The Hollywood walk of fame may be just around the corner for Hunter fighter Chad Bennett. BRETT KEEBLE writes.
Only the best scriptwriters in the movie-making Mecca he was nicknamed after could dream up a better story than the one Newcastle boxer Chad "Hollywood" Bennett is starring in.
The popular pugilist is living out a real-life Rocky fantasy, training with Australia's triple world champion Jeff Fenech in preparation for a fight in the United States being promoted by international heavy hitters Stuart Duncan and Dan Goossen.
That bout, against Argentina's Domingo Damigella on August 13 for an International Boxing Organisation (IBO) regional title, will take place at Soboba Casino, located - appropriately for "Hollywood" - in California, just 150 kilometres east of downtown Los Angeles.
Win, and Duncan and Fenech have all but guaranteed Bennett a world title fight in Newcastle; a shot at the IBO world junior welterweight belt; a shot Bennett has fought all his life for.
Bennett won the World Boxing Foundation's version of the world welterweight title by defeating another Argentinian, Adrian Daneff, in Newcastle in May 2004. But in terms of international credibility, the IBO packs more of a wallop than the WBF.
Bennett can thank his manager and mate Richard Claut, the millionaire Newcastle businessman who heads the RTC Group, for securing the support of heavy hitters such as Fenech and Duncan.
Before that, the well-connected Claut helped his contender find a job on the waterfront as a linesman tying up ships at Newcastle Harbour, and arranged for him to use Warners Bay gymnasium Genesis as his local training base.
Claut then organised a meeting between Bennett and Fenech, at which the International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee agreed to train him and be in his corner for the Damigella fight. He also convinced Duncan, the American-based Australian matchmaker and manager, to join Team Hollywood.
"Richard's a great guy, and he came and spoke to me and a couple of other friends from Newcastle, and they've always said to me that Chad hasn't always given 100 per cent of his ability and he's done a few things wrong along the way," Fenech says.
"But if someone proper helped him and made a difference, that could be the making of him. So I had a meeting with Chad and I just told him straight, that this is the way it is and if we do things properly, there's not a problem.
"I'll help any Aussie who wants to make it. I'm realistic, and I told Chad, if you're prepared to work hard, let's shake on it and put your hand up. If you're not prepared to do that, don't waste my time, because I've got a couple of boys I'm training at the moment who give 110 per cent all the time and unless Chad's prepared to do that, just forget about it.
"But we had a great talk, and he was very,
"I had a meeting with Chad and I just told him straight, that this is the way it is and if we do things properly, there's not a problem."
very keen, and he's still got time to learn a couple of little things that can help him . . . and I'm pretty excited about it.
"I've got some friends from Newcastle who've known him for a long time, and I always like to give something back to these guys who have just been on the cusp, and I'm hoping that by Chad going overseas and taking the risk, that it will be good for him."
Compiling a career record of 24 wins (16 by knock-out), three draws and four losses, Bennett has been there or thereabouts in Australia's multi-faceted fight game since his first professional bout against Wayne Blackadder at Mayfield in October 1999.
The WBF world title was a high point, as was his unanimous points decision over former IBO world lightweight champion Aldo Rios at Broadmeadow last November.
Fenech's first association with Bennett was for the Rios fight, and he was again involved when Bennett fought Steven Wills 11 days later, and was knocked out in the fourth round, in the main preliminary on the Danny Green-Roy Jones Jnr undercard at Acer Arena.
"I took the fight against Stevie Wills on short notice and had to lose 6.3 kilos in three days. I was eating four ice cubes every three hours," Bennett says.
"I haven't fought since then - for a while I wasn't real sure what I was going to do, and a few things fell through - but this has come up and it's the chance of a lifetime for me.
"I'll be fighting junior welterweight [63.5kg] but I won't have to lose so much weight in such a short period this time. It will be a lot more controlled.
"With someone the calibre of Jeff Fenech training me and agreeing to be in my corner, it's a massive help to me. I'll be training with him in his gym in Sydney for a couple of weeks before we leave, and he's already shown me some technical stuff that will help me a lot."
This is the second time around for the Bennett-Claut partnership. Claut walked away four years ago because he did not believe Bennett was giving his best, but the fighter convinced his friend he was fair dinkum and they rejoined forces last year.
"Look, Jeff and Stu have been instrumental in pulling this off, with the help of Goossen Tutor Promotions," Claut says.
"This really is the last throw of the dice and the rest is up to Hollywood. His last fight was taken on short notice and he had to shed six kilograms in three days but to get him on the biggest fight card in Australian history, it was too good to pass up.
"But this is something else again, and it's very exciting for Chad. It's a realistic opportunity for him to get a world title fight in Newcastle."
Fenech will travel with Bennett to California next week to introduce him to Mike Tyson and other high-profile boxing figures before they bunker down in a high-altitude training camp in the San Bernadino mountains.
