Nick “Mthakathi” Durandt’s face turns a little red as he explains why he has decided to quit the fistic sport he loves so much.
“The state of professional boxing in the country at the moment is low because promoters no longer give fighters exposure due to the absence of live broadcasts,” says Durandt, who has decided to retire at the end of the year after serving the sport with distinction for 28 years.
Durandt, South Africa’s most successful boxing trainer-manager, will hand over the reins to his son Damien, who he believes is ready to fill his shoes.
Mthakathi means “a wizard”. Durandt earned the nickname for producing so many champions.
I meet the man this week at his tattoo shop, Durandt Ink, in Norwood, Johannesburg.
The structure is decorated with pictures of international celebrities sporting piercings.
Among the photos displayed on the wall are those of retired undisputed world welterweight champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather and ex-world heavyweight kingpin Mike “Iron Mike” Tyson.
Two clients have their arms and hands ready to be tattooed by one of Nick’s employees. I’m curious to see how it goes but am disturbed by Durandt’s stare.
He is wearing his trademark black bandanna, gold rings and chains. He invites us into the shop to give us more insight into why he thinks Damien (25) should take over the reins.
“I believe my son is good and matured enough to train fighters because he has learnt a lot from me from youth,” says the proud single father of two sons.
“He has travelled the world extensively with me and my charges on boxing matters. He knows exactly how to nurture the boxers and I have confidence he will make the grade.”
Since he was six, Damien was a regular in the ring at tournaments whenever his dad’s fighters were introduced or being paraded. He is also always seen displaying the championship belts of members of their stables at events.
Damien has lately been assisting his dad by training boxers at their busy Durandt’s Boxing World in Melrose Arch, Joburg.
Durandt’s face darkens when he talks about the state of boxing in the country and why he has decided to pass on the baton.
“Boxing SA (BSA) takes fighters for a ride by paying their purse money many days after the fights happened. It’s discouraging to train boxers who are hungry.”
The rules, he says, state that the purse for fighters for a tournament must be deposited with the BSA by the promoter no later than 14 days before a fight.
“What is discouraging is the fact that, unlike before, most boxers have their opponents removed from the bill two days before their fights.”
The 52-year-old veteran set a unique record by producing 96 champions – 38 of them world kingpins – since he started moulding the careers of the country’s professional pugilists in 1988.
Durandt, whose only world champion now is International Boxing Organisation flyweight holder Moruti Mthalane, in a gym with eight fighters, also bemoans the fact that pugilists are no longer the role models they used to be.
“Today’s fighters are no longer recognised outside the ring as they used to be. This is because of the lack of exposure. This is bad for me.”
Durandt produced four International Boxing Federation title holders in the space of four months in 2009: Mthalane (flyweight); Simphiwe Nongqayi (junior bantamweight) Malcolm Klassen (junior lightweight) and Isaac Hlatshwayo (welterweight).
“I have been long in the game as a trainer and feel I should now call it a day at the end of this year to concentrate on my tattoo business,” he says.
When his cellphone interrupts our interview, he excuses himself as he walks outside.
I notice a change in his expression when he returns.
“I forgot to tell you that we have a bike club called Crusaders Bike Club and I’m its president,” he says, with a look of shock. “Gosh! I’ve just received a call that one of our members has just died in an accident in Port Elizabeth while four of them were riding there.” He has tears welling in his eyes.
He asks to be excused as he arranges to fly down to get full details of the tragedy. We’ll have to take the tour of his Melrose Arch gym another day.
In his wake, I speak to Damien, who says he is now ready to wear the mantle long carried by his father.
“I’ve gained invaluable experience by learning the ropes from my dad since I was a boy. I feel I’m ready to keep his legacy by producing more champs for our stable,” says the youngster.