FATHER figures come in many forms.
Rugged, uncompromising and altogether tough, Ballarat boxing trainer Ian Fear may not look the part but he has done plenty of good in his 60-plus years in the sport.
Fear, 70, moved to Ballarat from the Sydney suburb of Austral in 2003 after the death of his wife, and has spent the past 11 years playing the saviour for young men coming from broken families.
As a headstrong veteran, he stands for more than just a stellar win-loss record, preaching hard work, discipline and above all else, respect, among his charges.
The New South Welshman took up what he firmly believes is the world’s hardest sport at the tender age of eight and threw his first competitive blows just two years later in his hometown of Bankstown.
He quickly amassed a stellar amateur record with just 13 losses from 77 fights, and was well on his way to etching a standout professional career (11-1) before a wretched eye injury forced his early retirement.
“I lost the sight of my eye in 1967 in my last professional fight – I was 23 years old at the time,” he recalls. “I was the 14th person in New South Wales to get a corneal graft. I got it through a 61-year-old woman but it never took and I couldn’t fight again after that.”
As a boxer, Fear terrorised the national lightweight and middleweight divisions, defeating three Australian champions in their prime and claiming the NSW Golden Gloves title.
Such was his ability, he fought Olympian Sid Prior three times, but lost every bout.
Other names on his impressive CV include David Martin, Jackie Bruce, Les Robinson and Graham Foster.
Fear’s ability transcended generations, with his son Les also racking up highly successful amateur and professional records.
Fear says his transition from fighter to trainer came about through sheer “luck”.
“Eight months after my operation there was a knock on my door from a boxer called Johnny Digby, who was under another trainer,” he said.
“I wasn’t thinking about training at the time, but I had been told by others that I had the temperament and the knowledge to be a good trainer.”
Digby and Fear travelled to Melbourne for their first fight together, which the former won by a second round knockout, launching Fear’s career as a more than worthy cornerman.
However, Fear wasn’t always the pillar of wisdom and stability that many of Ballarat’s young boxers now lean on.
After leaving school, he shifted to Strathfield and began training at the Police Boys Club in what he describes as a “funny time” in his life.
“Nothing was ever explained to me,” he says remorsefully.
“Up the road from where we lived was what was called a ‘bolt (or Balt) camp’, and it was all the nationalities from all over the world after the Second World War, living in little 12 by 12 (foot) huts – there was rows and rows of them.
“Because those kids spoke a different language, we used to go and belt them – we didn’t think they were natural.”
The man now is far different to that ignorant youth.
His decision to move to Ballarat was influenced by a desire to tap into a previously unappreciated talent base.
Fear’s Ballarat record stands at 211 wins and 23 losses built up though more than 30 fighters, and he nominates Simon Anderson, Michael Sacco (now professional) and Tommy Dodgshun as Ballarat’s best three boxing exports – all of whom learnt their craft from his Harold Street gym.
The best fighters ever, he says, are Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran and the great Muhammad Ali.
“There are very good people in Ballarat, and there’s some talent here. It’s just been untapped,” Fear concedes.
“There are some good boys here and I’ve gotta say, three-quarters of the boys that train in my gymnasium come from one-parent families, because of the separation and so forth.
“That’s the sad thing about it – there’s no father figure in the house and a lot of them come up and ask me questions, and some of them are pretty curly.”
As a promoter of more than 150 shows during his career, Fear almost single-handedly changed the boxing landscape in Ballarat.
The two people he credits with thanks during his career are his seconds Don Frazier and Garry Werndley.
“The biggest thing I feel, to be a successful trainer, is to have the knowledge to see potential,” he says.
“I have great respect for the officials, and I want my boys to have respect too, because this is the game I love and I’m protecting it.
“There was no one here who had my knowledge 20 to 25 years ago and that’s not giving myself a pat on the back, there was just no-one here until I came.”
For Fear, it’s always been about the journey.
From the life-altering decision to leave Sydney and his family for a new and unfamiliar home, to the baby steps he takes with every young fighter.
He rides every punch as though he himself were still in the ring.
“I love all these kids – they’re like a family to me, because my other family is in NSW (and) they probably only come and visit me every 18 months,” he said.
“That’s the path I chose in coming down here, but I really don’t regret it.
“To see a strange boy, regardless of where he comes from, come in the gym and train his a*** off for eight months – he learns his defence, learns his attack, learns how to use all his equipment and, in the meantime, learns how to fight by sparring.
“Then he has his first fight at about the eight-month mark and after you see his arm raised as a winner – and you know you’ve created something from a bloke who didn’t know a straight left from a wrestler's toe-hold when he first came in – I get a lot of pleasure out of that,” he adds.
Thankfully, the journey doesn’t end here.
“I’ve given my life to boxing since I was eight years old,” he says.
“It was my life then and it still is today.”