You’ll have to look far to find a professional boxer with a nicer disposition than Sebastian Rothman (18 -3 – 2, 12 KOs); but don’t be mistaken, this man comes to fight, and on Friday night O’Neil Bell (24-1-1, 22 KOs) will find this out firsthand. The two pugilists will be trading leather at the Hard Rock Arena in Hollywood, Florida for Bell’s IBF cruiserweight world title.
Chances are one of them will be seeing stars before the night is out.
Rothman is a blood-and-guts fighter cast in the old mold of being willing to take the knocks needed to win, plus he has a heart which doesn’t quit. Although he is a South African, he was born in Israel, and is arguable one of the most successful boxers born to that country. Despite his appearance now, when starting on the fistic road Rothman’s rugged good looks made him an immediate favorite with the ladies.
His face now bears the battle scars of the many wars he’s been in, but he still has a shy demeanor which many find attractive. An illustration of the gene pool is that his brother, a television presenter and model, is considered one of the countries most eligible bachelors.
Rothman has a self-defacing sense of humor and will often make a joke at his own expense. I’ve always wondered about the passion which drove this man to the squared circle. He has a sense about him that he could have pursued any number of other career possibilities, but a brief conversation with him reveals the soul of a boxer.
He loves the game and everything that comes with it. He’s always been willing to learn and has shown a tendency of improving throughout his career. A big weakness he had early on was to take more blows than needed. Countless times I saw him have his opponents in trouble and instead of finishing them off he would allow them to recover almost as if he did not want the fight to end.
His trainer Harold Volbrecht, himself a former two time world title challenger, once admitted to me that in his career he would often keep his opponents in the fight so that he could continue boxing. This apparent love for mixing it seems to have rubbed off on Rothman, and one need just look at his smiling face between rounds to see that he’s alive in those three minutes and that the sun shines brightest for him during the bouts.
For all the enjoyment he may get out of it, there isn’t really room for this kind of attitude in the professional arena, and Rothman would still have the looks he started out with had he taken a few less of those unnecessary blows to the head. Ironically it was Rothman’s heart which made him a local favorite in 1999 when in his tenth pro fight he defeated Earl Morais in a brutal battle to win the national cruiserweight title.
It was a classic encounter where both parties gave of their all and had everyone on the edge of their seats. Morais was never the same after that fight and could never again take a beating like he absorbed that night. Rothman himself endured incredible punishment, but came back with a vengeance and has never looked back. A few months later he claimed the WBU cruiserweight world title by stopping the awkward Robert Norton in eight rounds.
Six solid defenses followed against a fair range of opposition in Damon Reed, Mark Hobson, Adam Watt, Kelley Oliver, Crawford Ashley and Gary Delaney. In all these encounters Rothman made the journey harder than need be, but was hungry for experience, so often used his encounters to practice new moves and strategies.
He relinquished his crown and then faced possibly the most inept and useless boxer I have ever seen in Anthony Bigeni for the vacant IBO cruiserweight world title. How this match was ever sanctioned is a borderline crime and a complete disgrace.
Needless to say Rothman was awarded the title when the referee stopped the farce in the fifth round. It would have ended earlier but Rothman was afraid of hurting a man who clearly had no business being in a pro boxing ring.
Rothman then defeated a veteran of 134 fights in Jorge Fernando Castro before making his second defense against another veteran Carl Thompson in the UK. A little disillusioned by the caliber of opponent he was now being matched against, Rothman’s previously rock hard determination started turning into a going-through-the-motions attitude. He became a clown and paid the price.
Although he had Thompson in trouble and dropped him in the fourth he left himself wide open. He visited the canvas in the fifth round and again in the ninth. It was a lesson in humility. “I learned my lesson there,” says Rothman. “I was playing with Thompson and made the mistake of not respecting his determination. I left the gap and he took it. It was a hard lesson. It cost me a world title. But I promise you one thing. You won’t ever see me clowning around again.”
Seemingly running out of good options at cruiserweight level and the absence of any viable heavyweights in South Africa after Corrie Sanders’ on again off again retirements, Rothman decided to start bulking up. A flabby looking Rothman met one of Don King’s men, Steve Cunningham, in the world’s premiere promoter’s dismal attempt at bringing his brand to South Africa. While he carried more weight than usual, Rothman, who was fit, put up one of the finest technical displays of his career. I thought he won the fight quite comfortably.
The judges saw it differently. One scored it a draw, and the other two gave it to the then-undefeated Cunningham by one and two points respectively. “It’s boxing,” says Rothman. “These things happen.” In February this year Rothman made the move up and faced then-national heavyweight champion Anton Nel in a non-title affair. An inane rule at the time, which has since been removed, prevented Rothman from challenging for the crown in his first fight in the division.
Rothman gave the champion a boxing lesson, dropped his man in the sixth and claimed victory on points. “It was an easy move for me to the heavyweights,” says Rothman. “Remember, I’ve been sparring with Corrie Sanders for seven years, and after that I’m happy to get in the ring with anybody in the world.” Sanders is known for not holding back in sparring and Rothman often looked worse following sessions with the former heavyweight world champion than after his fights.
Rothman was Sanders’ chief sparring partner for most of his career, including his bouts against the Klitschko brothers. Bell is without doubt a step up for Rothman and he will be entering the ring as an underdog. The champion carries an impressive knockout ratio and the pressure will be on from the first bell. Nicknamed “The Soldier,” Rothman is used to fighting out of the trenches, so Bell won’t have to be looking to find his man.
Before leaving for the US, Rothman was tuning his body clock by rising at two o’ clock in the morning and having a solid workout. You never have to look for this man when it comes to training. His body is the tool of his trade and he has always believed in making sure his machinery is firing on all cylinders when he goes into a fight. “I think it’s a state of mind,” says Rothman. “I feel ready to win this. I’m ready to go the distance, but of course I’d love to end the fight early with a knockout. I want to come back home with the belt, not a black eye.”