Boxing is experiencing a surge in public interest owing to the “Fight of the Century” lined up for May 2nd in Las Vegas when Manny Pacquiao takes on Floyd Mayweather. It is great for the sport that, if only for a few weeks, it is mainstream again. Most casual observers hardly pay any attention to pugilism these days but there was a time when a fighter was the pride of his country. South Africa is no different and the fight game desperately needs a boost in this country after having been marginalised for the longest time.
The national broadcaster has not shown live boxing in three years despite several promises by the minister to sort this out. Just last week the Netball Premier League launched its second season and Fikile Mbalula’s deputy Gert Oosthuizen lauded the netball fraternity for a job well done. And indeed it has been a superb competition that will hopefully help make the Proteas a force in that sport on the world stage. What I was wondering is when the Department of Sport and Recreation might turn its attention to the sweet science that 20 years ago was the second-most popular sport in our country.
So far in the doldrums is boxing that swimming has overtaken it in terms of popularity. Nothing against the water sport and our magnificent athletes that seem to specialise in winning Olympic gold medals but why is boxing being made to suffer?
Thanks to the ongoing boxing blackout since 2012, bitter legal battles, a toothless national federation and a general lack of will, the sport has slipped from the public eye and there are now just a few left fighting for its survival. We have already lost a generation to the sport. Ask the average 20-something who Zolani Tete is and they will be unable to tell you. Tete is the IBF junior bantamweight champion of the world, for crying out loud. In real terms he has more status than the Springboks, Proteas or Bafana Bafana right now but outside of his native Mdantsane he is unrecognisable. What a crying shame.
Just two decades ago the likes of Brian Mitchell and Dingaan Thobela dared not walk in a shopping mall without expectations of being mobbed by adoring fans. Tete and WBA/IBO minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler should be experiencing this too.
Dicksy Ngqula is the latest promoter to be involved in controversy after failing to pay his boxers. After the completion of the Premier Boxing League, Ngqula owes his fighters R1.6 million, including the winner’s cheque of R1 million to Xolisani Ndongeni. Boxing South Africa and the Ministry has not helped and so the boxers themselves have taken to social media platforms like Twitter hounding Ngqula daily and pleading desperately with Mbalula to assist but at the time of writing their efforts have yielded no fruit.
Boxers are not circus animals who provide entertainment while the ringmaster takes the crowd’s money. Maybe Ngqula does not know this. The sport is not dead. One only needs to visit Mdantsane as well as Johannesburg’s South and East Rand to know there are still youngsters out there wanting to make a career for themselves in this once famous sport. It is also not a geographical game dominated by sections of the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. Former junior lightweight world champion Mzonke Fana is from Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, the late WBO heavyweight title holder Corrie Sanders hailed from Pretoria and Thabiso Mchunu, an exciting and powerful cruiserweight who could be the country’s next big thing calls Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal home. Former IBF flyweight world champion Moruti Mthalane is also a KwaZulu-Natalian.
We have fighters but they need to be seen. They need to be displayed on the national broadcaster where the majority of the population can watch them exhibit their skills. Yes, perhaps there is a lost generation but all it will take to rectify that is the family patriarch sitting down to watch the fights with the youngsters and share his favourite fight stories from the old days.
Many people consider South Africa to be a country that has produced great rugby and football players as well as cricketers, golfers and swimmers. Their achievements are magnificent to say the least but it is the boxers who have won more world titles than all of those sports combined. Indeed, this is very much a boxing country in the same tradition as the United States, United Kingdom and Mexico.
Mister Minister, please make this a priority and get this great sport back on the television. But just before you do that, kindly order Dicksy Ngqula to pay his boxers. They have families to feed and have earned their money.