SA champs’ pain of losing titles

2014-03-23 14:00

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Chris van Heerden and three other South African former world champions are living proof of the void that is South African boxing.

They all have one thing in common?–?they lost their valued boxing crowns without throwing a punch to defend them in the past three years.

This is the sad story of Van Heerden, now fighting in the US; Mzonke Fana; Moruti Mthalane; and South Africa’s most decorated female fighter, Noni “Stinging Bee” Tenge.

Their loss was probably a result of boxing promoters not being able stage fights due to the absence of TV coverage, which is the main source of income for boxing.

Van Heerden (26), a former International Boxing Organisation (IBO) welterweight champion, decided that enough was enough.

He signed a three-year deal with former TV executive Michael King, who is known for helping to launch The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Van Heerden vacated his world title more than a month ago. He defended it in March last year against the fancied Matthew Hatton.

He says: “Eleven months out of the ring for a world champion is unacceptable and this left me with no choice but to leave the motherland. This is the saddest thing I’ve had to do in my boxing career.”

Van Heerden is now based in Los Angeles and says it was not easy leaving his comfort zone for a new environment full of strangers.

He has only been in the US for two months and fought and won a nontitle eight-rounder on February 6. He has another fight lined up against Ray Narh on April 16.

“I had to give up my comfortable life back home and gave away something I had worked hard for?–?that is the toughest part,” says the former South African welterweight king. “But it will not be in vain, I will bounce back to the top.”

Favouritism, politics and a lack of boxing TV coverage in South Africa has added to the woes of local boxers, according to Van Heerden.

But Boxing SA (BSA) interim chairperson Ntambi Ravele assures boxers that their TV coverage worries will soon be a thing of the past.

“We are planning to have a meeting with promoters about the return of boxing on SABC soon,” she says.

The public broadcaster has not televised any live boxing in three years.

This because boxing promoter Branco Milenkovic obtained a court interdict to block an agreement between the SABC and BSA in 2012.

Ravele says BSA had met Milenkovic to find a way to resolve the legal matter outside court.

“We are positive that everything will be sorted out. I know we promised to be back on TV in April, but we are running behind and the new target is May,” she adds.

Whether this will ensure local boxers get valuable fight time to avoid losing their titles without throwing a punch remains to be seen.

Titles gone

Pugilists who have not covered themselves in fighting glory

Mzonke Fana: Stripped of his International Boxing Federation (IBF) superfeatherweight championship in May 2011 for failing to honour mandatory defence rules.

“The Rose of Khayelitsha” has since wilted with three losses in five fights.

At 40 years of age, Fana might as well hang up his gloves.

Noni Tenge: SA’s first female boxing world champion also lost her IBF welterweight belt a year after Fana’s tragedy in the same manner.

She then failed to capture the World Boxing Association female light-middleweight title against Layla McCarter in her birthplace of East London.

Moruti Mthalane: Lost his IBF flyweight title this year after defending it five times.

Last Saturday, he fought in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal for the first time in a decade.

In last week’s IBO flyweight clash, which he won by a split decision, signs of a dip in performance started to show.

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