Authors: Carl Merritt
here’s no denying that getting to Australia with a good few thousand bucks burning a hole in my pocket helped me and Carole settle down more easily. I rested up for the following three months, and Carole and I got on really well. I even got myself a building job in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, and we stayed at the nearby home of one of Carole’s oldest mates.
But when the dough started running low, I couldn’t stop myself from calling up Kenny’s Australian fight contact. He turned out to be an Italian called Vincenzi, who I called Vinnie from the moment we met. Vinnie’s job was to fix up the fight before Kenny swarmed in to grab all the glory – and the cash. Vinnie warned me that this time there would be no cage. The only other thing I knew was that I would be fighting an Aussie and that he was a very tasty operator. That’s what Vinnie reckoned anyway.
Kenny appeared on the scene a few days before the fight. It was starting to dawn on me that he really was an extremely wealthy bloke because he even had his own apartment in Melbourne. Kenny wore even more jewellery than usual and he’d started speaking in an increasingly strong Irish/American accent. It was almost as if he adapted it for people in America and Australia. Strange, really, because he’d seemed straight Irish when we’d first met in London.
Kenny reckoned the Aussies were good to deal with ‘because they’re so fuckin’ thick-skinned.’ It was only a lot later that I realised the significance of what he was saying.
On the night of my first Oz fight, Vinnie drove me to the venue in his Nissan Patrol. I felt fit and strong because Carole and I had been training at a gym in Melbourne virtually every day of the week. Of course she had no idea I was prepping a fight.
This time the fight was held in a furniture warehouse at an industrial estate on the outskirts of Melbourne. It had a roped-off ring with eight barrels, so it ended up being the same shape as a fifty-pence piece.
There were lots of Italians and Greeks in the audience. They looked like smartly dressed business types but I guess a lot of them were villains. There were a lot of four-wheel drives on display. I was dressed in my usual ‘uniform’ of tight T-shirt and jeans. Kenny appeared briefly but stayed firmly in the background most of the time.
The crowd circled the entire ring, and the lights were so bright they made the interior of the warehouse steaming hot. Naturally, my Aussie opponent got a load of applause, while the Pom (that was me) got booed from the moment I emerged
from Vinnie’s jeep. My opponent must have been about six-feet-one or two. He looked like a real bushman, complete with a hat, jeans, T-shirt and Blundstone boots, similar to what we call Chelsea boots or jodhpurs back in the East End. He had a crooked, broken nose and was standing there in the ring with his thumbs hooked in his front pockets, which made him look like a right plonker. But, most significantly, his beer belly was protruding over his hands. That was all I needed to see to believe I’d crush him.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. This character kept me very busy for the first three minutes, which was already longer than any of my fights had ever lasted. He was a good scrapper and he and I even exchanged mind-blowing head-butts. Then he lashed out at me with a series of vicious kicks to the shins that really hurt: before he caught my knee and I went tumbling to the floor. I still have the mark where he hit me to this day.
But as I bounced up from the floor, I decided it was time to play the fight by my rules. He came down close on me and tried to pull me up by the head. That was when I bit a chunk out of his lip and spat it on the floor. It was an animal instinct sort of thing. I don’t know why I did it but I did. It certainly shocked him because he froze in mid air.
The audience went crazy when I did that. One spectator sprang out of the crowd into the ring and punched me twice on the back of the head before he was dragged away. And I can tell you now, he knew what he was doing because those punches really hurt. Bedlam exploded all around me. The crowd had lost it.
Then I noticed Vinnie elbowing two spectators in the face. Meanwhile, I carried on laying into my Aussie opponent who
was bleeding profusely from his lip wound. It was getting really nasty. I kicked out viciously at the Aussie and then he started muttering something under his breath. ‘Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.’
All that did was encourage me to catch him with a sharp flurry of punches before he fell backwards onto the floor. I pummelled his face as he went down, specifically targeting his eyes and nose. Over and over. Over and over.
Just then, two sets of hands grabbed me and pulled me off him and threw me to the floor. Everything became a blur. Vinnie appeared and pulled me to my feet. I almost hit him because I didn’t know who he was at first. ‘It’s me. It’s me. Let’s get the fuck outta here.’
