Throughout the history of boxing there has been an adage which has been used to describe many boxers and it still rings true today. The saying is, “He is his own worst enemy.”

Another name now added to that list is former South African national and WBC international bantamweight champion, Vusi Malinga. Malinga was stripped of his national title and banned for two years by Boxing South Africa this week, following a positive test for illegal substances. His brother Patrick was also banned for two years after testing positive for steroids and their trainer, who is also their father, was banned for one year for allowing these transgressions to take place.

The timing of this suspension could not have come at a worse time as Malinga’s promoter Branco Milenkovic is leaving for the WBC’s annual convention in Thailand on Sunday and was full of hope that he could make a strong case for WBC # 7 Malinga being given a world title eliminator fight. Milenkovic has promised that despite this major setback he will stand by both boxers during their suspension with the hope that they can resuscitate their careers in the future. Milenkovic has a proven track record with regards his loyalty towards his boxers and has kept a number of fighters under his wing under similar circumstances.

More so the pity, however, that Vusi Malinga has derailed his career in such a manner as he has developed into a fine fighter and could well have landed a world title fight in the near future. Malinga had all the makings of a people’s champion. Good skill, deceivingly solid punch, big heart and growing charisma. He skyrocketed from virtual obscurity in July, 2002 when he caused a major local upset by knocking out Cedric Conway in 3 rounds to win the SA bantamweight title. Going into the fight there was huge criticism that the bout was a total mismatch and there were serious concerns that Conway, a noted puncher who at the time had 15 ko’s in 15 wins with 2 losses also by ko, could permanently injure his fledgling opponent.

At the time Malinga had 3 knockouts in 8 wins with 2 losses. Conway had a fearsome reputation as he had demolished former, and respected, champion Johan Maisa in one round and his last 5 fights had only gone a total of 7 rounds. I was there that night and what a tremendous sight it turned out to be. Malinga, who was a no-hoper in every sense of the word, took the fight to the champion and unquestionably wrested the crown from him.

A new hero was born and he seemingly got better and better with every fight after that. After two defences of his national title, Malinga won the vacant WBC international crown by stopping Lindile Somthi in one round in October last year and in April this year he stopped Joel Bauya in one round in his first defence. It was following this fight that the first irregularities were picked up in his test sample and later confirmed.

Still in his twenties, Malinga will be able to resume his career in the future, but now it will always be dogged by a series of “what if’s” …