You’ve come to the Bondi Boxing Club in Waterloo on Tuesday afternoon to have a look at the 15-year-old fighter the professionals apparently don’t want to spar – because he hits too hard.
Sounds too good to be true. It also sounds like a story worth telling. Here’s Darragh Foley, the world-ranked super-lightweight who’s doing some conditioning work.
“I used to be a male model before I sparred this kid,” the Irishman, whose nose is spread across his face, jokes.
Not everyone laughs about stepping into the ring with Anton Markovic, the Trinity Grammar student from Malabar who is quietly building towards something big.
How big? Let’s ask International Hall of Fame trainer Johnny Lewis, who has trained a few up-and-coming boxers in his time.
“I wish I was 24 not 74 so I could sit back and see what this kid will give to boxing fans in the future,” Lewis says. “This kid will get boxing back to where it should be in this country. He’s very special.”
Markovic’s trainer,Tony Del Vecchio, thinks so, too.
“When he’s sparring,” Del Vecchio explains, “there are pros in this gym that are very wary. Jesus, no, not Anton! He punches that hard. He’s only 15 but he’s 75kg, has big shoulders, and he’s rocked a few of the professionals.
“I’ve had four guys spar with him from other gyms who haven’t returned. He puts them away. I’ve got seasoned guys who will do it, but they’re reluctant. He’s put people on notice – at 15.”
Since starting with Del Vecchio 18 months ago, Markovic has collected four national titles, including the Australasian Golden Gloves schoolboys’ championship (70kgs) in Brisbane last year in front of freshly minted world champion Jeff Horn. Markovic was only 14 then – and only months into learning about an equally technical and brutal sport.
When he first arrived in the gym, Del Vecchio thought he was going to train one of the dozens of kids who have big dreams and not much more. Then he heard the crack of glove on heavy bag. Bang! Bang! Bang! It only took two more sessions to realise there was something worth pursuing here.
“I thought, ‘This is ridiculous’,” he recalls. “Where’s this strength come from?”
It comes from the long hours Markovic had spent in the water, trying to become the best young butterflier in the country, dragging himself out of the water with each stroke. He was a student of boxing, entranced by the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez, as well as studying legendary figures like Julio Cesar Chavez, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard.
He only pulled on the gloves for fitness. But the more powerful he became, and the sweeter the punches landed, the more he realised his days of mindless laps of the pool were over.
“I’d rather take a punch in the face than do another lap of butterfly,” Markovic laughs.
What about sparring with grown men who are stronger, heavier, more experienced? “It’s different to being punched by a 16-year-old but you get used to it,” he shrugs. “You stop being afraid.”
He wasn’t afraid in Bathurst in June when he fought for another Australian title, but this time in the 78kg division and against an older opponent.
In the first round, Markovic was given a standing eight-count.
Video later revealed the ref had got it wrong. Markovic had slipped the punch. “Don’t mix it up with him,” Del Vecchio advised Markovic when he returned to his corner. “He’s heavier than you, taller than you …”
Recalls Del Vecchio: “After that terrible first round, he went out and beat a kid, who he was giving away four kilos to, in the next three rounds and ended up winning the fight convincingly. He listens to everything you say. It’s like playing PlayStation. I can’t get that from my pros who earn $30,000 a fight. His name is out there and now I’m having a hard time matching him because people don’t want to fight him.”
Markovic is a dedicated student at Trinity Grammar, the prestigious inner-west school that has cut him plenty of slack to pursue his dreams in boxing, a sport that is hardly the most popular among teachers.
And how far do those dreams extend? “I’d like to represent Australia at a Commonwealth Games or an Olympics,” Markovic says. “I’m just taking it step by step.”
Then this: “I’m really looking forward to fighting some adults”. Good luck to them.
Andrew Webster, The Sydney Morning Herald,