They might be the three smallest guys on the block, but together they represent arguably the most formidable stable of strawweights on the planet.
When Simphiwe Khonco joined HotBox gym last month, it brought together three of the country’s most exciting boxing talents. Khonco himself is a legitimate world title contender, Hekkie Budler is the pound-for-pound king of the division and DeeJay Kriel is the coming man, an exceptionally bright prospect.
“You do the math,” says trainer Colin Nathan. “They feed off one another and the sparring is exceptional. I’m not sure there’s another gym anywhere with such great talent at the weight.”
Budler (29-1) has been a world champion since 2011, ironically enough his most recent defence coming against Khonco (15-4), who gave him one of his toughest fights in recent years.
All the smack talk has since been put away and the pair enjoy a strong friendship that has endured since their early days as pros.
After turning pro two years ago, Kriel’s first three fights were under Rupert van Aswegen. He’s since fought six times under the HotBox banner and taken his record to 8-1. Nathan concedes that he’s fed off the division’s bottom feeders and is actively pushing him to move up another level.
Kriel, just 20, is the young gun of the group and takes every opportunity to learn from the pair of older boxers.
“This mix can only mean a better future for all three,” says Nathan. “The sparring is on another level. The guys push one another constantly and it’s gratifying to see the growth. Simphiwe has fitted in really well. He’s a long way from home, but he shares a place with Xolisani Ndongeni, who is also from the Eastern Cape, so he’s settled. He’s added great attitude and energy to the gym.”
Budler’s next outing is in a dozen days, when he defends against Byron Rojas, and Khonco is slated to have a major fight in the Eastern Cape in the next two months.
Kriel’s next outing is in April.