What I learnt from Garth Wood
It’s funny how your world can change at the blink of an eye. My special guest on Talking with TK this week was Garth Wood a man with an amazing life story. A tale of courage and determination to beat the odds and forge a path as dreamt to set up his life and be a good role model to his kids.
Garth is an amazing athlete who played at the highest level of rugby league for South Sydney and Balmain and captured the hearts and attention of a nation after winning the contender and moving on to what seemed the Everest of Australian boxing fighting Anthony Mundine.
He fought Mundine after 11 fights and dared to dream. Before him no other Aussie had beat the man, not Danny Green not Daniel Geale not Sam Soliman. For all his knockers, Anthony Mundine could fight; you can’t discredit a 3 time world champion who didn’t even box professionally until his mid 20’s. How was a man with 11 fights going to dethrone one of Australia’s supreme athletes?
I first saw Garth box live on the contender in August 2009. I was a huge fan of the show; Sylvester Stallone is my idol so when he brought the contender to life in America I was a life-long fan of the shows. A promoter gave me tickets to the event, I rounded up the boys and off we went to Homebush to watch the fight.
They had converted one of the big barns next ANZ Stadium into a mini coliseum, an arena where men would try to change their lives. Capacity was small, there would have been lucky to have fit 70 people inside, great seats though we were all ringside, but there was a catch we had no idea who would be fighting.
Out came Garth and us all being league boys we knew who he was, next out popped Israel Kani the Australian Super Middleweight champion. Here he was the underdog again and I thought Garth could be in trouble he only had a handful of fights, but when it comes to Garth don’t count out the underdog.
First round was close, Garth got a bad cut, he must have sensed the need for urgency because out he came in the second round and laid our Kani with the biggest superman punch I’d ever seen. Kani was sleeping for minutes and little did we know that was the start of the evolution of Garth Wood.
My conversation with Garth had some great stories and inspiration, listen to the entire episode below or continue for my key takeaways from his journey.
Garth’s origins started in Alexandria, his father was Barry Wood, footy star of the 70’s with Newtown, South’s and North Sydney while his brother Nathan was one of the most talked about young footballers in the country and forged a very respectable career at Balmain & the Sydney Roosters then over to the UK with Wakefield and Warrington.
Can you imagine the weight of expectations on a young man to forge his own life when your father and older brother were football stars. It wasn’t the easiest of starts to life as Garth recounts:
“Dad made me run from Alexandria to Newtown Police Boys, he knew because it was a tough neighbourhood we had to learn to handle ourselves, but not be a bully or pick a fight. But I was getting picked on as I was Barry Wood’s son. I got picked on bigtime & my dad said I don’t want to find out if you got caught up in a brawl you shit yourself, so I went to school the next day petrified that dad would find out I shit myself. I lost the plot and threw a couple of chairs, so Dad said you’re not going to be a bully or pick a fight so you’re going to the police boys with Johnny, so if anything goes down you can handle yourself”
The great Johnny Lewis and Barry Wood are best mates which provided Garth with the perfect opportunity to fall in love with boxing and hang out with his idols. At a young age of innocence it provided him with protection from the mean street.
“I fell in love with boxing, guys in the gym were world champs Jeff Fenech, Jeff Harding & along came Kostya Tszyu. I knocked off school at 3 O’clock and sprinted up to Newtown police boys to see the legends spar and I would be mesmerised watching Johnny Lewis. So many of the boys that walked in that place could easily have been going out one way, to jail. The neighbourhood where I grew up, 2 out of 3 blokes had criminal activity or were a gangster and wanted to be a tough guy but then you had sport and Johnny Lewis was a great influence in that area. The environment you live in tells you a lot about who you are and where you’re going”
FALLING OFF THE WAGON
At 17 he fell in love with his first girlfriend who was pregnant within 6 months. With that he didn’t handle the pressure of being a father, at that age he was still a kid himself. The pressure kept mounting; South’s get kicked out of the comp and he wasn’t on the fat contracts we see today. He turned to amateur boxing for 8 fights and luck came in South get re-instated but when his contract wasn’t renewed he hit a rock bottom.
