With his dazzling smile and handsome looks, Thulani Mbenge looks every inch a model.
Except he’s not. He’s a fighter, and a very accomplished one at that.
The welterweight prospect arrived on the pro scene last year with an outstanding reputation. Since taking out his license he hasn’t disappointed. Five knockouts in five fights indicate a boxer on the rise.
Promoter Rodney Berman, who is seldom given to fulsome praise, makes an exception for Mbenge. “He’s exciting, isn’t he? What I like is that his ability matches his charisma. It’s early days, but he’s knocking guys out in the hottest division in boxing. That’s exactly what you must do to be noticed. He has tremendous potential.”
It’s also why Berman has secured a spot for him on the “Prospects at the Palace III” tournament on July 24. Mbenge is the sort of athlete who thrills fans. Berman is also toying with the idea of throwing him into a welterweight Super Four tournament.
Unlike many of the youngsters beginning to emerge on the local scene, Mbenge has a rock-solid amateur pedigree highlighted by him capturing a medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Among his many wins in the unpaid ring was one over Paul Kamanga.
In compiling an amateur record of 93-20-8, Mbenge has developed the fundamentals required to make deep inroads in the pro game.
It helps, too, that he’s from the boxing hotbed of Mdantsane, where he was a local hero and was named Eastern Cape Sportsman of the Year in 2014. Although fans in the area are disapproving of locals going to Johannesburg to seek their fortunes, they realise, too, that it’s where the action is.
Mbenge, a twin, grew up in sparse circumstances. His heavy bag was a cloth-filled plastic bag that hung from a tree in the garden. He hit it as often as he could, always keeping in mind the end goal of becoming a professional world champion.
Now an IT student, he works out of the Sean Smith camp in Fourways where he’s a popular member of the fight stable.
Had he not turned pro in 2015, chances are he would have made a solid run for the SA Olympic team. Instead, Mbenge spurned the chance and the cold reality is that no local boxer has qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time in history.
This isn’t an issue for him to dwell on. He’s chosen his own path and determined to find his pot of gold.
With dynamite in his fists and a glint in his eye, he’s well worth watching.