thought Tua showed a good jab, a good use of his right hand. He showed he’s fit and been training, and had a good defence. So he had all the right ingredients to keep going in the right way. He’s still got a world title shot, he still needs two or three more fights. He will need to fight somebody that’s got a bigger name, that’s equally as dangerous as Friday. Somebody like Oliver Mac Call, Hollyfield or Botha. Someone on that scale. But if he had a title fight in his next fight, that would be smart management by the current champions as now Tua knows he’s got all the tools in the tool box, so he can sharpen all those tools. But if he is taken on now for the title shot it is likely that he wouldn’t win. If Tua has two or three more fights, he would sharpen that tool box and would win. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future.
NZF: So it is more strategy on the managers’ parts?
JC: The actual fight is the easy part to do, it is the engineering of the fight that’s the difficult part. Because, to make money you have to show Tua to fight four more times by knocking them out so you get more people interested, and at that level Tua will be ready for a world title shot. If he had a world title at his next shot he wouldn’t be ready, and not many people would buy the fight and the champion would get to keep his belt. There is a lot of work going into a deal for title fights.
NZF: If he did go in to a title fight and didn’t win, what would Tua have to do then?
JC: It would be the end of the road. If he wanted to carry on boxing and he lost the title fight he would have to pursue Commonwealth title fights. It would be a harder road to come back from as you can’t give one person too many chances as there are a lot of people who want a chance, and people don’t want to see a fighter keep losing, they want to see fresh blood.
NZF: Is there anything you want to discuss about the fighting scene in New Zealand whether it’s in Boxing or Kickboxing?
JC: I think generally the kickboxing is improving. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have anyone in particular that stands out as coming through. We don’t have someone to replace Jason Suttie or Ray Sefo or Shane Chapman. We have good fighters like Joe Hopkins or Slava Alexeichik, but we don’t have a star so to speak. But generally all the fighters are improving. There’s a lot of competitions which helps improve the sport.
In the boxing scene there seems to be us and them. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t have seen Steven Heremaia in the undercard for the Tua fight as he is an exciting fighter. Everybody saw that when he fought down in Hamilton that he put on a great show. And he was in the audience watching while there was average fighters fighting. So that seemed kind of wrong. I think the boxing scene has to work together rather than promote their own egos. There are too many isolated groups. So that’s sad and something that Kickboxing hasn’t got. We all work together in the Kickboxing industry. Everybody’s friendly and everybody helps each other out.
NZF: Any advice to the young guys and girls who want to come to a gym or step into the ring?
JC: My advice is that if you are going to have a fight it’s a 24 hour sport. You eat kickboxing, you sleep kickboxing. Anything that doesn’t help you win a fight is helping you to lose a fight. It’s not like rugby where you can pass the ball, it’s a self sport, you have to be committed, as half-way through a fight if you are not fit or focussed, it’s lonely place to be. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication but it’s well worth it in the end, there’s nothing better than winning a fight and getting a bigger trophy than your mate.