First time Danilo Creati ever threw punches on Australian soil, his rival was a drunk pumpkin farmer.
Or more specifically, a pumpkin picker.
Same deal for his second fight.
Then the third?
That one may have been a guy who picked rock melons.
Creati can’t be sure.
Regardless, said opponent had definitely been on the cans.
“Because they had always been drinking,” the fighter grins.
With good reason, too.
“The drink,” he recalls, “is how they got courage to fight me.”
Seated now on a bench in the Darling Harbour sunshine, 32-year-old Creati is talking Fox Sports Australia through his staggering rise from anonymous Italian farm worker to Main Event headliner.
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A fella who this Wednesday inside Sydney’s Aware Super Theatre, will throw down against no less than Australia’s No.1 boxing villain – Michael ‘Pretty Boy’ Zerafa.
Just over a year since he famously walked out on a fight with Australian poster boy Tim Tszyu, Zerafa is once again not only back on our TV screens, or a world No.1 contender, but has “verbally agreed” to a showdown with Gennady Golovkin next March.
Yet before making the walk into an Australian boxing blockbuster, Zerafa first wants a good ‘ol tune up.
You know, one of those fights with a rival who looks good, makes you sweat but, when the fists really start flying, boasts all the winning potential of, say, the Washington Generals.
Which brings us full circle to Creati.
That destroyer of drunk pumpkin pickers.
A fighter who, born and raised in Chieti, Italy, and now undefeated in eight professional fights, first arrived Down Under alone, speaking little English and expecting to stay only weeks.
Yet that was eight years ago.
When even coming to Australia, he recalls, seemed “part of a joke”.
“Or a mistake,” he explains.
“At the time, I was a fighting on the Italian boxing team. And my girlfriend, she was performing on a national TV show back home.
Zerafa one win away from GGG fight | 02:29
“So we were like the beautiful couple, the fighter and the dancer.
“And one day she tells me ‘I want to go on holiday’.
“And we Italians, we’re romantic.
“So I say ‘babe, wherever you want to go, we go … I’ll take you to the moon if you want’.”
Instead, she chose Australia.
“So I bought the Visas, the tickets, did all the farewells, everything,” Creati says.
“But then the week before leaving, my girlfriend comes to me crying, saying ‘my dad won’t let me go’.
“He wanted her joining a dance company instead.
“So what can I do?
“The whole city knows I’m going. They’ve given me gifts, paid for my farewells … so I come to Australia alone.”
Arriving Down Under with only limited English – “I could say hello, I’m hungry and help” – Creati first sought employment as a waiter.
Then from there, the amateur boxing star worked construction, in cleaning, as a barista, even a kitchen hand before finally heading into north Queensland for what was billed as some time out in the fresh air.
“Although I didn’t choose the easiest farm,” he says.
No, instead, Creati wound up in Bowen — picking both pumpkins and rock melon in 40 degree heat.
“And you can’t just throw the pumpkins, are you risk ruining them,” he recounts, smile widening at the memory.
“So there’s a lot of bending and back pain.”
Yet despite the gruelling hours, and that aching back, the Italian would still follow work each day with training at a nearby gym – even though “it didn’t even have one boxing bag”.
Yeah, Creati found a couple of those.
Which is why, even though his professional record now reads 8-zip on Australian soil, the real figure is more like 20-0.
“Because travelling around Australia, I still carried boxing gloves with me,” the perennial underdog explains.
“And so on the farm, I started fighting other pickers.
“Mostly, the fights would happen when the guys were drunk.
“That’s when they had the most courage.
“All up I probably had a dozen fights.”
And as for how many you won?
“All of them,” he grins.
“But I’d just play.
“While I dropped some of the people, I was also taking care of them too.
“It was punches to the liver, punches to the stomach, never anything to the face.
“Because these were people I was living and working with. People who became like family.
“So I was always dropping them with care.”
Tszyu calls Gal & TRASHES Zerafa | 01:06
Eventually though, even the booze – and the “dropping them with care” — was not enough to guarantee the young Italian a fight on the farm.
“Word started to get around about how I went,” he shrugs. “So even when guys got drunk they wouldn’t fight me anymore.”
So after almost a year among the pumpkins, Creati then found his way to Sydney, into a boxing gym and onto the undercard of Billy Dib’s 2018 IBF super featherweight title shot.
A night that may have seen Billy the Kid lose by decision against Tevin Farmer, but other fighters rise up like Tim Tszyu, Brock Jarvis and undefeated super middleweight Cesar Mateo Tapia.
Creati, of course, won too.
The first in a career that, while later stalled for two years by Covid, now sees him catapulted into a shock headliner against Australia’s boxing villain.
Elsewhere, the Italian has also taught himself English, earned residency and spent the past three years with new partner Kayla – who is expecting the couple’s first child in five weeks.
“So it’s going to be a big end to the year,” he says.
Importantly, Creati has caused boxing upsets before, too.
Like back in March, when No Limit Boxing signed 2012 Olympian Cameron Hammond – only for the Italian to beat him in a shock decision win.
Then before that in 2020, Creati travelled all the way to South Korea and upset hometown boy Hyun Ming Yan, winning the WBA Asia middleweight strap by split decision.
All of which has impressed two-time American world champion Paulie Malignaggi, the popular boxing analyst – and son of Italian immigrants – who counts Creati as a friend.
“What I notice about Italian fighters, the ones who stay in Italy don’t seem that hungry,” Malignaggi told us from the US this week. “They don’t have that much success.
“But the guys who are willing to travel abroad, who are willing to change their life around, those guys not only get better but they’re hungrier too.
“To go to a different place on earth where you have to start over, there is an extra gear in human beings like that.
“I’m the child of Italian immigrants, so I know about that extra gear.
“And fighters who have that, they don’t just show up for a cheque. They show up to fight, to change their life and be somebody.
“And I see that in Creati.”
So as for thoughts his friend will be blown away within a couple of rounds?
“I know Zerafa has said that,” Malignaggi continues. “Although I don’t know if he really believes it, or if it’s bluster in the press conference.
“But I do expect Zerafa to start fast and try to say ‘hey you don’t belong at this level’.
“But Creati’s awkwardness, his athletic ability, that could throw Zerafa off.
‘That last fight epitomises your career’ | 00:42
“If Zerafa’s looking too hard to land big straight away, he could walk himself into some shots. And from there, the evolution of the fight could go to different places.
“So maybe this is me leaning towards my brother with the same blood, but I just don’t see Creati going away. I think this is a good fight.”
Ditto promoters No Limit Boxing.
With the Zerafa-Creati showdown being given top billing on the stacked Sydney card, pushing even Paul Gallen’s heavyweight farewell against Justin Hodges to co-main.
Which means this destroyer of pumpkin pickers, he could now upset Australia’s great sporting villain.
That, and rob him of a Triple G world title blockbuster.
“And all of this,” the Italian grins, “after I came to Australia by mistake”.