Mad Mick on road to redemption

Mad Mick on road to redemption, by Nick Walshaw - 17th November 2007
(Credit: The Daily Telegraph)

MICK Cutajar has nothing to show me when quizzed about his greatest fights. Standing in the downstairs sanctuary of his Wollongong home, sunlight blasts from rows of judo trophies and jujitsu cups, medallions, plaques and swords . . . even a laptop runs YouTube video from his Extreme Fighting days.

But it's his other prizes we've come to discuss. Those "Cutta" will later spend a good 90 minutes explaining from a black leather lounge.

Like his worrying bouts of claustrophobia, for example. And wariness in the dark. A 100kg enforcer who still jumps sharply whenever doors slam.

"Those Long Bay prison fights, mate, they still haunt me," Cutajar concedes. "Like the one in the shower block, first year inside.

"At the time, there'd been a lot of s . . . going down between me and another fella. A paedophile.

"And this particular afternoon there were six of us there. Then there were two. So you fight or die in the shower."

And so Cutajar fought; a chaotic couple of seconds that left his rival lying unconscious on the tiles. Smashed face, broken leg and three distinct chest wounds from a shiv hidden inside his towel.

"What became of the bloke? Dunno," Cutajar deadpans. "Hospitalised, obviously. Then moved.

"But I wasn't concerned about his welfare, his wife and kids. My only thought was 'f . . ., OK, I'm still alive'."

Michael "Cutta" Cutajar is the Australian judo champion who has spent his entire life fighting.

A Year 9 high school dropout - "I was sick of getting bullied and chased home" - who is now just 265 days from becoming THE story of our 2008 Beijing Olympic team.

Two tournaments are yet to be contested before March. A handful of Aussies still in contention.

But already this Wollongong Warrior is daring to dream. Of sponsorship deals and coaching gigs, movie roles and book deals. He even wants to publish a secret prison diary he kept buried in some Long Bay garden bed.

Only last week Mick's parents told him to contact 60 Minutes. Because an Aussie prisoner at the Olympics would be interesting, they said. Maybe mention you shared a cell with Ivan Milat too.

Indeed, Liz Hayes would love to read this eclectic resume of a convicted armed robber, Kings Cross bouncer, Guns N' Roses bodyguard and diamond courier - once moving $5.2 million interstate around his wrist.

Mad Mick has fought coppers, drunks, prisoners, world champions, even some junkie brandishing a bloody syringe.

"So for someone like me to finally make the Olympic qualifying, it's special," the 39-year-old understates. "And to own that Olympian tag, mate, it would change my life forever.

"Like, I've fought for everything I have. It's been almost 15 years since I left jail and still no one wants to employ me fulltime.

"At judo competitions people I've never even met approach me saying 'Oh, you're the armed robber'. Mate, yes, but I have done a few positive things with my life since then."

The best place to start Cutajar's incredible story is November 1995, when he received three years for a bungled robbery attempt.

The yarn itself is a convoluted web of lies, deception and betrayal. But, for the sake of brevity, Mick walked into a security company wearing a balaclava, overcoat and contact lenses.

He KO'ed two security guards. Bound them with a third staffer. Removed their guns - "in the process going from common thief to armed robber" - and made off with a cool $39,000.

All Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

"And nothing happened for about five months," Cutajar recalls. "I'd actually been given a role in that film Blue Murder , as a drug dealer selling to Neddy Smith. Two days later the coppers had me for real."

And then this martial artist entered the most important phase of his fighting career.

"When something is about to go down in prison, mate, the air changes," Cutajar explains.

"The joint is normally loud, crowded. Then everything goes quiet and this mysterious barrier of about 10 metres suddenly appears around you . . ."

Of course, Cutajar was prepared. A tattooed tyro who once ran with a mob of toughs who offered this line before fights . . . "winner throws loser from the nightclub roof".

"I only saw it happen once," Cutajar recalls. "The bloke had broken ribs, smashed pelvis. But he never squealed once going down, you have to respect him for that."

But still they came at Cutajar inside. Tattooed fists, sharpened pen barrels, socks filled with eight balls and glass honey jars.

"Jail is so intense," Mick says. "Fights, rapes, stabbings, hangings.

"Some 50kg junkie can have a bad day and take it out on you. So, boom, you're dead.

"I once saw a bloke kissing his children during visiting hours, an hour later he was raping some poor kid and stealing his sneakers.

"People talk about Ivan Milat, but he certainly wasn't the worst bloke in there."

Ah, Ivan Milat.

Cutajar roomed with Australia's notorious serial killer for six months inside the Bay. Working in the bakery, lifting weights in the gym, close enough for Ivan to joke "I never knew you had a younger sister" whenever Mick's mum came to visit.

"But who am I to judge when we're sharing a cell," Cutajar shrugs.

"I mean, he was certainly better than those blokes boiling baby oil in jugs . . . they tipped them on cell mates as they slept."

All these horror stories are now, however, just that for Mick - keen to prove his fighting qualities go beyond two fists that Blitz magazine once gushed "could knock out a bull".

Twice overlooked by the University of Wollongong, this unlikely scholar persisted and in 2005 graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree.

Mick doesn't drink. Has never touched drugs. Hoping one degree and three diplomas will now help him in paying back that $39,000 at $40 per month.

Cutajar also runs two gyms, one family, trains daily, works extra jobs and is trying to publish a 307-page judo manual penned in prison.

And he keeps chasing those Olympic rings. Because "Cutta" knows if prisoner becomes product, sponsors start knocking, publishers sign deals and parents eagerly shove children inside your gym.

"Look, I won't medal at the Olympics," Cutajar concludes. "But even to qualify, mate, that'd make my world a better place.

"I've spent the best part of 30 years putting blokes on the ground, only to realise that nothing beats critics quite like your own success. And you don't always need a trophy for that."


Mick Cutajar official website

Mick Cutajar blog

Mick Cutajar - YouTube


Mick Cutajar

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