Despite being a peace-loving person, I’ve always had a particular love of boxing. I feel there’s a nobility to a challenge between two people, face to face, generally respectful of each other and the rules they abide by. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to meet Maltese boxers Dione Galea and Steve Aquilina and have a chat with them while taking photos of their training sessions.
Dione, a tall well-built young man with a unique style, joined the boxing world at age of 15. Living in Kalkara, across the road from the gym of Maltese boxing legend Vince Bongailas, had a big influence on the young Dione who would often watch the boxer train. He even transformed his own bedroom into a gym! Needless to say, once he was old enough, he joined the real gym and was trained by Bongailas himself. Vince was a hero to Dione – an inspirational guide who taught him the art of boxing and encouraged him to progress in the sport.
Boxing has been around in Malta since the 1960s, thanks to pioneers such as Bertu Camilleri and Charles “Letz” Seguna (who also had a part in the Oscar-winning movie ‘Midnight Express’). In the 1980s, the boxing movement kept on thriving mainly down to the efforts of Vince Bongailas. Once Bongailas retired from the boxing scene (starting a career in music in the process – and even attempting to qualify for the Eurovision Song Contest), the momentum slowed considerably.
Nevertheless, boxing-enthusiast Dione was not happy to let his sport die and decided to create the spark that would reignite the movement. Dione first joined Bertu’s Gym in Gharghur (run by boxing pioneer Bertu Camilleri) to continue training as a boxer. Once he felt ready to make the big step, he opened his own gym in Cospicua. The main idea behind forming another club was to create the possibility of competition between clubs, which would make the world of Maltese boxing much more exciting. In those early days, he used to organise make-shift tournaments with whatever resources could be found.
Nowadays, the organisation of the sport has improved considerably and there are now seven boxing clubs (including a few specialised in kick-boxing which also encourages boxing). While there currently are a healthy number of new boxers starting out, it is not easy to keep boxers in for the long term; only those really dedicated keep on training over a longer period of time. Generally, work and family commitments get the better of many, who know it is virtually impossible to make a living out of boxing.
The presence of these different clubs generates the possibility of competing with each other in order to create a spectacle for the Maltese, boxing-loving public and a showcase for the local boxers. A passion for the sport is what keeps most going, and a healthy dose of competition is the stimulus which gives boxers and the public something to look forward to.
From time to time, boxers from abroad come over to battle it out in competition against the local lads. Though nobody is a full-time boxer and they all have their day jobs, the competitive fights themselves are organised on a professional basis. Dione hopes that boxing will one day become one of the official sports at the European Small Nations Games that are held every two years. This could be a much needed boost for the sport on the island and a chance for local boxers to compete against their foreign counterparts in some exciting matches, gaining invaluable experience in the process and rewarding them for all the sacrifices they make throughout the year.
One match most local boxing enthusiasts would love to see is a re-match between local hero Steve Aquilina, who trains at a gym in Zurrieq, and Scotsman Scott Dixon. After Dixon won the first match in controversial fashion, many wonder if Aquilina could beat the Scotsman next time round. Aquilina, who is now 44, wishes an eventual re-match against Dixon to be the final fight of his very respectful career which has spanned Malta and the UK.
Dixon seems to have cold feet about an eventual re-match – but I keep my fingers crossed that the Maltese public will finally get to see their big match in the near future if Dixon has a change if heart. As a boxing enthusiast, I can only wish for that to happen!