|Highest of Highs, Lowest of Lows: Lunch with Diana Prazak
By Anthony Cocks, Doghouse Boxing (July 26, 2013)
super featherweight Diana Prazak stepped into the ring at the Water
Front Congress SAS Radisson in Stockholm, Sweden on 14th June 2013, she had every right to be confident.
Carrying an 11-2 (7)
ledger at the time and with the famed Lucia Rijker in her corner, the
33 year-old was in her physical prime and career-best form after a
gruelling seven week training camp in her adopted hometown of Los
Standing across the
ring from her was Frida “Golden Girl” Wallberg, the WBC super
featherweight champion and hometown hero with an unblemished record
of 11-0 (2).
At best, the fight
represented a great opportunity for the pressure-fighting Prazak to
wrest a genuine world title from a reigning champion. At worst, a
defeat on points against the feather-fisted Wallberg.
What happened over
the course of the next eight rounds would alter the direction of both
largely on auto-pilot for the first four rounds, Prazak shifted up a
gear in the fifth and began to turn the tide. Chipping away as the
rounds progressed, the tenacious Prazak found her moment in the 8th,
manufacturing an opening for her savage left hook after a pair of
right hands to the body momentarily left her opponent’s chin
Despite 10oz gloves
being used as per Swedish boxing regulations, the velocity of the
blow swivelled Wallberg’s head and sent her crashing backwards to
Wallberg was quickly
to her feet to receive her mandatory 8-count from referee Bela
Florian, but soon found her way back to the deck courtesy of a Prazak
This time, referee
Florian waved off the fight.
returned to her corner with claret leaking from her nose while Prazak
and Rijker celebrated their victory.
would be short lived.
over the top rope and with the ringside physician apparently already
on his way to his car, it was left to Rijker and Prazak to call for
medical attention for a fast-fading Wallberg.
The former champion
was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a subdural hematoma – or
bleeding on the brain in layman’s terms – before undergoing
emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the brain and being placed
in an induced coma. Wallberg, who was ahead on all three cards 68-65
at the time of the knockout, is expected to make a full recovery but
is unlikely to ever be licenced to fight again.
The circumstances of
the win made for a hollow victory for Prazak and Rijker, who had only
15 seconds to savour their championship moment before the gravity of
the situation set in.
While Wallberg was
still in a coma, Prazak, a practising Buddhist, seriously considered
giving away the sport she loved.
“Nobody wants to
win this way,” a clearly shaken Prazak said in the immediate
aftermath of the fight.
month and I am sitting in an inner city Italian café owned by former
world kickboxing champion Sam Greco, waiting for my lunch date.
Don Camillo is a
comfortable place that serves quality Italian food and coffee. Photos
of various sporting personalities seem to cover every square inch of
I order a domestic
beer and start to sip. There’s certainly worse places to wait.
After five minutes
Diana Prazak arrives, WBC belt tucked under her arm. I spot her first
and wave her over. She takes a seat, apologises for being late, and
orders a local beer too.
I tell her she
shouldn’t feel compelled to drink the same beer as me.
“I prefer VB,”
she tells me.
I am quietly
Now that a month has
passed since the fight and Frida is by all accounts on the road to
recovery, Diana has had time to reflect on the win and the planning
that went into it.
“We knew going
into the fight that there was no chance we could win unless it was by
knockout,” explains Prazak.
when you go to someone’s hometown, their home country, you can only
win by knockout. Unless you beat the crap out of them for ten, twelve
rounds like Daniel Geale did [in Germany], like Sam Soliman did [in
Germany]. And you still might only just win.
“With this fight
it was pretty much made perfectly clear to us that you won’t win
unless it’s by knockout – and there’s no way you win by
knockout either. So we knew where we stood when we went there. Our
whole game plan was all about the knockout. We trained for the
knockout and nothing but. We didn’t care about winning each round,
that never entered our thoughts.
“It was a WBC
fight, so there was open scoring. Lucia was given scores but she
threw then away because she didn’t care about them. They were
non-existent, they didn’t mean anything to us. And we expected to
lose every single round.
“So our game plan
for this fight was really simple. And what we trained for was
consistent body shots, consistent body work, to punch when she was
punching and to always finish on the left hand.
“And that’s what
won us the fight.”
After a slow start,
Prazak’s bodywork began to pay dividends midway through the bout. A
sweeping right hand early in the 7th stunned a slowing
Wallberg. Prazak continued to apply pressure in the 8th and knew the moment would come for her to close the show.
“The knockout came
from two right-hand body shots, roll with the punch, and finish with
the left hand,” says a grinning Prazak as she shuffles in her seat
to show how she set up the hook.
“That was the game
plan the whole way through.
“That was the
Lucia Rijker hook. We practiced that left hook a thousand times a day
for seven weeks. Lucia had a counter and we literally did it for one
thousand times a day, for seven weeks. We did that and we kept doing
perfectly. And if you watch the full fight the game plan was working.