“I walked into the contender depressed. Mum and Dad were concerned because I wasn’t coming home and funny enough there was a bloke found dead and they rushed to the police station because they thought it was me, because I would go missing for 3 or days, just MIA”
Life is all about opportunity. Garth had decided that boxing could be the way to turn things around in his life, but not even Garth in his wildest dreams could have predicted the events ahead.
The contender had found its way to Australian and had put together a respectable cast of fighters. A great mix of world ranked, journey men and young pros which included Victor Oganov, Nader Hamdan, Kariz Kariuki, Junior Talipeau and Josh Clenshaw. The original cast didn’t feature Garth, he was a late replacement for Peter Mitrevski who pulled out just days before filming.
But opportunity knocked and who was there to present it – Johnny Lewis who as his story continued seemed to be like the lucky charm in Garth’s life.
"When Johnny gave me a call a week before the contender I was down in the dumps playing the blame game, but it was bought on myself by taking things for granted. I was considered the biggest underdog in the competition, three top 10 contenders, Hamden, Kazriuki, Oganov was 32 fights and 30 knockouts”
“Here I was a novice of 4 or 5 fights and here I am against Victor Oganov, I’m thinking am I going to do here, this bloke should be a world champion. Johnny Lewis said are you sure you want to fight him? I’d seen the dark side, so I thought this is my chance to make something of myself and be a role model for my girls. So I said to Johnny this is all I got, this is all I got left in my life, so Johnny said alright son, I’m totally 100% behind you, is the best motivator in the world”
MIND GAMES WITH THE BIG RUSSIAN
After beating Israel Kani in the opening round, Garth’s next match up was with Victor Oganov the most feared fighter on the show. He was as imposing as Ivan Drago, he actually was Russian, world ranked and hit like a mule. Victor coming in with an imposing record of 29-2 with 28 KO’s. Surely this was a mismatch, Garth had only 6 fights, so just how did Garth equalise his lack of experience:
“We got sent to bed, you couldn’t leave the room. There were security guards at the hotel, so I thought what am I going to do? When I walked in there, it was like rehab for me, but I hadn’t trained in the lead up even though I won the fitness challenge. So I would climb down the drain pipe and go for a run. Before I left I would pump up the radio and TV then go for an hour run. I would sneak back in the exit doors into the hallway, I could hear this voice screaming Garth you prick turn off the radio, I’m going to fucken kill you. I got him out of his comfort zone, to brawl with me. He was a good boxer, but I just wanted to upset him he was an absolute machine and I did it 4-5 nights in the lead up to the fight. He went from a gentleman to a monster and wanted to rip my head off. It nearly kicked off at the weigh in. If you watch the fight it’s an absolute street fight like a night club on a Saturday night. I got in his head, boxed pretty good and won that fight”
BECOMING THE CONTENDER
Next on the path was a 6 foot 3 giant Kariz Kariulki, an Kenyan born Olympic representative at the Sydney 2000 games. Kariz was experienced, long and could box, so as the underdog how did he again overcome the odds?
“Kariz was six foot three and can box, he was an Olympian. So I did this massive prep over in America. That was the best fight of my career, I was ducking, weaving, switch hitching. That was my best, to come from where I’d come from, a street kid, down and out, to transform and beat him, he was top 10 in the world. To sum it up people think my favourite fight was Mundine, but nah this one. Contender was such a journey for me, the transformation from brawler was the favourite fight of my career, something I’ll never forget”
THE MAN WHO BEAT THE MAN
To describe his incredible path until this point, Garth had reached the Everest base camp, but now for the ultimate shot of a life-time a bout with his friend Anthony Mundine and a chance to climb all the way to the top.
