Congratulations on the big win at the weekend. You’ve had some ups and downs over the years, but I imagine Saturday’s win was special, with your fighter, Michael Mokoena, shocking Lusanda Komanisi? How did you engineer the victory?
We’ve developed an interesting relationship. In his first nine months with me, Mike had six fights – all wins. But he wanted more, so he went to Keith Rass, where he had just two fights in a year, with one loss. He re-joined me last March and had six fights, losing one. I never knew if my boy could do it [against Komanisi]. I was pretty nervous. But I realised if you pop Komanisi’s bubble, you take away his power. Mike told him ‘I’m gonna show you my power in this bigger division’. Komanisi then came our respecting Mike. Even when he went down in the first, I told him to hit and move. He listened, and we got the win. Just fantastic.
How does it feel, generally knowing that your fighter is the B-side, and not expected to win?
Yep, there was already talk of a Komanisi-Ngondeni fight in October. We were the stepping stone, but I’ve always enjoyed the underdog scenario. That said, it was nerve-wracking. Honestly, I was worried for my boy, I wasn’t sure how things would turn out.
How many years have you been involved in training fighters?
Since 2001, so it’s a long time now.
Do you have a particular philosophy?
If you walk into my gym, I won’t take away your natural skills. I look at your attributes and try master them. Mokoena is the most awkward boxer, but I use that, polish it.
You’re a long time retired as an elite-level fighter – 20 years – what are some of your fondest memories?
In my sixth fight, I fought a guy named Harold Wales. I got knocked down in the first and the second rounds, but I got off the canvas to almost KO him at the Carousel. I fought hard and earned the draw. The next week I’m running along the street and a guy shouts out, ‘great fight last week’. That felt good. I later won the WBF title against Tony Wehbee; I was set up as the fall guy but gave him a hiding. Plus there was my WBU title fight in Pennsylvania (against Max Gomez) and, finally, my comeback fight against Thompson Mokwana 10 years ago, which was for my son.
Tell us more about your gym and who to look out for.
I have seven pros. Ray Cerfonteyn and I share Wade Groth. I look after new cruiserweight Julian Cooke. I also have an exciting six-time SA amateur champion – Ricardo Malajika – turning pro. He’s a junior-bantamweight with plenty of talent. Plus there are what you might term stepping-stone boxers. On November 10, I host our annual Southern Giant event and a new initiative is creating championships for guys who fight out of Hillbrow, typically from the DRC who aren’t eligible to challenge for SA titles.
Who are the boxers you most admire, either current or past champions?
Brian Mitchell was always my favourite and because I was in his circle – we used to spar – I grew to admire him. I also loved Barry McGuigan, who had a similar style to me.
What are the challenges facing SA boxing?
There are so many. The money has improved remarkably, but my concern is life after boxing. My Hillbrow project [Fight with Insight] is designed to help equip boxers for a career, helping them with entrepreneurial skills, business skills. They give 10 years of their lives to boxing, and then what? My concern is the educational perspective, the lack of skills. This must change.
Who is SA boxing’s best pound-for-pound boxer, and why?
Most would say Hekkie Budler. For me, it’s Tulz Mbenge. He boxes really well, even though he appears to have gone off the boil. He has the ability to be right up there.
What are your ambitions as a trainer?
My Hillbrow project [Fight with Insight] sees us looking after 100 kids. If every gym could look after 10 such kids, imagine the difference we could make. We try and provide a moral foundation. This is what’s most important to me.”