LAS VEGAS – Pretend like it didn't happen, you tell yourself. Pretend that you've never heard that Michael Katsidis' 31-year-old brother, Stathi, his best friend, died tragically a few weeks ago.
Pretend that you don't feel for him. Pretend that you can't comprehend his pain.
For more than two decades, much of Katsidis' life has been dedicated to this one night, to the quest of a boxing world championship. On Saturday, he'll have the opportunity of his lifetime when he meets the great Juan Manuel Marquez for the lightweight championship in the main event of an HBO-televised tripleheader at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"My whole life has been in pursuit of this," Katsidis says, beaming, as he stretches before one of his final workouts before Saturday's bout for the World Boxing Association/World Boxing Organization title.
It should be a celebratory moment, to be sure, as Katsidis is on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream.
He was only 11 when he first happened by trainer Brendon Smith's gym in Australia. It wasn't long after that when he began to idly dream, wondering what it would feel like to have the world title wrapped around his waist and his arms thrust skyward.
Smith knew early on that he had something special in this young kid, who was fearless and didn't know how to quit and was as dedicated to greatness as anyone he'd ever seen.
Nearly 20 years later, Katsidis and Smith are still together, still chasing the same dream. The big night is nearly upon them, a match for the title against one of the world's finest fighters in the boxing capital of the world.
It doesn't get much better than a main event in a big fight in Las Vegas.
"It's like a dream," Katsidis says.
Life, though, is no dream. This is reality and you know that Stathi Katsidis, one of the top thoroughbred jockeys in Australia, won't be at ringside to cheer his younger brother to victory. He won't be at home awaiting a celebratory call from Michael.
On Oct. 19, Stathi Katsidis was found dead in his Brisbane, Australia, home. Autopsy results were inconclusive, though toxicology reports are pending and they could explain the why in this tragedy.
You want to pat him on the back and express your sorrow, your understanding. You just want to say you know how it feels, that only a few years ago, you lost a brother at a young age, too. You know how it rips you up inside. You know how a brother's death made you angry and depressed and confused and hurt and lonely and create a million other emotions all at the same time.
You know that with time, the pain subsides, but what you also know all too well is that it never really goes away. You want to tell this young guy who you know is battling so much that you're sorry.
You don't, though, out of respect to him.
No one would have blamed him had he said he couldn't do it, that he couldn't get ready for such a momentous occasion in his life given the personal tragedy he had to endure.
Michael, though, decided fairly quickly that he would move on, that he would continue this pursuit of a dream that he'd begun so long ago and that he would dedicate it to his brother.
Only two days after Stathi Katsidis was found dead, Michael Katsidis decided he would go forward with the fight and released a statement explaining why.
"I have lost my closest friend, my inspiration in life, my one and only brother," the statement began. "This is something I could never imagine, but for some reason I feel his life is not a loss. My brother is me! We live our lives through each other. We dedicate our triumphs to one another and share the challenges we face in life. What does someone do when they lose the one person in their life like this? They are devastated, right? Allow me to share with you Stathi's thoughts and what he wants. If you can believe me, I feel you will all be somewhat enlightened to hear what I have say.
"The fight will go on! I will do this for Stathi, my family and myself. The moment I walked in for a grueling sparring session after hearing the news of his death earlier that day, my trainer, Brendon Smith, shook my hand and said to me 'You are about to take the bravest step of your life.' We nodded, smiled and went to work. I worked as I have never done before. He is with me and will be all the way. I am happy about this.
"I have never experienced anything like I felt that day. Stathi is inside me! We will fight this fight together. I know this is what he wants. I would like to thank everyone for their well wishes and prayers for my brother, my family and myself. God bless."
And then, Michael Katsidis decided he would not speak publicly again about his brother's death, at least until after the fight.
And so, you see him and you feel his pain and you want to say 'I'm sorry,' and 'I understand,' but you don't say a word. You know from experience that he has to do it his way, that dealing with this sort of thing is the most uniquely personal aspect of life. If he doesn't want to talk about it, you get it.
You know it's no fun and, to be sure, you know it's not easy. There are so many things you want to say to him, but you don't.
He's made the decision that only he could make, and you understand.
You talk to him about his reputation as perhaps boxing's most exciting fighter. You mention that you can't remember the last time you were at a news conference he attended when someone didn't invoke Arturo Gatti's name as they spoke of him.
He smiled, and you like that.
You talk to him about the difficulty of facing a superstar like Marquez and you grin when he tells you that it will mean all that much more to him by having beaten one of the modern greats in order to win his belt.
You could have said a lot more, but didn't.
You don't know what is going to happen in this fight, but you do know this:
When Michael Katsidis steps into the ring to face Juan Manuel Marquez for lightweight supremacy on Saturday night, he won't be in there alone.
That is the one thing you know for sure.
- Michael Katsidis
- Juan Manuel Marquez