It took me probably four rounds to really get my rhythm and to relax
in the fight.
especially for this fight, I was a robot for four rounds. And Lucia
says to this day, ‘thank God your autopilot is one that keeps
punching, takes punches, and does exactly what I yell’. Lucia says
I’m not even present in the first four rounds. I have no
recollection of the first four rounds. I’m on autopilot and my
autopilot is to punch and it doesn’t stop.”
We order lunch. I
choose the chili prawns and another beer. Diana opts for lasagne,
As we break a little
bread as we wait for our meals to arrive, the conversation moves to
the perception of Aussie boxers in the States.
“We’ve had so
many great fighters,” enthuses Prazak, who trains out of Freddie
Roach’s famed Wild Card Gym in Hollywood under the astute eye of
Lucia Rijker. “Michael Katsidis, a pressure fighter. Robbie Peden.
But we don’t celebrate any of our greats, it’s so sad.”
While Australia is
renowned as a sports-mad country, it is this lack of recognition for
our own sports stars that eventually prompted Prazak to relocate to
Los Angeles, where many Australian boxers are held in higher regard
than in their own country.
“I train at the
Wild Card primarily, and the Aussie fighters have their photos up
there. Sam Soliman has his photo up there. Katsidis. And Jeff Fenech.
I have a lot of respect for all Australian fighters. I’m not going
to stand here and diss an Australian fighter, ever. I don’t care
who you fight, it takes a lot of guts to get in that ring.
“But if you fight
somebody who is a nobody, there’s always that chance that that
nobody is going to ring your bell. That’s what happened with me
with Lindsay Garbatt.”
In the Garbatt bout
Prazak unexpectedly found herself on the canvas in the first round,
despite her notoriously reliable chin.
But it was Prazak
who ultimately prevailed, closing the Canadian’s left eye to win by
TKO9 in what was an even fight going into the 10th and
“I wasn’t given
a hope in hell. I’ve been an underdog in most of my fights. I’m
not going to say ‘you’ve got a big mouth’ or ‘you don’t
deserve it’. I may not appreciate the way they handle themselves
before a fight, but I can’t take away the fact they get in the ring
and the skill that they show. Because it does take a lot of courage
to get in the ring.”
Along with the highs
of winning, Prazak is also familiar with the lows of defeat, losing
her pro debut to Sarah “Missy” Howett in 2010 and a world title
tilt against American superstar Holly Holm last year. Both fights
took place two weight divisions north of where she is most
“When I lost to
Sarah Howett, I felt like someone had died,” explains Prazak. “I
didn’t leave my house for a week, I was inconsolable. I swore I
would never lose again after I fought Sarah Howett and I did, against
“But my only two
losses in my career come fighting outside of my weight division. I
don’t think many people can say that.
“What truly makes
me cringe is when I see a fighter fight somebody who they are
supposed to beat, then get up on the ropes in the corner talking
about what a champion they are when it was never a true test. I swore
I would never be one of those fighters.
“And that’s one
of the primary reasons I moved to the U.S. I pride myself on fighting
the best in the world. I haven’t got any issue losing to the
greater fighter. I learned more from the Holly Holm loss and the loss
to Sarah Howett than I’ve learned from my wins. And I will
continue to do that.”
As our lunch arrives
I ask Diana how she feels about the lack of support for women’s
boxing in Australia – from sponsors, promoters and the media –
despite the great depth of talent in this country including WBC
bantamweight champion Susie Ramadan and recent world title
challengers Erin McGowan and Shannon O’Connell.
“We know we have to put it on the line every time we step in the
ring,” she sighs, “and I think that’s the big difference
between men and women. We have no choice because we don’t know when
our next fight is coming. We’re never going to get paid like the
men. A standard world title fight for a man who is unknown is
$200,000. A woman is lucky to make $2-3 grand for a fight. There are
champions out there, six-time, seven-time world champions who are
getting $5,000 for world title fights. A man in the same position is
offered over a million dollars. We can’t survive the way we are
without day jobs. And even with the day jobs we struggle to survive.
I know I do.
support of my family, and without me working six days a week, I mean,
I just scrape through now.
interested in sponsoring me. And part of the reason – and I can’t
blame them for this – is because if it’s not getting media
attention, what’s in it for them?”
It’s a classic
catch-22 situation with no clear solution.
“I would love to
come home and have my WBC title defence in my own country,” says
Prazak of her ideal world. “To bring in a quality world champion
like a Jelena Mrdjenovich or a Ronica Jeffrey and have my title
defence at home. And to show the world that Australia is just as good
as the rest of the world, and that we don’t fight bums, we fight
champions. And that’s a misconception that the world has about us.
“In Europe, they
have it all now. They love female boxing and they make it known they
love female boxing. They are taking care of their champions.
Argentina, Germany, Peru, they all take care of them and they are
headline acts. In Australia, they are not interested in putting girls
It’s a point I’d
love to argue, if only it wasn’t true.
**********This is Part 1 of 2. Stay tuned to Doghouse Boxing for Part 2.
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