As is evident with the Greek warrior helmet he puts on before each of his boxing matches, Michael Katsidis is prepared for a battle every time he steps in the ring.
Katsidis, a native of Toowoomba, Australia who now lives in Marina del Rey, has been through his share of trying battles in his six years as a professional boxer.
The 27-year-old earned the World Boxing Organization (WBO) interim lightweight title with a technical knockout (TKO) of Graham Earl in February last year, a bout that was a candidate for “fight of the year.”
Then, in a fight which Katsidis called an “absolute war,” he defended his title by defeating Czar Amonsot in July. Katsidis required 26 stitches after the fight and his opponent ended up with bleeding of the brain.
“People ask, ‘Do I have what it takes’ — I think with that fight, I answered that,” Katsidis affirmed.
Now facing perhaps his most fearsome opponent yet, World Boxing Council (WBC) interim lightweight champion Joel Casamayor, Katsidis says he is ready for yet another grueling challenge.
Casamayor, an Olympic gold medalist in the sport, is regarded as one of the best fighters in the world in the lightweight division (135 pounds) with a record of 35-3-1. Katsidis, who has also fought in the Olympics and has compiled a record of 23 wins — 20 by knockout — and no losses, has his eyes set on Casamayor’s belt.
The two will face off in the lightweight championship bout presented by Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions at the Morongo Casino Saturday, March 22nd. The event will be shown live on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.
Asked about his expectations for the fight, Katsidis replied, “A hard 12 rounds, fight of my life — same as every fight.”
“When I’m fighting him I’ll have my thoughts ready then,” Katsidis said of his feelings heading into the bout, adding that it’s all about instinct.
Katsidis’s trainer-manager Brendon Smith called Casamayor a very technical fighter who is one of the most experienced in the sport. Smith had one prediction for his pupil’s opponent.
“[Casamayor] is in for a big night,” Smith proclaimed.
Katsidis believes he can conquer the battles he faces because he is ready to go the distance regardless of who he is fighting.
“I believe that when I fight, I bring out the best in the opponent,” Katsidis said.
Smith, who has been training Katsidis since he was 11 years old, probably knows better than anyone what type of opponent Casamayor has in store.
“We’ve been living in each other’s back pocket for nine weeks,” said Smith, referring to his relationship with Katsidis.
Katsidis’s love for boxing all started when he was a seven-year-old watching Rocky IV, in which Rocky Balboa takes on the mighty Russian boxer Ivan Drago. It was from that point on that Katsidis vowed to one day become a world champion, and he soon learned that boxing was “something that was born within me.”
Growing up in the Queensland Territory of Australia, Katsidis was active in soccer and long-distance running but he felt that fighting provided more of a challenge and decided to pursue a boxing career. His dedication to the sport led him to the 2000 Sydney Olympics in his home country, where he finished eighth.
Katsidis called the Olympic experience a “great honor” that was part of the apprenticeship for his professional career. Smith said Katsidis was always destined to be a professional boxer but his amateur career was “incredible.”
Katsidis made his professional debut with a knockout victory over Danny Wilson in December 2001. As he began to plow through opponents, Katsidis, who is of Greek heritage, was given the nickname “The Great,” in reference to Alexander The Great. Katsidis, whose father’s hometown is near Mt. Olympus in Greece, said he believes that “strength gets passed on through the bloodline.”
He expresses pride in his Greek heritage by wearing a warrior helmet before each fight, something he says people initially laughed at until he knocked out the opponent.
“I’ve proven that I’m the guy to beat — that’s the way I see it,” Katsidis said.
For Katsidis, earning the WBO interim lightweight title was a “real feeling of accomplishment.” He said all of his previous fights have been a stepping stone to where he is at now, a level at which he can face opponents like Casamayor.
“It’s been a real hard, tough and rugged road,” the fighter said. “All of the hard times I’ve gone through is to build to this moment now.”
Katsidis moved to Marina del Rey about a year ago to have access to a variety of training conditions and work with quality sparring partners in the Los Angeles area. The coastal area has been perfect for his training, with the beach close by and nice weather, he says. The lightweight champion frequents Venice Beach and Santa Monica for his intense workouts.
“I’ve landed in a really nice spot,” Katsidis said. “I’ve really adapted well here and been able to make the most of it.”
When preparing Katsidis for bouts, Smith said he works to ensure that the boxer can peak at the right time, by focusing on skills and technique. The trainer said Katsidis’s heart and his determination to win are something he has never seen in another fighter.
“The more you ask, the more he’ll give,” Smith said of his pupil. “He can adapt to anything when he has to.
“He’s a very talented young man with a will that I’ve never seen in anyone before.”
As for Katsidis, he refuses to say where his ambitions lie beyond Casamayor. The only thing on his mind is how he will prevail in the battle come March 22nd.
“I’m fighting the best at his best,” Katsidis said. “Casamayor’s got my complete attention.”