I was in bad shape after a vicious battle that lasted more than five minutes. Just then the compère grabs my arm and hoists it high. I’m the winner. I’m the winner. What the hell is going on? No time to celebrate. Got to get the fuck outta there.
And the punters continued going AWOL. Bottles rained down into the ring. We just made it through the crowd, many of whom were throwing punches in our direction. As we scrambled into Vinnie’s Nissan Patrol, they started kicking the door panels. The noise was more frightening than anything else. A mob of them were rocking the car backwards and forwards. If it had been a Fiesta, they’d have toppled it over in seconds. This was fucking hairy stuff.
As Vinnie tried to reverse out of the chaos, I’ll swear I heard a thud as if we drove over something or somebody. It might well have been a body but we didn’t stop to ask. Once out of the warehouse, I looked behind us and saw Kenny following in another car. There were other motors behind him trying to ram his vehicle. The bedlam was far from over.
Outside, two vans tried to ram us off the road as we careered round the narrow streets of the industrial estate. When one vehicle came alongside us, I ducked because I thought I spotted a shooter in some idiot’s hand. I don’t know if I was right because I wasn’t going to stop to have a proper look!
We finally lost the last of them about fifteen minutes later. Shortly afterwards, Kenny flashed us to pull over. I threw a right moody at him. ‘There was no fuckin’protection. Anything could have happened back there.’
‘It was fine,’ Kenny shrugged, as if nothing had even happened. But this time his charming Irish brogue wasn’t going to be enough to calm me down.
‘Fuck you, Kenny. You put all our lives on the line back there – and you bloody know it.’
‘Don’t talk shit,’ Kenny bit back. I was outraged that he could throw such a bare-faced lie.
‘I’ll never fight for you again. D’you hear me?’
I felt like decking him on the spot for taking the piss.
But he still had the front to come back at me. ‘I’ll phone you.’
‘Don’t fuckin’ bother,’ I screamed back. Kenny was a toerag. He knew it and I knew it.
Back home that night Carole erupted when she saw the state of my face. ‘This can’t be another pub fight, Carl. What the hell’re you doing? What’s going on? You gotta tell me.’ But I carried on lying. I tried to calm her down. I told her I loved her, but none of it worked this time. She’d had enough and was about to go walkabout for good. She wanted out of Oz and our marriage. How could I have allowed it to get to this?
I was so fucking angry with myself. I hadn’t expected to get so
badly beaten up. I thought it’d be another walk-over. I was lucky to win and I knew it. I should have gone to hospital and had myself checked out, but I’d wanted Carole to believe I wasn’t that badly hurt. I’d even pushed my own crooked teeth back into place to try and look as normal as possible when I got home. But now I was getting everything I deserved.
Me and Carole talked long into that night. Of course she was steaming mad with me and she had every right to be. But I still didn’t have the bottle to tell her the truth. She thought I was a punch-happy, violent drunk who couldn’t be trusted to go out for a beer without having a tear-up. ‘What sort of person am I married to?’ she screamed at me at one stage. ‘I’m not sure I even know the real you.’
I was desperate to hang onto Carole. I told her we’d go touring Oz for the next three months. At least that would keep me out of trouble for a bit. ‘You mean it?’ she asked. “Course I do,’ I said.
A week later I was paid 11,000 Australian dollars (about £4000) by Vinnie, who was a good bloke with a lot of bottle. I respected him. Once I’d got the money, Carole and me set off and did the lot: we went to the Great Barrier Reef, got stuck in some floods, saw Ayers Rock. And it was all achieved in a rust-bucket of a Mark Three Cortina that I bought for $500 or £200.
That trip was a marriage saver for us. Carole calmed down and started to trust me again. You could say we fell back in love with each other again. And being totally out of contact with Kenny made me feel a whole lot better. He was the equivalent of a drug dealer to me. If I didn’t think or talk to anyone about him, then perhaps he’d just go away for ever.
Eventually we drove back into the big metropolis of Sydney.
We’d blown all those hard-earned Aussie dollars but I wasn’t going to be tempted. Or was I?
