Roosters prop Matthew Lodge has been sensationally caught up in a Dubai boxing scandal where Australian fighters were robbed of their purses, left “on the street” and now searching for a promoter who has disappeared.
Only months after making headlines as a potential opponent for Paul Gallen’s boxing farewell, Fox Sports Australia can reveal Lodge was set to instead make his professional debut in secret, and in the Middle East, over the weekend.
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In a bizarre twist to his already controversial career, the NRL bad boy was planning to compete on the undercard of an event involving several Aussie fighters — including heavyweight Lucas Browne, super featherweight contender Paul Fleming and Olympian Alex Winwood.
However, the group are all now back home in Australia – and in some cases, significantly out of pocket – following what one Aussie boxing manager described as “the worst sh**fight I’ve ever seen”.
Only days after the fighters, including Lodge, touched down in Dubai, the entire event was called off and promoter Andre Spencer of Iconic Promotions Dubai disappeared.
Apart from reports of fighters having to pay for their own hotels, The Middle East Professional Boxing Commission also cited a string of safety concerns for the event eventually being called off.
It is understood Lodge flew his father, brother and manager to Dubai for the event that was set to be headlined by heavyweights Browne and Mahmoud Charr – both of whom have previously held the WBA ‘Regular’ world title.
In recent days, Browne had also posted Instagram videos showing himself and the 27-year-old Roosters forward sparring.
With his professional boxing debut canned, the prop will now return to pre-season training.
Yet for the other Australians on the card, moves are already underway to get the fights rescheduled — potentially on home soil.
Interviewed following the cancellation, both Browne and Charr were extremely critical of Iconic Promotions Dubai and Andre Spencer.
A furious Lou DiBella, who now promotes the Aussie heavyweight, branded the event an “organized scam”
Said Charr: “(Spencer) didn’t make the fight happen, he lied to all of us — the fighters, the promoters, the managers.
“And now, I come to this hotel, and some of the fighters here are on the street because the hotel was not paid …”
One of those fighters without a hotel room was Winwood, a promising Australian amateur who fought at both the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Commonwealth Games. Only last month, the breakout flyweight made his professional debut, earning a second round TKO.
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Yet after arriving in Dubai, Winwood was forced to share a room with his trainer Angelo Hyder and, according to the coach, was not given even the daily food allowance that had been promised to him.
Fleming, too, said he could not believe the way things had unfolded.
“I’ve never been involved in anything like this,” the fighter dubbed Showtime told Fox Sports Australia shortly after arriving home on Tuesday.
“Personally, it has also cost me a few thousand dollars from my Christmas fund.
“And I actually hear now that the promoter is on the run.”
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As part of his last push towards a world title, 34-year-old Fleming was set to face world No. 1 IBF super featherweight contender Samir Ziani.
A win over Ziani would likely have put the Aussie no more than one more win away from challenging IBF world champion Shavkat Rakhimov.
The cancellation means he will now try to have the fight on home soil.
Asked about Spencer, Fleming continued: “Picked me up from the airport and says ‘hey we’re moving the fight to Tuesday’.
“Then once we got to the hotel things got weirder.
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“A few of the Australian guys were already suss because hotel rooms hadn’t been booked, things like that.
“That was Wednesday.
And by Friday, everything fell to pieces.
“He kept saying he was going to meet us but never did. He would n’t answer his phone, then later would send a message saying ‘yep, I’m coming’… but he never showed. ”
Fleming was also able to shed light on the ‘safety’ issues which saw the event cancelled.
“Because my fight was so big, you need a certain (level) of judge,” he said. “But the proper judges weren’t there.
“Then we were also supposed to have brain scans done.
“But (when they realised) there wasn’t enough days left to get the scans done and the results back.
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“Even when they were going to put the fight back a couple of days there wasn’t time.
“Initially, there had already been a few question marks around the whole thing because our (airline) tickets were taking a while to arrive – people just kept saying ‘they’ll be here tomorrow’.
“But then once Lucas got on a flight, everybody thought ‘OK we’re on here’.
“The promoter flew Lucas business class.
“He even flew me business class with Emirates.
“That’s an $11,000 ticket.
“It was one of the two good things that happened over there.”
And the other one?
“Got the best Acai bowl I’ve ever had,” Fleming laughed.
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