Boxing Snippets

Fighting through the pain, Don-Juan promises glory

Six years ago, Don-Juan van Heerden witnessed his father shot to death.
As he cradled his dad in his arms, Don-Juan saw him draw his final breath.
In that moment, his life was devastated.
He wanted to kill himself. His dad, Daniel, was his hero, the man who had raised his large family with a firm hand and a competitive spirit.
“But God had other plans,” said the young fighter this week, alluding to his late father’s wish to see his son become South African champion.
The murderer received a 10-year jail term last year, five of which were suspended, which means he will still have a life to look forward to.
Somehow Don-Juan, 23, has found it in his heart to forgive the killer – “we were raised as Christians,” he explained – and has resolved to fulfil his fathers’ wish.
A major step was taken in the past week when the super-middleweight (9-2) signed with Golden Gloves.
“He has a lot of talent,” said Rodney Berman. “He can fight, and he’s charismatic. He has the makings of a star.”
Said Van Heerden from his home in Meyerton: “It’s the biggest promotion in South Africa and makes a lot of sense. It’s what any local boxer wants. I can talk, I can fight, I’ll do my best to pull a crowd.”
The southpaw has much going for himself. Chiefly, he can fight, having done so from an early age when his dad encouraged his sons to fight each other. Whoever won would win R500.
Given that former boxing champion Chris and ex-MMA fighter Danie were in the family, it’s fair to say Don-Juan took his share of licks. But he got many shots in too, unwittingly developing many of the basic skills that would help him develop as a boxer.
“Everything was a competition, even getting a job,” he recalled. “It taught us a lot about life.”
While big brother Chris was making his way in the professional ranks, Don-Juan was doing his own thing in the amateurs. He estimates he had 65 bouts with a pair of losses, winning gold at the SA championship six times in the light-heavyweight division.
“I loved it, although at first I hated it,” he says. “I had to spar bigger guys as a five, six-year-old. As I grew, I fell in love with boxing. I started giving older guys a hard time.”
He looked up to Chris. “He had walked the journey, set standards for me. He was humble, carried himself well and set an example.”
Around the age of 16 the amateur scene lost its appeal. Too many rivals were running scared.
In a bizarre move, Don-Juan took out a Ukrainian pro boxing licence because he was too young at 16 to receive his licence in SA.
He fought his pro debut using that licence, but it was a mess from the start.
Boxing SA was unhappy with him, he was unfit, having accepted the fight on a week-and-a-half’s notice, and he says his legs felt like jelly, something he attributes to having sex on the eve of the fight.
“I won the first three rounds, but I treated the fight like a joke,” he says. “I wasn’t tired, but my legs were gone when it was stopped in the fourth.”
The years following his father’s murder were bleak and Don-Juan drifted away from the sport, but he resolved to return to the ring to honour his father.
Having decided to take his chosen pursuit seriously, he promptly reeled off eight straight wins under the watchful eye of Khangelani Jack, BSA’s Trainer of the Year in 2023. Don-Juan himself was named Prospect of the Year.
Critically, he displayed an encouraging amount of power with seven fights ending early.
Yet he doesn’t especially rate himself as a banger. “I can both punch and take a punch,” he says. “I’m more tactical. I like to outbox guys. But if I catch a guy, I’ll dismantle him. I’m very strategic.”
A 10-round points loss in France last year barely caused a blip in Van Heerden’s ambitions. He was swamped by Frenchmen in the aftermath, including his opponent, Ismael Seck, who came to the changeroom to congratulate him.
It was a brazen case of home-cooking, French-style.
“It is what it is,” he says philosophically.
Having beaten a slew of aspirants in his early years, it’s now time for Van Heerden to step up the competition, something he looks forward to doing with Golden Gloves’ astute matchmaking.
“My dad wanted me to fight for the South African title belt, but I’ve got a bigger vision. I’ll win it and then go for major world titles. I know I can get into the top 10.”
The good news is that his father’s dream will become a reality when he challenges John Bopape for the middleweight belt in October. It’s a tricky assignment – Bopape veers between outstanding and ordinary – but it’s a challenge Don-Juan has prepared many years for.
Given what he’s endured getting this far, it will be a contest he embraces.


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