I’d always kept the number of the local fight fixer … just in case of a rainy day. It was easy money and the painful memories of how I almost went belly-up in that last fight were already fading. You do what you do best in life, don’t you? And I was a good fighter. It had to be done. I’d kept fit throughout that break with Carole. I was ready.
So I called the fixer, Colin, whose number had been given to me by Vinnie. This time Kenny wasn’t involved and surprise, surprise, the money was better: 22,000 Aussie smackeroos. Colin warned me it would be a tough fight. The venue was a huge warehouse out in the middle of nowhere, about fifty miles from Melbourne. My opponent was a massive rugby-forward type and I won it after about four minutes of hard graft. Word had spread amongst the local criminal fraternity and there were faces laying huge bets, so it was obvious the cage was popular down under. Me and Carole would be able to live off the dough for months. And although Carole might not appreciate it, I’d done us both a favour. This time I explained away my injuries by claiming I’d fallen off a wall while hod-carrying. Carole accepted the story much better than if I’d gone and told her I’d had another tear-up in a pub. With no Kenny on the scene my money had shot up. This had to be a lesson for me. Now I knew for certain he was a lying piece of shit. There was no doubt he was taking more than a 60:40 cut of the fight fee, not to mention all the dough he was winning by placing bets on me. I reckon he was copping at least £100,000 a fight, the slimy bastard.
Carole and me settled in Melbourne again and rented a trailer in a caravan park. We were happy and content. We went out everywhere together. She didn’t take her eyes off me for a minute. We had lots of nice new mates, and for a while life was sweet.
Now, I don’t want my story to get predictable but if you cut to three months later I’m skint yet again. Surprise, surprise. There wasn’t as much building work around as I’d been led to believe and we lived the good life without really worrying about tomorrow. But this time our visa was about to run out so Carole and I decided we’d had enough of Oz and we’d head back to East London. I called my big bruv John up in LA and said we might be dropping in on him soon en route to England.
Then I went and did it all over again: I rang Kenny. Now you may be asking why the hell did I do it when I knew he was a lying, thieving bastard, but if I told you I was hooked – and in need of money – would that make it any better?
Kenny was naturally delighted. I could hear the dollar signs clicking as he spoke in that gentle lilting Irish voice of his. ‘As it happens, there’s a fight over here soon if you’re interested.’ I hesitated for the shortest split second of my life. Here we go again.
Less than a week later we flew into LAX. John was at the airport to greet us with some bad news: Mum’s house in Forest Gate had burned down in a fire caused by an electrical fault. There was no insurance cover and everything was destroyed: if it wasn’t smoke-damaged it was burned to a crisp. But at least Mum, Lee and my kid brother Ian were unhurt.
I wanted to forget the fight and head straight back to London but I’d already committed to Kenny and knew I’d never be able to fight again if I let him down. It would only delay our journey by forty-eight hours and then there was the money.
Naturally, Carole was a bit suspicious about why I hadn’t wanted to get on the first flight home. She had a dig at me about it and that left me feeling very guilty. Then she started getting very tetchy with me. ‘Is there someone here you want to see?’ she asked me one morning after breakfast. ‘Have you got a girl here?’ I couldn’t tell her his name was Kenny and he was about to pay me to risk my life by walking into a cage with a homicidal maniac.
‘Come on, Carl. I wanna know or else there’s no point in us being married.’ Bloody hell, I thought to myself. She thinks I’ve got some bird tucked up here. What the hell am I going to do? The last thing I wanted to do was hurt Carole in this way. Nothing was worth that.
That’s when it dawned on me I had no choice in the matter. I had to tell her the whole truth – well at least part of it. ‘I got something to tell you,’ I said. Carole naturally thought I was about to say I’d met someone and was doing a runner. When I told her I’d been offered a one-off prize fight, she sighed with relief because it wasn’t anywhere near as serious as she had feared. Of course I didn’t fill her in on the other fights for the moment.
‘We need the money, Carole,’ I added after explaining the situation.
‘Where d’you meet these kind of people in the first place?’ asked Carole.
Good question. I backpedalled and decided to blame it on
John. That’s what brothers are for, aren’t they? ‘It’s only a prize fight. Nothin’ dangerous, babe. Just a boxing match.’