“I grew up with Anthony Mundine, I looked up to him he was a couple of years older growing up. I knew his personality, so I said I’m just going to get in his head. I said to Mundine I’m going to be the first Australian to knock you out & I knew from there I had to mentally fuck him”
It was a tough fight, Anthony slick for the first 4 rounds and well ahead on the cards. Garth however was roughing him up and putting pressure on him on the ropes, sticking on his chest and really hitting him hard to the body. Garth is cut from a clash of heads in the third and stepped up the intensity after this. Trapping Choc in the corner, Garth dodges an uppercut and with a thumping left hook knocks out the man.
“No one would of beat me that night not even Mike Tyson. I had my mind set that was going to turn my life around forever, I was that committed to the preparation, I wasn’t going to let any rock be unturned”
POWER OF THE MIND
The power of the mind is a trend I’m seeing regularly with the successful athletes I have interviewed. Visualisation and self belief, it’s amazing what can happen when positive thoughts flow through, as was the case when Garth turned negative into positive thinking:
“Your thoughts control your life and you can’t start thinking negative things like this bloke might get me or I might get hurt. You can bring anything to life, in boxing, in business, if you have positive thinking you’ll bring it to life. If I doubt myself funnily enough I’m on the canvas for an 8 or 10 count”
Garth has an important role as an ambassador for RUOK https://www.ruok.org.au/
RUOK was founded by the late Gavin Larkin whose father was challenged by mental illness and wanted to honour his father and try and protect other families from the pain he endured. His quest to change behaviour in Australia with the impact a conversation could make to those struggling with life. Garth outlines his views on doing his part for mental health awareness.
“A lot more has to be done for depression and mental illness. Some people just go through times and they can climb out of it. I was one of those people, there are people who wake up and their medicine might not be working, that what r u ok is all about. Think about the person next to you and are they ok, you don’t know what they’re going through, but there has to be a lot more awareness for suicide, it’s something like 3000 people a year. I was always like smile don’t let them find out. That manly way in Australia you don’t want them to find out your emotions. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak. I was lucky I had Johnny Lewis who gave me that phone call. He said I know what you’re doing, don’t lie to me, but here’s a chance to turn your life around. All people need is someone to come talk to them. Mate this is what you’re going to do. Are you alright and can I help you? That’s what r u ok day is all about”
The one name that is a constant on Garth’s journey is Johnny Lewis. It only takes one person to believe in you to do remarkable things.
I do believe that we all have to be like Johnny Lewis and Garth does that now with his inspirational story and his kind heart approach to others.
People can help us rise but its ultra important to remember to raise others with you, be the person who puts the self belief in someone else to achieve, that way we evolve together.
THE ROAD AHEAD
For all he has already achieved many would have thought it is enough. It’s great to see Garth continue to evolve and set the bar high for a future ahead. The life of an athlete is tough, many debut in their sport in their late teens and then get pushed into the mindset that the ultimate they achieve in life will be their 20's. It doesn’t have to be like this and it’s important they continue to grow; a big step is surrounding yourself with great people, people who challenge you to continue to evolve.
“There are no guarantees in life, anything is possible. When I was 18 years old I thought I knew everything, I thought I was king shit, then I turned 23-24, I thought what was I thinking, then 28,30, even now, I’m 39 and I think I know nothing about the real world and getting out there. But I’m about to walk into a new chapter of my life and I’m not boxing anymore, but you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’m about to walk into a business, a financial mortgage business. I train Mark Bouris and he has become a mentor for me and I put myself through a course”
THE FUNNY GUY
A couple of funny superstitions that Garth used to have:
“I love old movies, I’d always watch Rocky 3, him & Apollo, The Eye of The Tiger and I’d always wear business socks because I meant business when I went in the ring. I’d also wear cozzies or speedos under my trunks because I always wore them when I played footy”
The 5 people he would invite to a private dinner party (no family or friends allowed)
Muhammad Ali, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jennifer Lopez, Nelson Mandela
Be sure to continue to follow Garth on his journey:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/GarthWood13/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/garthwood13
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/garthwood13/
He wanted to be a role model for his kids but became much more. All it took was one opportunity to change his life, however his story is only at the beginning.
He dared to dream, we all should!