“Who’s lookin’ for a fight?”
On the road with the last boxing tent in Australia
Microphone in hand, Michael John Karaitiana stands atop a narrow wooden plank 7 feet off the ground. Behind him is a circus tent with mustard-yellow banners that read “All Weights. Nobody Barred!” and “We Challenge All Comers. Cash Prizes.” With his graying hair tied in a neat ponytail, wearing an embroidered Western shirt and a beaver-skinned cowboy hat, he resembles a range hand dressed up for a night on the town. His body is muscular, his stomach taut, even at age 54. Broken knuckles jut like bony spikes from his oversize fists.
Flanking Michael are six boxers dressed in satin robes. Two have been with him for decades. Part Aboriginal, they are distant relatives from the cotton-growing town of Moree, their lives marked by anger and prison time. Brendan Prince, who is 49, fights as the “Moree Mauler,” his large face flattened by too many punches. He bangs a bass drum with a boom-ba-boom beat. To his left is Michael John Jenkins, known to everyone as “Fugzi,” who is 53 and missing his front teeth. He rings an old cowbell in a ragged rhythm.
“Shake ’em up, boys. Give ’em a good rally!” Michael tells the pair over a tinny sound system. “Let’s show ’em that Roy Bell’s Touring Stadium is back in town!”
It’s 3 p.m. on a cloudy July day in Alice Springs, an isolated dot of humanity located at the center of Australia. Michael and his boxing tent are part of the annual agricultural fair, the biggest event of the year for this frontier town. He’s driven 1,400 miles from his home in New South Wales to get here. Boxing tents have enlivened rural Australia since the early 1900s, when tent fighters faced off against challengers from small communities across the Outback. Michael’s grandfather Roy Bell first came to Alice Springs in 1924, his father joined the troupe in 1957, and Michael has been running the tent for the past 36 years.
The drum-and-bell racket draws a crowd that’s a cross section of the unpeopled Northern Territory, where 244,000 residents inhabit an area twice the size of Texas. The audience is predominantly Aboriginal: elders in bush hats and flannel shirts, teens in hoodies clutching rugby balls, and women with baby strollers. There’s a scattering of whites, mostly men, some toting sons on their shoulders, others with trucker caps and sagging bellies.
“Holda! Holda! Holda!” Michael says to halt the beat, waving a wooden cane and flashing two gold front teeth, mementos from a crashing tent pole. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, if ya cast your eyes along, you’ll see all those girlie rides and bouncy things. But you’re not gonna find an old-time boxing tent like this. My men are here to challenge all comers, so if ya have any fighters in the crowd, have ’em ready.”
Michael is a “spruiker,” a carnival barker, whose twangy auctioneer’s patter has a loose relationship with the truth. His task is to lure fairgoers inside the tent to take on his fighters. Winners can earn as much as $200 and a year’s worth of bragging rights. Losers can at least claim they had the gumption to strap on the gloves. “Take a look at this big joker here, folks,” he says, pointing to Mauler. “He once did a nude shot for Playboy and used to fight in the pubs and clubs. He fought with the tent for 35 years before he left to have heart surgery. Now he runs on batteries.”
The boxing tent reached its heyday in the two decades after World War II, when half a dozen troupes crisscrossed the country. Nowadays, Michael says, the working-class men who once clamored to the mat have given way to “soft kids who fiddle with smartphones.” By the time the spectacle faded in the 1970s, many Australians associated tent boxing with a shadowy and violent past they would rather forget. Michael’s tent is one of only two that’s still going, and neither tours full time.
“OK now, fellas, put your hands up,” he tells the crowd. “Who’s lookin’ for a fight?”
Michael summons a handful of volunteers to the plank, known as the lineup board, and assigns each one a nickname. He dubs a slender man “The Fishing Rod.” Another he christens “Hendrix” for his Afro. A third he calls “The Alien.” “You sober, son?” he asks him. “Do you know what you’re doin’?” When asked what he does for work, The Alien raises his hand to his mouth as though taking a drink, making the crowd cackle.
Two hundred spectators file into the boxing tent, paying $20 apiece to witness a six-bout card. They pass fading canvas posters of long-dead fighters crouched in their pugilist poses. Rather than a roped-off ring, large mats are laid at the center of the tent, allowing spectators to press in so close that when boxers are hit hard, they’re sent reeling into the crowd. Between rounds, the fighters rest on milk crates.
