The South African boxing awards take place on January 27 and when looking at the list of nominees you would be excused for raising an eyebrow or two. In the past the winners of the boxer of the year category practically picked themselves through International achievement, with names the likes of Lehlo Ledwaba, Vuyani Bungu, Baby Jake Matlala, Brian Mitchell and Dingaan Thobela. Last year’s winner was Mzonke Fana for earning the # 1 contender spot on the WBC junior lightweight world ratings. (Read my article on TheSweetScience.com for a reflection on that one.)
Nominees in this category for 2005 are: Muvhuso Nedzanani, Simon Ramoni, Isaac Hlatswayo, Takalani Ndlovu and Simphiwe Vetyeka. All have featured in stories on TheSweetScience.com over the course of 2005 and all are shaping nicely. One may at first be a little demoralized. Where are the big guns the names the world is talking about? 2005 has been a breakwater for South African boxing and in effect the sport is in the process of rising back from the dead.
How does this have a bearing on the nominations? It’s quite simple. Where would Sugar Ray Leonard have been without Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, where would Muhammad Ali have been without Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. It doesn’t matter how good a boxer is if he doesn’t get matches against good quality credible opposition and title opportunities. Before elaborating on this, here is more on the nominees.
Muvhuso Nedzanani, 14-1-3 (9), is the current national junior flyweight champion. In 2005 he won the title and made 3 successful defenses of it. He looks a fine prospect, but having only fought local opposition and some of it questionable at that, one wonders whether a nomination in this category is not premature.
Simon Ramoni, 26-7 (16), a former IBO bantamweight world champion, claimed the national super flyweight title in 2005. From early in his career Ramoni has been touted as someone to watch, but has never quite lived up to the high expectation placed on him. This gutsy fighter put on three of the most entertaining fights of the year and his clash against Khulile Makhebe is the favorite pick for fight of the year. Ramoni was dropped 5 times in his last three outings, but came back to win in each contest. Although he only faced local opposition this past year, he has a proven track record against Internationals and Makhebe himself has also performed well on the International arena.
Isaac Hlatswayo, 22-0, 1NC (9), is current IBO lightweight world champion. Had a dismal start to 2005 when for some insane reason his promoters decided to match him against Marty Robbins (19-24-1) in his first outing in the US. You don’t match a guy you’re grooming for International honors against somebody with a record like this. There was never anything to gain in this fight and everything to lose. A clash of heads in the opening round got it ruled a no contest and the whole thing still reeks. Hlatswayo still bouncing between the lightweight and junior welter division, then defeated a better choice of opponent in William Morales (16 -2) and rounded off his year with a somewhat controversial points win against Cassius Baloyi to win the IBO crown. While some are touting his win over Baloyi, given the latter’s exceptional abilities as a great steppingstone, I’m not convinced. One disappointment doesn’t mean it’s over, however. I believe Hlatswayo truly does have the ability to be a world beater and it must be remembered Baloyi is no ordinary boxer. The Hlatswayo – Baloyi fight still gets a nomination in the best fight of the year category and yes deservedly so.
Takalani Ndlovu, 24-3 (15), only had one fight in 2005 when he traveled to the US to beat Armando Guerro to win the IBO super bantamweight world title. Ndlovu put up a fine performance against Guerro, who was the favorite, to claim victory. Guerro put up a good challenge, although he was unsuccessful for the IBF version of the crown prior to this fight. Ndlovu, nicknamed The Panther, is a skilled and determined boxer and undoubtedly has the ability to win a more respected title. He’s my pick for fighter of the year, but the fact that he only had one bout in ’05 could count against him in the judges’ minds.
Simphiwe Vetyeka, 13-0 (8), had four fights in 2005 and won the national bantamweight title by defeating Khulile Makeba in what was seen as something of an upset. (Fight report on TheSweetScience.com). Vetyeka is an outstanding prospect and I would have voted him prospect of the year rather than in this category. He too has only fought local opposition and needs to be let loose on the International arena. He has all the tools, but it’s premature to have him listed here. Remember his name however. If he’s given the opportunity to show his wares, Vetyeka could be rattling some big cages in 2006.
Two boxers who could count themselves unlucky not to get nominated are Gabula Vabaza and Hawk Makepula, both of whom showed moments of greatness during the year with Vabaza picking up a WBA international title and Makepula the WBC International bantamweight crown.
As mentioned earlier, 2005 was a breakwater for South African boxing. The boxers have stepped up and I’m encouraged that more and more men are coming to the ring well conditioned and ready to fight. There are some really talented fighters coming through including the list of nominees above. The prime problem however is that matchmakers and promoters are by and large dropping the ball. They’re not making the matches people want to see. There was a record amount of national title fights in 2005, but in all honesty many were not worthy and frankly did more harm than good for the sport.
Sure the payday is important and any title pays more than a regular fight, but if the quality of the matches made for the titles are inferior the title has little credibility. People don’t watch just because a title is on the line; they want to see a good contest. The biggest problem it’s said is that sponsors aren’t coming to the party as much as they were before, so Internationals are too expensive to bring to the country. The sponsors say they don’t want to get involved because poor matches are made and too many controversial decisions have muddied the sport’s image. Added to that, attendance is generally poor as well.
It all comes back to the basics. Put on fights people want to see and they’ll come watch and sponsors will put money up. Everybody keeps squeezing the rock trying to get that last drop of water out of it instead of moving forward to the Promised Land. There are good boxers who are bringing the goods; its time those in positions of power realize that the stars are there, we just need to give them the opportunity to shine. 2006 will be a telling year and hopefully when we look back at the nominees for boxer of the year we’ll have a few real world title winners in the fray.