The PNG House of Assembly rose early on 26 September 1974. Chief Minister Michael Somare shelved his plans and drove the short distance to Port Moresby’s Sir Hubert Murray stadium to see PNG boxing hero Martin Beni contest an international bout. The 23-year-old motor mechanic from Waima village matched against Colin Cassidy, the Australian lightweight champion.
Fight promoter Phil Harris had worked feverishly leading up to the big night. His loudspeaker van touring Moresby’s suburbs and neighbouring villages urging people to support Beni in his most important bout. On fight night 9000 patrons turned up.
Beni started the fight without apparent nerves and set a brisk pace. By the third round, though, Cassidy was on song. Three stinging rights from the Australian had ‘The Chief’ Somare squirming in his ringside seat. Towards the end of the third, Beni took a Cassidy uppercut before landing a right to the body and a shot that started a Cassidy nosebleed. The hometown fans sensed an improvement. Beni was now consistently landing overhand lefts and rights to Cassidy’s head.
The Australian looked wobbly as the fifth began and ran into a battery of Beni punches but summoned a last burst of energy mid-round. He trapped Beni in the corner and landed a flurry of body punches. Then Beni landed five chopping rights on the Australian’s jaw. Cassidy slumped to the canvas, clinging to the ring’s bottom rope. The roar of the crowd drowned out the sound of the bell.
A savage 60 seconds awaited the Aussie lightweight champion in the sixth. Beni’s short arm blows hammered Cassidy but this time there was no bell to save him. He crumpled forward on his knees and his head fell to the canvas. The referee counted him out as the crowd roared its delight. Beni was on his way to a Commonwealth ranking in pro boxing.
So, just 12 months before independence from Australia was proclaimed, Martin Beni had put PNG on the sporting world map.
[With thanks to Mike Ryan and staff at Australia’s old Fighter magazine]
Richard Jones’ full account of this historic moment in PNG sport will be published in the next issue of Una Voce, the magazine of the PNG Association of Australia.