During each match, Michael offers a running commentary that celebrates challengers whose punches land anywhere near their target. These are decidedly amateur fights with three 2-minute-long rounds and bulky 16-ounce gloves — twice the weight that professional boxers use — to slow the speed of blows and to provide additional cushion. The challengers see the bouts as a serious test, but for the tent fighters, they are part theater. Michael tells his boxers that bashing a local would discourage volunteers, so Mauler and Fugzi give each a chance to prove himself in the first two rounds, then go for a knockout in the third after their opponent is exhausted.
Fugzi takes on an undersized challenger named Justin, whose head barely reaches the tent fighter’s shoulders. Both men tap gloves. “Box on!” Michael says. The bout is a mismatch, even with Fugzi fighting barefoot. With a straight-backed posture that harks back to boxers of another era, he glides and jabs, orbiting his foe, using his superior reach to swat away any attack. Justin’s punches are undisciplined, his defense nonexistent. Seconds into the fight, Fugzi lands a blow to the jaw, dropping Justin to his knees. A woman screams in delight.
“Let him throw a few punches, Fugz,” Michael rasps over the microphone. “Good boy. That’s the way.” But Fugzi’s benevolence doesn’t last. He soon lands two quick strikes to Justin’s midsection, and the challenger is helped to his milk crate. “Stay away from him, Fugzi,” Michael scolds at the beginning of the final round. “We don’t want to see the little fella get hurt.” As a quick left jab sends a spray of sweat from Justin’s head, Michael ends the fight.
Hours later, Michael paces his tour bus. The Alice Springs fair lasts only two days, a small window to earn money for petrol, food, and salaries. He needs an evening fight card to make ends meet, but only if the crowd is large enough for a decent profit. One last look, though, confirms the fairgrounds have emptied. He gives Mauler and Fugzi the news: There will be no fights tonight.
A tattoo on Michael’s back depicts a white boxer facing off against a grass-skirted Māori warrior wielding a spear. On his left temple, Māori tribal marks morph into a snake, for him a symbol of Australia, its long tail curling around his ear. It’s no coincidence the country’s fraught history of race relations plays out on Michael’s body: The narrative of Australia’s mistreatment of its indigenous people, the story of the boxing tent, and Michael’s travails with his own extended family are intertwined.
Tent fighting got its start just a decade after Australia became a nation. At the time, almost all indigenous people were confined to remote “missions,” or reservations, could not travel without government permission, and were not considered citizens. It wouldn’t be until 1965 that indigenous people throughout Australia were allowed to vote and another six years before an indigenous person was elected to Parliament. For most of the past 50 years, the prevailing view in Australia has been that the boxing tent didn’t just reflect the country’s systemic racism but perpetuated it. Aboriginal boxers were paid less than whites and sometimes not at all, and they were often presented on the lineup board with the invitation of “Who wants to fight the darkie?”
Recently, though, historians have taken a more nuanced view. The boxing tent, they point out, was also a rare public place where races mixed. The boxers who traveled with Roy Bell and others were both white and Aboriginal, as were the audiences. Richard Broome, who teaches Aboriginal history in Melbourne, believes that the boxing tent offered indigenous Australians a sense of empowerment in a nation that denied them basic rights. “They became heroes to their own people,” he writes. Michael agrees. The tent, he says, was the one arena where a black man dared raise a fist against a white man and knock him to the mat.
Michael’s father, Lester, was a Māori who emigrated from New Zealand in 1956 and joined Roy Bell’s caravan soon after. It was the golden age of the boxing tent. Bell’s fighters traveled year-round, making 100 stops in towns and work camps that were among the most desolate places on the continent. Fighting under the name the “Māori Chief,” Lester performed the haka war dance before each bout, often facing the toughest challengers, known as “takes.” Within the country’s strict racial hierarchy, he existed in an in-between space — a cut above indigenous Australians but well below whites, a man of color who was still subject to the country’s pervasive racism. Reliable, hardworking, and a nondrinker, he eventually became Bell’s camp boss, responsible for keeping the fighters in line.
Trouble came when he and Bell’s teenage daughter, Nita, started a secret romance and she became pregnant. Bell banished them. The way he saw it, Lester had risen above his station: The black men who fought under him were employees, not sons-in-law. He vowed never to speak to his daughter again. After seven years, they reconciled, and the family rejoined the tent, but the old man’s relationship with Lester remained strained, even though he was the star of the show. Bell insisted on calling him not by his name but as “Māori.”
