Image for World War III. Or, A Night at the Opera House

Background. In 1983, I happened to live two doors from Jim Boyce, a Rugby international well-known for scoring six tries against a New Zealand provincial team, Wairarapa-Bush, in 1962, and for his stance against apartheid, which he observed when he toured South Africa with the Australian team in 1963. Fingered by the CIA, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life in 1964. Boyce agitated against apartheid when the South African Rugby team toured Australia in 1965. Sanctions (opposed by Opposition leader John [Jackie the Lackey] Howard) eventually led to Mandela’s release in 1990, and his election as President in 1994.

Meanwhile, Boyce had become an executive at Tooth’s Brewery, and he gave me the film of what may be the most remarkable boxing contest ever staged. I might mention that the referee, Charkey Ramon (born David Ballard), was described in the NSW Parliament as a notorious standover man.

THE Tommy Burns-O’Neill Bell bout of 3 March 1947 (won by Burns in eleven rounds) is frequently nominated as the greatest boxing contest seen in this country. That accolade must, however, now pass to the thirty-five seconds of delirious – not to say hilarious – action staged at the Opera House on Friday, 2 April, this year.

Film of this epic brawl, a rough cut of which I have just had the pleasure of seeing, is now being edited and will in due course make its way round Tooth’s pubs and various sporting clubs.

The event occurred during a program of prize fights arranged by Mr Tom Raudonikis and billed by him, not inaptly, as World War III at the Opera House.

The contestants proper, for the junior middleweight crown of Australia, were the champion, Alex Temelkov, 69.7kg, formerly of Macedonia and now of Port Kembla, and Ken Salisbury, 69.1 kg, formerly of Liverpool, England, and now of Bondi.

Temelkov, a muscular lad with shortish legs and a Roman nose, was neatly turned out in red shorts, long white socks and natty black and white boots. He relied largely on a crouching rush and a looping overarm right that would no doubt have felled an ox, if it ever landed.

Unfortunately, the challenger, likewise neat in green shorts, white socks and white boots, had no difficulty at all in evading these bucolic swings, and meantime banged away at Temelkov’s unprotected face.

By the ninth, and fatal round, Salisbury was a mile in front, but in a clinch three seconds from the end of theround, Temelkov somehow spun the challenger round. Salisbury, bending over with Temelkov behind him, was now a sitting duck, or rabbit. In a moment of vast aberration, Temelkov slammed two clubbing blows to the back of Salisbury’s neck.

As a trigger for events, the blow may be said to rival shots fired by Mr Gavrilo Princip at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

The referee, Mr Charkey Ramon, a trim man with a scholarly stoop and a tuft of hair falling down the middle of his forehead, dashed across the ring. His aim, presumably, was to save Salisbury from the rabbit’s fate and rub Temelkov out for dirty play.

But Mr Ramon was beaten by a split second by Salisbury’s mentor, Mr Bernie Hall, a blocky but nimble man with a florid face and a shock of white hair. Mr Hall intervened in the most decisive way possible: he leaned over the ropes, grabbed a fistful of Temelkov’s hair, and hauled him away from Salisbury.

Temelkov’s big brother and second, a no less excitable man in a red shirt and grey trousers held up by a drawstring, intervened in his turn. TemelkovII leaped into the ring and launched himself, a metre or two off the floor and feet first, at Mr Hall.

However, the human projectile missed its target and became entangled in the ropes, where it bounced up and down for a time. By a miracle, TemelkovII landed on his feet, and took to Salisbury with his bare knuckles.

Mr Ramon, himself a man with a distinguished record in the prize ring, judged this to be a flagrant breach of the rules invented by the Marquis of Queensberry. He waded into TemelkovII and got home a series of useful uppercuts.

With Mr Ramon thus otherwise engaged, TemelkovI took the opportunity to challenge for the title he had just relinquished, and planted a looping blow on poor Salisbury’s face.

Other interested parties came tumbling into the ring; the hempen square took on the appearance of the cabin scene in the Marx Brothers’ film, A Night at the Opera.

Last in was Mr Hall. He strode purposefully towards the blue corner where TemelkovI was being firmly restrained from continuing his premature return bout. However, the crush was so great that all Mr Hall got for his trouble was a whack to the side of the head from some unidentified person off to his right.

Mr Raudonikis, much as he might enjoy a scrap on the football field, seemed to feel obliged, as promoter, to seek to restore a measure of decorum, and eventually Mr Ramon got the chance to present Salisbury’s hand to the crowd.

TemelkovI, still feeling some pique, at first declined to shake hands with the new champion, but later went over and embraced Salisbury, and even went so far as to raise the champion’s hand to the bemused crowd of some 2,000.

He also made a statement via the announcer’s microphone: “I’m sorry people who came to see me winning. I’m just not the same bloke tonight. Thank you for coming.”

Not at all. Thank you, Mr Temelkov, and all who took part.

2 April 1983 From Amazing Scenes: Adventures of a Reptile of the Press.