Mark Lucas readying for Glasgow Commonwealth Games

Mark Lucas is now preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Mark Lucas is now preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI


In the real-life theatre of sport, few relationships are more romanticised than that of boxer and trainer.

It's something that cliche and hyperbole inevitably stretch to the point where cynics scoff at claims of a unique or special bond.

The relationship between South Coast duo Mark Lucas and Nudge Mieli requires no such exaggeration. Their story doesn't end in tears, but they can't help but shed a few as they tell it.

You'd almost think it was meant to be if it wasn't for that fact that, when it comes to the sweet science, nothing is ever meant to be.

Boxers burned by the corrupt decisions or unscrupulous hangers-on - as common in the sport as black eyes and broken noses - don't believe in meant to be's. It's a world that leads fighters, combative by nature, to trust no-one.

But when the boxer-trainer relationship works, it's a beautiful thing, enough to move even the most hardened men to tears.

"I'm not closer with anyone on this earth than I am with him. I trust him more than anyone," Lucas says tears welling in his eyes.

"He's done more for me in my life than anyone else.

"If something's really tough and we're in a situation where it's do-or-die if I can't do it for myself I can always do it for him."

Mieli's not immune to sentiment either.

"I'm the crier, not him," he says, his own eyes glistening.

"It's something you can't fake. I love him like he's one of my own kids.

"That relationship and that trust you have - you can't buy it, you can't teach it. It's real and it's rare."

The pair are so in sync Mieli even rests his hand on Lucas' chest in the corner between rounds, feeling his pulse to figure out what needs to be said.

"I put my hand on his heart in the corner to feel his heart-rate," Mieli explains.

"Because I know him so intimately I know his body language, I know his facial expressions - that trust - it gives you that bit extra."

The pair first crossed paths in 2007 when Mieli, on the hunt for sparring partners for one of his other fighters, came across a skinny kid from Nowra who was tough but very raw.

Lucas got towelled up in sparring that day.

It was to be expected. He was trapped in the depths of a losing streak that had stretched two years and was well on the way to becoming a journeyman professional - or tossing the gloves away all together.

While he avoids the cliche that he was headed to jail or somewhere similar, Lucas admits the life he was leading wasn't headed anywhere good.

"I was a good kid, I didn't have any malice in me but I know [without Mieli] I'd still be in that shit situation with rubbish people around me and I wouldn't have accomplished anything," he said.

"I hadn't won for nine fights and I was close [to quitting].

"I loved boxing and deep down I thought I had a talent for it.

"I still had that slight bit of belief in there that I could do something with it but I just had all the wrong people around me."

Months after that first meeting, a coach in Canberra called Mieli looking for sparring partners.

With all his fighters unavailable Mieli suggested the skinny kid from Nowra would at least provide a few tough rounds.

As always, Lucas proved willing but stuck without a lift.

As a favour Mieli offered to ferry the 17-year-old to Canberra and back.

On the trip they got talking.

"At that point his coach had left and he was going to train on his own. I said 'you can't train on your own'," Mieli recalls.

"I had a fight night in Dapto not long after that and he fought on that night.

"I still wasn't training him but I worked his corner and he just asked if I could help him out.

"At that stage he hadn't been going too great. He didn't have a coach, he hadn't won for a while but he had the will.

"He said to me 'I want to be a champion; I want to represent my country'.

"Even though he hadn't been going good and wasn't in a good place I just thought 'OK we're 0-0 let's see what we can do'."

The result was a 12-fight winning streak that took Lucas from the brink of leaving the sport behind to a silver medal at his first national titles in 2008.

All of a sudden his dream of representing his country didn't seem so far-fetched.

"I still remember his face when they put his hand up after that first fight," Mieli said.

"It was just this huge relief that the monkey was off his back.

"From where he'd come from, most people would've been satisfied having that silver medal at their first Aussie titles [in 2008] but he threw it away in disgust.

"That was a defining point for him because it [second] just wasn't good enough any more."

With its inevitable highs and lows, victories and defeats, the relationship has endured seven years.

Lucas walked his own path at times with trips to Cuba, Asia and Europe but the bond with Mieli is as tight as ever.

In April it culminated in Lucas's victory at the Australian Amateur Boxing Championships with Mieli, the NSW coach, in his corner.

The tournament doubled as selection trials for this year's Commonwealth Games at Glasgow where Lucas - now Australia's best amateur middleweight - booked his trip to Scotland later this year.

"All I think about is going to Glasgow and getting gold," Lucas said.

"Winning's become a culture for me.

"I won't accept anything less and that's what's changed for me.

"Boxing is all I think about and I don't accept anything less than the number one spot."


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