In memory of
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Lionel Rose, the first Australian aboriginal boxer to win a world title, died Sunday at the age of 62, his family said.
Rose, who beat Japan's Fighting Harada in Tokyo in 1968 to win the world bantamweight title, had been ill for several months. He suffered a stroke in 2007 that left him partially paralyzed.
He finished his career with 42 wins, 12 by knockout, in 53 fights.
He was named Australian of the year after his world title win, the first Aborigine to receive the honor. He also was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the same year.
When he returned to Melbourne from Tokyo after beating Harada, an estimated quarter of a million people lined the city's streets to cheer him.
World Boxing Council official Frank Quill said Rose was one of the first sportsmen in the world to speak out against the apartheid regime in South Africa, refusing a lucrative offer to fight in South Africa in 1970.
The offer came not long after Rose had lost his world title to Mexico's Ruben Olivares and at a time when he was almost certainly in need of money.
"He considered the fight and if he had have taken it he would have had to go there (South Africa) as an 'honorary white'," Quill said. "So he said 'I'm not going.'
"To my knowledge he was the first sportsman to refuse to go to South Africa because of apartheid."
Quill said Rose became an inspiration to indigenous Australians.
"He became world champion at a time when, in two or three states of Australia, Aboriginal people weren't entitled to vote," he said.
"He was born in very, very humble circumstances. I understand he was born to a family who lived in a dirt-floor shack and he emerged to be a fantastic world champion and a thoroughly decent person."
At the height of his career, Rose was courted by celebrities, including Elvis Presley who met the boxer when he defended his title in California in 1968.
"I was in awe of him, but he said he was in awe of me," Rose said of the meeting in a later interview.
Rose was born on June 21, 1948, the eldest of nine children, and grew up in Jackson's Track, an Aboriginal settlement near the town of Warragul in Victoria state. His father was an amateur boxer who introduced him to the sport when he was 14.
Rose won his first major fight at Melbourne's Festival Hall in 1963, the day after his father's death, and by the end of the year had claimed Australia's national amateur flyweight title.
He turned professional in 1964, mainly to support his family, and fought under the guidance legendary Australian trainer Jack Rennie. Rose became Australian bantamweight champion in October 1966 and went on to make history by beating Harada in Japan two years later.
He defended his title on several occasions before losing to Olivares in late 1969. He retired in 1971.
Former triple world champion Jeff Fenech told Sydney's Daily Telegraph website that Rose "was not only a great fighter but a wonderful human being."
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press
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