Michael, Lester and Nita’s second-born son, talks about growing up among the “showies,” carnival men and women, with almost dreamy reverence. He helped handle snakes in the reptile act and at night wandered Sideshow Alley to watch Sampson the Strong Man, Vanessa the Undresser, Pygmy performers, and Indian rope-trick artists. He also learned to box — his first tent bout, at the age of 6, made the local newspaper — and for years scrambled for the coins spectators tossed onto the mat to award boys who had the spunk to fight.
In 1971, Bell retired the troupe in the wake of new laws that restricted boxing tents in all but two federal territories. When he died the following year, he left nothing to Lester. In the end, Michael says, his father was treated no better than the hired help. “Lester was a good man, but he worked for us,” says Elwin Bell, Roy’s youngest son. “Michael might take offense to that, but that’s how it was.”
A decade after his grandfather’s death, Michael decided to revive the boxing tent. “It was in my blood,” he says. “I had thought about it at school. I had always thought about it.” He studied videos of the old man spruiking to memorize his words, inflection, and movements. He went to a shed and retrieved the musty tent equipment — gloves, mats, and canvas portraits — and took Roy Bell’s Touring Stadium back on the road. In the early years, the show was a family affair: Lester fought; Nita managed the money. Michael soon married a girl who had also grown up on the show circuit, and their children romped the fairgrounds.
Michael quickly learned just how much the tent-boxing circuit had shrunk since Roy Bell’s death. By then, television had come to the Outback, and entertainment like the boxing tent suddenly seemed antiquated. To make money, he traveled to Aboriginal missions in the equatorial jungles of northern Queensland, far beyond where most showies had ventured.
Fighting as “The Afghan” (“His mother was a full-blooded Aboriginal, his father, an Afghan camel driver”), Michael took on the takes, as Lester once did. He fought two men at once, even on his knees, anything to draw customers.
When the tent was down for the season, Michael trained as a professional boxer. His career was short-lived, but he continued to fight in the tent into his late 40s until a skull-rattling blow stopped him cold. For months, he couldn’t focus or make decisions, and he still worries that boxing has made him punch-drunk. An earlier hit left him with so much pain that a doctor had recommended he have a steel plate inserted into his jaw. To bring in steady income, Michael has worked as a truck driver and a mechanic and, in recent years, has hunted wild goats — a task he calls “a mongrel of a job.” Supporting his wife and five children has kept him from taking the tent out every season, and the past decade has been especially hard, with several years passing between tours.
Roy Bell’s sons, who remain fixtures on the carnival circuit operating thrill rides, are baffled by Michael’s insistence to prolong an entertainment they believe has had its day. “The boxing tent died with my father,” says Arnold Bell, Roy’s oldest son. “It should have been left in the shed where it belongs.”
Michael, though, relishes being an outlier. He has always considered himself more Lester’s son than Roy’s grandson, proud of being on the dark-skinned side of the Bell clan. He keeps the tent alive, he says, in honor of his father. At Lester’s funeral in 2003, dozens of Māori performed the haka dance. A spruiker challenged mourners to raise a hand if they wanted to step up and fight the big man. The casket was lowered to rest on a section of boxing mat covered by a swath of Roy Bell’s canvas tent. Lester’s second-born son had seen to that.
Behind the wheel of his bus, Michael leads his convoy north along the Stuart Highway. Known as “The Track,” it is the interior’s principal north-south route, stretching more than 1,750 miles along the path forged by Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart, who in 1861 led the first successful expedition across the nation’s then-uncharted center. The two-lane road runs ramrod straight past fields of termite mounds towering like desert cathedrals and settlements whose names seem pulled from a children’s storybook: Cutta Cutta Caves, Banka Banka Station, Jingaloo, Mungkarta, Amoonguna, and Humpty Doo.
Michael’s second-hand bus — its destination sign reads Special — pulls an old trailer he refitted himself, while his son-in-law drives a battered truck with another ancient trailer in tow. With his own pickup, Fugzi peels off to stock up on chilled cans of bourbon-and-soda for the road, reappearing to speed ahead of the caravan, honking and pointing and laughing.
Michael bought the Special for $2,000, and it has no heat, air conditioning, or shower. He is proud that his road show is “patched together with tape and glue” in contrast to the upper-class Bells with their shiny thrill rides. He forgoes modern conveniences not just because he’s on a tight budget, but because it’s a way to re-create a bygone era when Roy Bell and his boxers traveled dirt tracks, forded rivers, hunted game, and camped in the bush for weeks on end.
