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The Hornet: My journey from bullied schoolboy to world champion


By Anthony Cocks

You’ve got to hand it to journalist Grantlee Kieza, co-writer of the Jeff Horn biography The Hornet: My Journey From Bullied Schoolboy to World Champion. As Australia’s leading boxing reporter he was ready to put pen to paper and start writing the biography of Jeff Horn the moment Horn defeated living legend and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao at the Battle of Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on 2 July 2017. Just over four months later and the book was written, edited, printed and distributed to leading bookstores throughout Australia.

The Hornet can be split into three sections: Horn’s childhood, where he was bullied relentlessly for his soft-spoken, polite manner and nerdy disposition to the point of contemplating suicide; his fateful meeting trainer Glenn Rushton who turned this quiet, unassuming kid into an Olympian; and finally, Horn’s short professional career culminating in his unlikely victory over one of the greatest boxers of last 30 years.


The overarching theme of the biography is to never give up on your dreams, even when it feels like your life is crumbling down around you. And it’s a worthwhile theme told well.


If you have followed Horns career to date there is not a lot here that will strike you as new, but it does provide a great read on his young life in chronological order so far. What is perhaps the most revealing is the depth of the relationship between Rushton and Horn. The martial arts expert’s unwavering belief in his young charge is evident from the start, when he tells Horn he can take him to the Olympics if he just believes in him (they made in a remarkably short four-year amateur boxing career). The second plan Rushton has for Horn sounds even more far-fetched: to have him not only fight but defeat the great Manny Pacquiao in a world title fight.


Yes, Pacquiao was their target opponent from day dot. 

Grantlee Kieza does a superb job of letting Horn’s voice come to the fore while still utilising his own journalistic talent to frame the story. In the early chapters Horn’s typical Australian middleclass upbringing is contrasted with Manny Pacquiao’s poverty stricken childhood to good effect. The script is flipped in the later chapters when the multimillionaire Filipino senator jets into Australia on his chartered AirAsia Airbus A330 emblazoned with a huge logo of himself and accompanied by an entourage of up to 200 people. Horn meanwhile had only recently put a hold on his day job as a schoolteacher and to date hadn’t earned more than AUD$20,000 for a fight (his purse for his debut fight was AUD$1,500 – less expenses, of course).


What readers will find interesting are the behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings that went into getting the fight with Manny Pacquiao made. 

Two things that standout about Horn throughout the book are his calmness and self-belief. He believes in his trainer, he believes in his corner, he believes in the gameplan and the hardwork he has put in in the gym. These are the cornerstones of his success.


The writing style is exactly what you would expect from Kieza, who cut his teeth writing for major capital city daily newspapers like The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Courier Mail. The copy is clean and accessible, with Kieza’s polished turns of phrase used sparingly and effectively. His description of Rushton as “a cross between Chuck Norris and Anthony Robbins” is eerily correct as anyone familiar with all three men will appreciate.


For those unfamiliar with Kieza, the Walkley Award finalist is the author of a dozen critically acclaimed books and understands boxing as well as any working journalist in Australia. He carried the spit bucket for much of Jeff Fenech’s pro career and has been ringside for many of the biggest fights in history over the past 35 years.


Regardless of what people think of Horn as a boxer, you can’t underestimate his self-belief. Towards the end of the book he reiterates his desire to take on the very best: the Keith Thurmans, the Errol Spences, and the Terrence Crawfords of the world. Very few people believed he had a chance against Pacquiao. Very few people will believe he has a chance against the three boxers listed above. And very few people in Horn’s camp will care what the rest of the world thinks because they remain quietly confident in their man’s ability to pull off the upset.

Perhaps most importantly Horn wants to use his story to inspire other young people, particularly those who are going through hard times, to believe in themselves that things will improve and get better. On that score The Hornet provides an inspirational tale than many young people will be able to relate to only too well.


The Hornet is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants an insight into what it takes to be a professional athlete in the hardest of sports, for the teenager who needs to find some self-belief to help them get through those tough in-between years in high school, or just someone looking for a good read at the beach over the Australian summer.








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