Boxers Tim Tszyu (left) and Dwight Ritchie are seen during their official pre fight weigh-in at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney, Tuesday, August 13, 2019. Tim Tszyu and Dwight Ritchie will fight each other in Sydney on August 14. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING
Boxers Tim Tszyu (left) and Dwight Ritchie are seen during their official pre fight weigh-in at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney, Tuesday, August 13, 2019. Tim Tszyu and Dwight Ritchie will fight each other in Sydney on August 14. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING

Inside the final sparring session of Dwight ‘Cowboy’ Ritchie

Dwight Ritchie was returning to his corner, they say, with both arms raised above his head, seeking air.

A natural response given, seconds earlier, the fighter dubbed Cowboy had eaten a body shot from close mate and sparring partner Michael Zerafa.

Although not the kind of shot, you should know, that breaks ribs. Or even leaves a man pissing blood.

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Dwight Ritchie (R) reels away from a punch by Tim Tszyu during their WBO Global and IBF Australasian super welterweight title fight. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Dwight Ritchie (R) reels away from a punch by Tim Tszyu during their WBO Global and IBF Australasian super welterweight title fight. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

 

No, this body-shot … well, you wouldn't pick it as any different from the thousands these mates had ripped into one over who knows how many rounds, and preparations.

Which is why nobody can still believe what happened next.

When Ritchie, understood to be turning back towards centre ring with those arms still raised, suddenly dropped.

Then within a blink, unconscious on the canvas.

Taking one loud, unmistakeable breath - then silence.

 

 

 

 

And so immediately a call went out from the Melbourne gym to paramedics, who arriving soon after, spent some 40 minutes on the 27-year-old who boxed, worked at a concrete factory and was daddy to three beautiful young daughters.

But already, the Cowboy was gone.

Taken by the same sport that also saved his life.

All of which leaves only sadness and questions.

An autopsy will now be carried out as a grieving Australian boxing community tries to comprehend how a junior middleweight so famed for his grit - having beaten circumstance, cancer twice, even his first four pro rivals illegally, given he was still underage - could then be taken by a punch so innocuous.

 

 

Dwight Ritchie pictured in 2012 as an up-and-coming 20 yo boxer training at Tarneit Boxing Gym.
Dwight Ritchie pictured in 2012 as an up-and-coming 20 yo boxer training at Tarneit Boxing Gym.

 

 

A GoFundMe page has also been created for Ritchie's young family, with Fox Sports also now working with the promoters of Australia's next three big cards to add even further to that tally.

Those closest to Zerafa have also rallied around the Melbourne middleweight who, after eight years of toil, finally catapulted himself into the Australian sports consciousness in August, scoring an upset win over Queensland hero and former WBO champ, Jeff Horn.

Here was a fella ready to become the new face of Australian fighting.

Yet only months on, the 27-year-old has been so overcome by grief there are suggestions he may delay, or even cancel, the bout Ritchie was helping him prepare for - a blockbuster Horn rematch on December 18.

 

 

Michael Zerafa has been so overcome by grief there are suggestions he may delay, or even cancel, his bout against Jeff Horn. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Michael Zerafa has been so overcome by grief there are suggestions he may delay, or even cancel, his bout against Jeff Horn. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

 

 

Cowboy too was readying himself for a return to the ring on December 6, having recently lost for only the second time in his career against rising Sydneysider Tim Tszyu.

A showdown not only slated for the undercard of Tszyu's next Main Event headliner, but against Tommy Browne - the fighter whose own younger brother Davey was tragically killed in 2015 after being knocked out in the 12th round of a bout.

Again, which leaves only sadness.

Understanding that in Ritchie, you had a fella saved by the fight game.

A proud Aboriginal man who, raised on a mission in Shepparton, had steered clear of the crime, the drugs, the booze, all of it to instead go dancing like his hero, Lionel Rose.

And, sure, Ritchie never had the power of so many rivals.

But good luck finding a fella with more desire to bite down on his mouthpiece and throw volume.

Or win rounds on heart.

The kind of fighter, you just know, would've made Rose smile.

RIP Cowboy.

 

Click here to donate to the GoFundMe page set up to support Dwight Ritchie's family