Roarke Knapp has a date with destiny – or at least that’s what he believes.
The 21-year-old can barely recall the events of his young life but he’s lived and experienced more than most people would in a lifetime. As a scrawny, freckled kid who got pushed around on the playgrounds of the South of Joburg, he needed something to pry him from his shell.
His dad, Tony, dragged him into a boxing gym in Booysens in a bid to teach him how to defend himself. The idea was life-changing, even if the first sparring session left Roarke bruised and in tears.
The young Knapp learned how to defend himself and left the ring to pursue his love for football. It also coincided with his parents splitting up and with his mom relocating to the UK. Roarke followed his mom, Lindy, and finished his high school there before returning to South Africa in the hopes of going to university here and pursuing his boxing dream.
But his family life fell apart in South Africa just weeks after he returned, leaving him in a stranger’s house with a demand for rent – all as Roarke was trying to find his feet back on home soil as a 17-year-old.
In stepped Mimo Spirito.
“I feel like I’ve always had a guardian angel which has brought certain people into my life for very specific reasons,” says Roarke. “In desperate, hard times something would happen or someone would come along (to help me out). Some people don’t have that.”
“I told my then-trainer (Spirito) about the situation and he told me they had a little flat that I could stay in and he asked his son to teach me how to cut hair. I had a bit of a knack for it. Eventually I was on the floor cutting hair and paying rent to my former trainer. I was so much happier.”
Knapp travelled to far-flung corners of Joburg for amateur fights. He’d get there early and wait all day, only to be told that there was nobody to fight. He decided to turn pro in 2016 – and he’s undefeated in his 10 fights since.
Knapp speaks with a certainty and confidence that belies the tough upbringing he’s endured. He credits boxing for changing his outlook on life and credits the lack of stability in his life for his ease with people.
“(Constantly moving around as a kid) made me become more confident. Most people would go into a shell but I didn’t let that happen. I made friends all over the place. It taught me people skills, it taught me how to talk to people,” he explains.
“Through all those things, boxing saved me. The only thing I had was boxing. It pulled me out of a few slumps. When things get tough now, I keep my back up against the wall. I’ve had some tough times and I know I don’t want to go back there.”
Knapp’s past has sharpened his edges somewhat and given him a mental toughness that is probably unmatched in most 21-year-olds. He believes in manifesting dreams and goals, is strong in his religious beliefs and truly believes in the plan for his life.
“I work hard for it and train hard for it, but in my heart I’ve got that guarantee. I know that someone is looking after me. I can’t explain it, but I believe I’m going to go certain places and do certain things.
“I believe I’ll be a world champion by 25.”
Knapp will fight Brandon Thysse at the 4@War event at Emperors Palace on 30 November.
(Accredited By SuperSport)