Boxing promotor Rodney Berman still going strong at 77

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Boxing promoter Rodney Berman. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)
Boxing promoter Rodney Berman. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Rodney Berman, who at 77 years old remains widely regarded as South Africa's top all-time boxing promoter, has signed a new five-year contract with SuperSport to televise his tournaments, with the next one at Emperor's Palace in June in which unbeaten local fighter, Ludumo Lamati, will meet Mexican Jose Martin Estrada Garcia for the vacant IBO junior featherweight title.

Asked if he has ever considered retiring, Berman replied: "I guess the day I die is the day I will be retiring." 

Meantime, the pugilistic maestro who is a qualified attorney and has been involved in the promotion of more than 2 000 fights and creating hundreds of champions in a promotional career going back 44 years, admits that in his formative years he had little or no time for boxing and was a soccer fanatic.

Indeed, the manner in which Berman was introduced to boxing constitutes in itself an extreme irony which might not have happened at all but for a confrontational meeting of chance with the doyen of the famed Toweel boxing family, Maurice Toweel, who was crippled in his youth and became a boxing promoter who handled matters outside of the ring, while brothers Vic and Willie became a great world champion and a precious near-world champion respectively.

A 33-year-old Berman was hired in his legal capacity by a business associate of Maurice Toweel to sue the older of the Toweel clan for an outstanding amount of R10 000 - a sizeable amount in those days - and he approached his supposed adversary armed with a variety of evidence, if not punches.

But instead of trading blows, Berman and Maurice Toweel formed an instant affinity and settled their business difference, with the older Toweel persuading the young legal eagle to join him in the business of boxing promotion as well.

But it took Berman 12 years to promote a South African in securing a world title, namely when Welcome Ncita broke the ice in a tournament that curiously took place in Israel.

Berman says that apart from his association with most of South Africa's most renowned boxers of the last four decades, like Dingaan Thobela, Sugarboy Malinga, Brian Mitchell, Welcome Ncita, Cassius Baloyi, Hekkie "The Hexecutioner" Budler, Gerrie Coetzee, Pierre Fourie, Johnny du Plooy, Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala, Vuyani Bungu and Charlie Weir, most of whom earned one of the diverse, so-called and sometimes bizarre world titles in the 12 weight divisions and from five associations all claiming legitimacy, it is the curious, obtuse honour of promoting possibly the two biggest upsets-ever in the heavyweight division that provides the lawyer-cum-boxing impresario with a special and singular element of satisfaction.

"These were the fights," explained Berman, "in which we brought off the coup of luring the universally respected Lennox Lewis to South Africa to defend his title at Carnival City near Brakpan against the unknown Hasim Rahman and Wladimir Klitschko expected to go through the motions in accounting for South Africa's Corrie Sanders in another one-way contest.

"Instead Rahman knocked out a blasé Lewis in the fifth round and Sanders secured a second round TKO against Klitschko that was greeted with disbelief throughout the boxing world."

"Now we're in the midst of another stunning, stark position as far as world boxing is concerned," added the promoter with an infinitely positive and optimistic approach. "Boxing not surprisingly has been in relative limbo since the outbreak and we're holding thumbs the programme at Emperor's Palace in June will mark the return of the old times. That's what I'm hoping for while setting in motion the new deal I have with SuperSport."

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