Mackay champ 'didn't take that belt off for three days'
DID you know one of our nation's top boxers is a flute-playing concreter from Mackay?
Gaige Ireland, 23, moved from Mackay about 18 months ago, leaving friends and family - including his four-year-old girl Alexis - behind to chase his dream of becoming a professional boxer.
Now, following a devastating loss in Las Vegas in September, Ireland has hit back hard.
He went a full eight rounds with veteran Shadey Souied on December 10 in Melbourne, winning on points after more than 30 minutes of back-and-forth, taking home the Victorian Lightweight Title in front of a televised audience.
After more than 55 amateur fights and five professional bouts, it was a "fairytale" result for the former Mackay State High School student, who's now the 10th top ranked lightweight boxer in Australia.
"My 12 best friends on the face of this earth live scattered across Australia. But no one told me they were coming to the fight," Ireland said.
"It's the end of the fight, I'm exhausted, there's blood on my chest, all over me and I'm sweating, dying, so keen for a water. Then I turn around and in front of me is 12 of my best friends standing up in a line with my fight T-shirts on screaming their guts out.
"And my trainer (East End Boxing's Brian Butler) was in on it. My father (Shane Ireland) flew from Mackay to watch, and he knew.
"My face was priceless. I was on Foxtel with tears running down my face. The feeling was fairytale - it's been my dream since I was a boy to win a belt."
After his victory, Ireland, who's 175cm tall, with a reach of 179cm, admitted he was a little reluctant to let go of his long-awaited trophy
In fact, he "didn't take that belt off for three days".
"It got to the point where my trainer had to ban me from wearing it," Ireland laughed.
"He was sick of me wearing it everywhere. I'm talking food shopping, the laundromat. I was waiting for my clothes to dry, just chilling with a belt on.
"And people spin out. You're in the middle of town and you have this massive belt on."
But Ireland wasn't the only one who's been waiting patiently for a belt of his very own.
"When my little girl heard she just said 'You'd better bring me home my belt, Daddy'," Ireland said.
"I hadn't seen her in eight weeks and the first thing she wanted was my belt. But then she's like 'ok, it's too heavy so you can have it back now Dad'.
"The whole thing was overwhelming. I mean, I had to leave home with a dream, some money in the bank, leaving my family, my daughter. My Dad thought I was running away.
"It was a dream. But as far as I'm concerned, it's now reality. I'm crawling up the ranks.'
Ireland described himself as a wayward kid in school, struggling to fit in until he found his passion in boxing - accompanied by a rather surprising talent.
"Boxing shaped and changed my life. When I was young I was a sh**head of a kid. I just didn't care about responsibility," he said.
"School wasn't fun. I loved reading, but I was a skater kid too. I used to play the flute and box. I definitely didn't fit into a normal stereotype. I used to go to the high school band at 7am and then at night I'd be sparring in the ring. I copped a lot of crap at school.
"If there's one thing I can say to kids it's not to let anyone tell you what you can and can't do. People told I couldn't play the flute and box because, you know, no one does that.
"But don't be like everyone else - do what you want to do."
Next up, Ireland, who's now got three wins, two draws and a loss on his record, will take on a yet to be announced opponent at Melbourne Park Function Centre on March 18.