The bus lacks a “roo” bar to protect against the kangaroo’s suicidal hops into the path of passing vehicles. When he spots one, Michael flicks off his high beams and slows to a crawl. The Special passes thousands of kangaroo carcasses. It’s not just roos he must avoid; there are wallabies, goats, donkeys, porcupines, emus, Brahman cattle, boars the size of boulders, and flocks of bush parrots that dive-bomb his windshield. One morning, the crew awakened at a roadside camp to find a dead 30-foot python hanging from a nearby tree.
Averaging 50 miles an hour, the Special is an obstacle for the diesel-powered semis known as road trains. Hauling as many as four trailers, the freighters can be as long as a 14-story building. Drivers resist applying their brakes to prevent jackknifes as they bear down on lumbering vehicles like the Special.
After a long day on the road, the piercing headaches from his jaw can leave Michael testy. One moment he’s calm, and the next he’s clenching his fists, ready to scrap. The time he considers most sacrosanct is when he retreats to the bus to prepare for a show, making his transition from truck driver to carnival showman. Everyone knows to leave him alone. The pressures Michael faces are substantial. Unlike the days of Roy Bell, he has only two boxers accompanying him, Mauler and Fugzi, and at every stop must recruit fighters to represent the tent. He also negotiates with show officials, keeps the books, and does his share of the cooking. His biggest stress, though, is that his audience is diminishing; with each tour, fewer whites are coming out to the bouts. He views this as a personal insult — a rejection of the thing he loves the most. Without white audiences, he’s convinced, the tent is in peril. “In the small towns, there’s just not enough money going around,” he says. “It’s bad for the other showies as well.”
All of this can make him desperate. One morning in Alice Springs, a wiry white teen with a shaved head asked to fight for the tent. Michael had him throw a few hooks and jabs and liked what he saw. He nicknamed the kid “Jailbait.” Michael boasts he can instantly size up anyone’s ability to fight, a necessary expertise when volunteers try to downplay their skills to gain advantage inside the tent. He looks at their nose and knuckles. Have they been broken? Do the men have balance, a fighter’s stance? He knows matching boxers of equal strength will ensure a good match and bring customers back.
That afternoon, Michael matched Jailbait up against an Aboriginal challenger nearly twice his size. Once on the mat, Jailbait never threw a punch. He ducked and danced to avoid his opponent, who was slow and powerful and relentlessly moving forward. By the end of the first round, the crowd was jeering. In the second round, the challenger caught up with Jailbait and connected with a straight-on blow to the nose. “Why does he have to punch so hard?” Jailbait yelled. “Now I’ve got a headache!” The crowd erupted in laughter. Michael had seen enough. “Take the gloves off him!” he shouted to Mauler. “Throw him out!”
Later, Michael admitted he selected Jailbait because he was white. He sat in his tour bus, flicking ashes from a cigarette into his palm. “Nobody wants to come watch the black fellas,” he says. “My kids, they won’t want to run this — it’s too much work. This is the hardest show there is. It’s as rough as guts.”
Before each tour, Michael puts the word out that he’s going back on the road. For years Mauler and Fugzi have answered the call. When they join the caravan, there are long man-hugs and backslapping. But once en route, Michael becomes a cloying perfectionist.
Setting up the tent, with its rusty spikes and iron bars, is arduous work. The tear-down is no easier; heavy ropes, banners, and wooden planks are stored in cramped, hard-to-access compartments on the trailer’s sides and undercarriage. “Here, let me do it,” Michael invariably tells his men. “That way it’ll be done right the first time.” He brags that he could put up the tent by himself, a claim that might have been true years ago but not anymore. And nobody touches the wooden box that holds the electric wiring, a relic once used by Roy Bell himself. Along with the canvas fighter portraits, it’s Michael’s most treasured possession. While he observes no color line, he follows a generations-old rule that places showies above their workers. “I’m the boss,” he reminds them.
By nature, Michael is a loner, but the boxing tent requires him to manage Mauler and Fugzi, men who size up every stranger through one prism: Can they knock him out? Fugzi is Michael’s best worker, but he’s also an agitator and complainer who picks fights in camp. Mauler, though, presents the bigger challenge. He’s a self-destructive slacker but impossible to dislike. Michael has a strict set of rules. No alcohol on the bus or in camp. Everyone showers before hitting the road. No urinating near the tent. No women allowed. Before the tour is over, Mauler breaks every one.
