Boxing Snippets

Straight-shooting Berman talks boxing – and names his best

Straight-shooting Berman talks boxing – and names his best

Never backward in coming forward, Golden Gloves supremo Rodney Berman sat down to give his thoughts on the state of boxing and other issues in a wide-ranging interview.

What is your take on the state of local boxing in 2024?
Boxing has been a bit in the doldrums. The impasse with Boxing South Africa did the sport no favours.
But thankfully South Africa still has good fighters like Kevin Lerena, Roarke Knapp, Brandon Thysse, Shervantaigh Koopman, Sivenathi Nontshinga and Ricardo Malajika.
The junior-bantamweight division is especially strong with several South Africans – Malajika, Phumelele Cafu, Sikho Nqothole – all ranked in the top 10 of the world organisations.
I have particularly high hopes for our crop of boxers. I must also mention Beaven Sibanda, the “Flame of Zimbabwe” whom I’m very high on. He’s unbeaten in six fights . . . SA champ Siya Kuse wants nothing to do with him.
Unfortunately, the higher weight divisions, from heavyweight down to super-middleweight, are the weakest I’ve ever seen.

Dingaan Thobela’s recent passing was a shock to you. How have you reflected on the tragedy?
It’s a bit surreal really. Through my many decades in boxing, so many of our boxers have died prematurely. That alone is a tragedy.
Truthfully, Dingaan was the best young fighter I ever saw. The greatest tribute I can pay is that, like Baby Jake Matlala, he will be regarded as a legend.
He had an indefinable charisma; just brilliant.
At his memorial earlier this week, I undertook that Golden Gloves would commemorate him annually. I’m not quite sure, but I would like the initiative to involve education, perhaps a bursary, to perpetuate his great legacy.

As Golden Gloves approaches 50 remarkable years, what are your short-term goals?
There are four fighters I’m especially bullish on: Knapp, Koopman, Malajika and Sibanda.
Knapp will shortly be competing for the IBO title against a very good fighter from the US. As for Koopman, I’m already talking to [WBA representative] Stan Christodoulou about going the WBA route.
They are being taken vastly different routes so that maybe in two or three years they can have a massive showdown.
And Malajika is coming on in leaps and bounds under trainer Manny Fernandes. He utterly dominated the British and Commonwealth champion [Marcel Braithwaite] who couldn’t come out of his shell simply because Malajika didn’t allow him to.
As IBO champion he is well placed to also go after the WBC and WBA belts.
Brian Mitchell assures me Sibanda will be a world champion. Who am I to argue?

What is your take on the fast-changing consumption habits of fans, who now have access to streaming, TikTok, short-form content and other platforms?
It is changing quickly, but Golden Gloves is privileged to have enjoyed a long-term relationship with [Pan-African] broadcaster SuperSport. I’m aware of what’s going on, but honestly don’t concentrate too much on it. From time to time we do deal with issues of piracy, and we go after people.
The world is changing, but our immediate future is SuperSport and there is no reason to change that.

What are the things that keep you up at night, the challenges and frustrations?
The biggest is operating out of South Africa with the Rand/Dollar exchange rate. The playing field isn’t remotely level.
The benefit is that it forces you to innovate, so for instance I had a chat this week with boxing broker Adrian Ogun, a business partner of Lennox Lewis, about shifting into Africa.
They have meetings lined up in Riyadh the week of the Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk fight that could see the Saudi decision-makers move beyond the US, where they will shortly be, into Africa. This is something Adrian and Lennox agree is worth pursuing.

Talking of Saudi Arabia, what are your thoughts on its rapid rise as a hub for major international boxing?
In certain ways, it’s great, in others it’s taking away the food from fighters’ mouths.
I believe it’s a seven-say wonder that isn’t sustainable. Having said that, they can put together mega-fights like Fury versus Usyk, and that’s something not even the US can afford.
The negative is if you look at the US and the UK, the calibre of shows and the numbers have regressed because of Saudi.

Who are your favourite international boxers?
I like Usyk very much. He doesn’t have charisma, but he’s outstanding, really great. I’ll put my head on a block and say he beats Fury.
I like Canelo Alvarez, albeit he is on the way down. And although Ryan Garcia beat Devin Haney, I like Haney very much. There’s was a fight with too many question marks.

After almost 50 years in the game, what inspires a veteran promoter like yourself?
Can I be an ultra-veteran?
The truth is I don’t feel old.
What inspires me is Clint Eastwood saying “don’t let the old man in.”
I’m always looking for new mountains to climb. Take Knapp and Koopman, two youngsters I’m excited to be pushing high into the reaches of the major organisations.
I’m also inspired by my endless search for a world-class heavyweight of colour. I’ve never been able to do that. I’d treasure that for the continent. And I won’t stop searching.





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