Boxing Snippets

Sport-mad Knapp puts his hand up for a major fight

Roarke Knapp is too much of a go-getter to wonder what might have been.

But in another time, perhaps in another life, he could have been a footballer dreaming of cup wins and trophies.

Instead, he gets punched in the face for a living and suffers the scrapes and bruises that are the occupational hazard of every professional boxer.

He laughs at the thought, even as he tends to a long-term hand injury.

“I always wanted to be a footballer, I was always too afraid to be a boxer,” says the world-rated junior-middleweight.

He wasn’t a mere dreamer. As a youngster he was scouted by West Ham and had trials with Milton Keynes Dons. Ironically, just before he moved to the UK, there were approaches from both Moroka Swallows and Witbank Black Aces.

Instead, he spent his teens in the UK, chasing down a football contract, before returning to South Africa after completing high school overseas.

Now aged 25, he ranks among South Africa’s most entertaining boxers, on the cusp of a world championship shot and winning the hearts and minds of local fight fans.

He’s gutted that a touted fight against Josh Kelly in December was cancelled after he injured his hand hitting the heavy bag. It was a lost opportunity to fight overseas before a large television audience and against a highly regarded opponent. But such is life and he’s moved on from the disappointment.

“My mental state did dip,” he admits. “It was a lost opportunity, but I picked myself up.”

He suffered what’s known as “boxer’s knuckle” while hitting the heavy bag using old-school mitts.

“I cracked the bag and felt a sharp pain shoot through my right hand and arm,” he recalled. “I ruptured a band in my right hand, the result of wear and tear. The bag work was simply the final straw.”

X-rays, ultra-sound and surgery followed in quick succession. It was a good call. Natural healing would have done the job too, but recovery would have taken many more months.

Occupational therapy soon followed and he’s still undergoing rehabilitation to ensure he is not just healed, but strong and able to punch hard.

The surgeon recently gave him the green light to engage in low-impact contact, but he’s been warned off pad work and sparring for the moment. It’s meant he’s done loads of roadwork, cycling and strength exercises – “nothing crazy” – but he’s itching to get going with the real stuff.

He has good reason too. Promoter Rodney Berman is confident of negotiating a major fight for Emperors Palace in May and he wants to be sure Knapp is ready to fire bullets again.

Thus far, the boxer has hardly put a foot (or fist) wrong in running up a commanding 17-1-1 record, the only reverse coming in a stoppage defeat to Brandon Thysse five years ago. Rather than bemoan the loss, he took the lessons on board and has won eight straight since while becoming a favourite among supporters.

He’s happy where he’s at, his trajectory showing a steady upward curve as he fortifies his position among the world’s premier junior-middleweights (as reflected in his top 15 ranking in both the WBC and WBA).

“I’m on track, even though I missed one of the biggest fights of my career [against Kelly], which was upsetting. But I trust Rodney Berman and I’ll be back as soon as I can. Hopefully I get to fight Kelly too . . . unfinished business.”

He has no thoughts of moving up a division as he grows. He feels strong and doesn’t have to drain weight. Besides, he says, junior-middleweight is one of the hottest divisions in the sport and he wants to be a part of the action.

He’s happy, too, with the quality sparring he frequently gets. Top prospect Shervanteigh Koopman, plus veteran pros Isaac Chilemba and Tulz Mbenge provide him with top-class sparring, as do a group of aspirants who come hard at him.

Knapp is an entertaining, engaging talker, probably because he has diverse interests and knows the value of selling himself, whether to the media or the public at large.

He loves old school fighters like Arturo Gatti, Mickey Ward, Kelly Pavlik and Joe Calzaghe, but his taste also swings to the modern age, with Canelo Alvarez, Artur Beterbiev, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Tank Haney and the female pair of Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano all among his current favourites.

For all his love of boxing, however, it’s motorsport that truly fires him up, whether it’s Formula One, MotoGP, Supabikes, motocross or Nascar. “It excites me more than boxing,” he admits, to the extent that he travels to race tracks whenever he has the time.

His interests are varied and take in golf, mountain biking and hiking.

If his interests and his habits suggest a young man with an open mind and an adventurous spirit, it’s not wide of the mark.

Knapp is a boxer first and foremost. But he wants to be much more than that.

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