He showed up in Alice Springs fat and out of shape. Arriving by bus from Katherine, 735 miles away, his small duffel bag containing all he owned, he immediately bummed a cigarette, helping himself to four from the offered pack. Mauler has spent much of his life “long-grassing,” sleeping in fields or public parks, scrounging cigarette butts and money for liquor and pot. He met Fugzi growing up in Moree, a rough New South Wales town split along racial lines. He never met his father, he says, and his mother rejected him at birth. Raised by his grandmother, who ran a gambling house, he was expelled from school at 15. “Teachers hated me. I hated them,” he says. “My grandmother was angry. She wanted me to get the best education. I let her down.”
He committed petty crimes — breaking into cars, getting drunk in public — and has spent several years in prison. His body is covered with scars, the vestiges of street fights, pub brawls, and the time a girlfriend hit him with a brick that left an angry pink welt below one ear. He was long-grassing when he joined Michael’s tent in 1993. “He was a big black fella with a few scars on his head,” Michael recalls. “I thought, This bloke will be all right in the tent. He’s got a bit of character. He can mix with any crowd. Back then he wasn’t drinking like he does now.” For several years, Mauler has collected government disability after doctors diagnosed fight-related brain damage. “But really,” he says, “I’ve been this crazy all my life.”
The first morning in Alice Springs, Mauler vanished as the men labored to set up the tent. On past tours, he’s pulled “a midnight,” abandoning the tour. Michael rarely allows anyone back who’s left him, but he always accepts his feckless fighter. “He’s like family,” he says. Mauler is also fiercely loyal to Michael. “It seems like the day of the tent is over, but it’s not,” he says. “Success will come. And I want to be by his side when that day happens.”
In Tennant Creek, the tour’s second stop, the crew sets up camp beneath a copse of eucalyptus trees on ground crowded with anthills. The bush flies immediately descend, invading the men’s eyes and mouths, drawn to the sweat and stink. Mauler makes do with a World War II–era iron bed with stained, hand-me-down cushions, blankets, and pillows. While others do chores, he lounges in his tent reading a newspaper, discoursing on discrimination against indigenous Australians, and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, a money-saving habit in a country where singles sell for $1.50 each and packs go for up to $40.
When Michael last came to Tennant Creek, in 2013, an official told him that his tent attracted only “drunken Aboriginals.” “I’m a man of color,” he says. “I was offended.” Tempers flared, and police were called, with officers ordering him to leave town just before his first show. He stalled for time, saying he needed to pack up, but when the police left, he told the crowd he would defy the lawmen even if it meant going to jail. “I’ll have my bacon and eggs behind bars!” he proclaimed and went on to stage several matches. Officials first told him they didn’t want him back this year but eventually relented.
Mauler had refused to box in Alice Springs, claiming he’d lost his mojo. But after Fugzi’s fight with Justin appeared on YouTube, his competitive spirit was aroused. Sitting around the campfire the first night in Tennant Creek, Michael offers a bit of advice. To outdo Fugzi, he says, Mauler should take on two contenders at once and post his own video. Mauler likes the idea and the next morning trudges over to the public bathroom to shave his head as part of his prefight routine.
Mauler loves the mat, but he also suffers from terrible stage fright. “I’m just a brawler,” he says. “I don’t know any moves or repertoire, but I do have a big right punch.” He’s convinced he can’t fight unless he’s drunk or stoned. “It gives me the wind,” he says. On the morning of fight day, he starts swigging from a fifth of rum. He wears sunglasses, a black knit cap, a faux-gold chain, and a “Straight Outta Moree” T-shirt.
“Mauler,” Michael snaps, “you can’t wear that beanie or glasses on the lineup board. When you’re in the tent, you dress like a boxer. Go put on a gown.”
“I’m on it,” Mauler replies, finishing off the bottle. “I’m confident now.”
He fights two men — a white cowboy whom Michael nicknames “Rampaging Ricky” and an athletic young black man named Darryl. Dripping from a rum sweat, Mauler plays to the crowd, jokingly running about the mat. The two men buzz around him, careful to avoid his powerful swipes. “Look out for the little fella behind ya, Mauler,” Michael warns. “Don’t run around too much, you’ll run out of air!”