"It's going to be exciting for Chad, and hopefully while we're in America he'll meet the likes of the Mike Tysons, and that will help motivate him because when you're around those type of people, that hunger rubs off, and I'm hoping that will work for Chad," Fenech says.
"Newcastle has embraced and loves Chad, so I think it's time he gives them something back and goes and fights someone who can fight. Then hopefully after we beat this guy, we'll bring something special back to Newcastle and give them what they really want . . .
"Before we go, he's going to come down here and train with me three or four days a week, stay in a cheap hotel somewhere near my house so he can run and train with my other boxers, and really do things properly.
"I know they always say they train hard and they've done this and done that, but I'm going to show them what real fighters train like."
Duncan sensed his involvement would help Bennett and Claut realise a dream.
"I work closely with Jeff, so Richard's approach to me was where can Chad fight and when can he fight," Duncan says.
"I've spoken to Dan Goossen, who has supported a number of Australian boxers over the past decade . . . and Dan has allowed us to put on a fight over there. In the event that Chad gets through that, the ultimate goal is to get a world title shot happening in Newcastle.
"Richard's got a two-pronged attack. One is he's trying to present an opportunity for
"He should go off like an absolute buzz saw by the time he hits the canvas on the night."
someone he supports, as a last run at a title, and reading between the lines - he's a good guy with his heart in the right spot - so let's see if we can't make this happen for Chad, and let's get a proper, bona fide world title fight happening in Newcastle.
"Where Jeff and myself fit into the picture, we can create the opportunity in America for him and we can secure a TV date to do that in Newcastle. To warrant having a title fight like that, you need to have television - it's a critical ingredient - and that's where Jeff comes in."
Presuming Bennett keeps up his end of the deal and beats Damigella, whose last loss was nine years ago, Duncan says the world title fight in Newcastle is scheduled for September 22.
"You've got to crawl before you walk and he's got to get through his first opponent, and he's got probably as credible a record as anyone Chad's faced before so he's got to train his arse off, and he can beat this guy," he says.
"It's a worthwhile match-up and it's as good a preparation as you're going to get for Chad to potentially take on someone for a world title."
A bit like Jerry Seinfeld saying "yes" to the Greater Building Society, because he applauded their audacity and was charmed by their pitch, Duncan found it impossible to turn Claut down, meaning Bennett will reap full benefits of his network of contacts.
"I really don't work with any Australian boxers these days. I'm a dual resident and I've spent 95 per cent of my time in the United States over the last four years," he says.
"I've got a holiday house back here at Phillip Island and I come back here when I've got spare time in between the different productions I'm working on over in the States, so I wouldn't be wasting my time on this if I didn't think it was worthy.
"If you've reported on him, you'll know that Chad is a good guy . . . Is he one of the best boxers Australia has ever produced? No, and we're not proclaiming that he is.
"But he's a nice enough guy for Jeff and myself to want to get involved with and try to help them with the cause, and that is to give a local Newcastle resident an opportunity, and make sure that he's prepared in the best way that he possibly can be . . ."
Bennett will complete his preparation in a purpose-built high-altitude base at Big Bear.
"There's guys that will be supporting us like Abel Sanchez, who ran Don King's training camps for 12 years and has his own facility up at Big Bear, and he's going to be doing some cardio work with Chad for a week or so prior to the fight," Duncan says.
"Let's say Big Bear is two kilometres up in the sky, in the San Bernadino mountain ranges about an hour and a half out of LA. Soboba Casino is an hour's drive from Big Bear so, technically speaking, he should go off like an absolute buzz saw by the time he hits the canvas on the night. We'll take him down for the weigh-in, so he'll be getting plenty of oxygen into his lungs, and he'll just have that little bit of extra gas in the tank.
"At the end of the day, it's all up to Chad and what amount of effort he puts into it."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Chad "Hollywood" Bennett's vital statistics
Wt 63.5kg (junior welterweight)
Lives Warners Bay
Works: Tugboat linesman for
Svitzer Australasia at Newcastle
Trains: Genesis Warners Bay; with
Jeff Fenech in Sydney
Played junior rugby league for
Wests Rosellas and Wallsend Tigers,
progressing to senior grades with
Maitland and Wests Rosellas.
Had 37 amateur boxing fi ghts for
36 wins, turning professional in 1999.
31 fi ghts for 24 wins (16 by
knockout), 3 draws, 4 losses.
May 7, 1994: Beat Argentinas
Adrian Daneff to win World
Boxing Foundation (WBF) world
welterweight title belt.
November 21, 2009: Beat former
International Boxing Organisation
(IBO) world lightweight champion
December 12, 2009: Fought
Steven Wills on Danny Green-Roy
Jones Jnr undercard for vacant
International Boxing Organization
Asia Pacifi c junior welterweight title,
losing fight by fourth-round TKO.