Mauler dashes between the pair, extending his arms to throw a simultaneous punch at each. By the second round, he is gasping. He knocks down the cowboy with a left hook, but Darryl sends him to the mat with a flurry of short punches. In the last round, woozy from the alcohol, Mauler goes down twice without even being hit. Michael awards the bout to the challengers, but Mauler insists his mojo is back. “At least I didn’t cough up any phlegm,” he says. “That’s gotta count for something.”
At Katherine, the next stop, both Fugzi and Mauler pull a midnight. Michael isn’t entirely surprised they took off, he says, but “it’s a kick in the guts. You carry them along, and then they’re not there for you on show day. You need them just for that one hour so you can earn enough money for the week.”
The day before the matches, several of Michael’s old boxing pals arrive to help out. Lucas “Cool Hand Luke” Warren, a 65-year-old concrete worker and former pro boxer with gray dreadlocks, volunteers to take on challengers half his age. Ken “Rocky” Couzens, a former tent boxer who coached Michael in a few pro fights, agrees to referee. “How can you put up a tent like this and announce you’ll take on anyone in town when you don’t have any fighters?” Rocky asks, letting out a huge laugh. “Now that’s balls.” The men sit around the camp on lawn chairs trading stories as Michael plays his guitar and sings a song he wrote about his father.
That night on the lineup board, before Michael starts to spruik, a fighter rings a cowbell in honor of a professional boxer who had recently died — ten times, one for each round of a fight. “That’s the tenth bell,” Michael tells the crowd, “and he’s not getting up.” Then, as he promotes the evening’s first match, Mauler appears in the crowd. He’s been partying for days. Somebody asks him if he’s ready to fight. “I can’t,” he says. “I’ve got a headache.” He disappears before Michael can spot him.
The fights are a success, attracting a large, mixed crowd, many of them ranch hands who participated in the rodeo next door. After the last bout, an indigenous Australian named Norman George approaches Michael. Decades earlier, George had fought for Roy Bell under the nickname “Crow” before he left to earn a college degree and a good government job. On this night, he’s nostalgic. “I loved the tent,” he says. “I loved being around the other boxers. For all of us Aboriginal kids, the fights gave us a way out.” As Michael squats on the lineup board, Crow reaches up to shake his hand. “I miss the drumbeat,” he says softly. “Boom-ba-boom-ba-boom!”
On the final morning, as Michael breaks camp, Mauler shows up to collect the money he says is due him. Sitting in the bus stairwell, smoking a cigarette, Michael doesn’t look at the boxer, a gesture meant to wound. “So, ya come for your money after we’re all packed up,” he says, exhaling smoke. “You let us down, Mauler. We needed you, and you weren’t there.”
“Aw,” Mauler says. “It was just the grog and the cones” — bong hits.
Michael hands him a tight wad of bills, and Mauler takes it without looking. He suggests he might show up in Darwin, the tour’s final stop. “We’ll see how I go,” Mauler says. “Well, we won’t need ya,” Michael lies. It’s a rerun of the same sad scene. Mauler walks away in a Bob Marley T-shirt, his head already sprouting gray hairs.
Darwin brings more bad news. Fair officials won’t allow Michael to set up his tent. His application arrived late, they claim, but he is convinced he’s being blacklisted after the 2013 Tennant Creek incident. He parks his caravan outside the front gate in the hope that officials will change their mind. “If I drive away,” he says, “I’ve given up.” Fellow showies stop by to offer encouragement and a few dollars, which he refuses.
In the end, the Darwin officials don’t budge. Michael was counting on the proceeds from Darwin to pay for the 2,200-mile drive back to New South Wales. To cut down on expenses, he decides to leave the pickup and trailer behind, but that isn’t enough. He will eventually have to ask his mother for a loan to make the trip home.
By any definition, the tour has been a failure. Michael’s lost his boxers and was nearly banned from half of the four stops. Most of white Australia has turned its back on the tent. The indigenous people are the only ones who haven’t abandoned him, but he knows he can’t continue with them alone. Despite the tour’s abrupt end, Michael is smiling. Behind the wheel of the Special, he begins singing out loud and talking about the future — his plans to open a boxing museum and sparring ring in his hometown, how he’s going to keep the tour alive at least until 2024, the 100th anniversary of when Roy Bell started the boxing show. “This trip has shown that I’ve still got it,” he says. “I can still spruik. I can still get ’em in the door, just like I used to.” Before he is out of town, he’s on his phone, calling Mauler.