Boxing attracts way more solid citizens than it is given credit for. But of course, our low barrier to entry attracts more than a fair share of scoundrels and wretches. Overall, though, in my time covering the sport, I’ve found the good souls out-numbering the cads, bigtime.
I was recently in touch with yet another solid citizen, in ex heavyweight contender Courage Tshabalala, who I touched base with for a Where Are They Know? piece.
The South African native, who now lives in California, fought as a pro from 1993-2005. He was hooked up with Lou Duva and Main Events, and got pretty near the promised land, of a title fight, and life-changing moolah. But it didn’t happen that way for the big banger, who finished up with a 26-4 (22 KOs) mark.
“My ambition always exceeded my talent,” the 43-year-old told me, on the phone, in between efforts on behalf of Sheer Sports, the boxing management company he works for and with, as a talent scout and mentor. “I never thought I’d make a living at it, but I was in the same ring with Ray Mercer, Michael Grant, Henry Akinwande, Jameel McCline, David Tua…that alone is a real accomplishment. I loved every minute of it, stayed in the moment, and have no regrets.”
Courage came from South Africa to the US in 1994, and right away, found himself in the Triple Threat Gym, in Newark, NJ, where guys like Roy Jones and Al Cole often did their thing. Ray Mercer was getting ready for a fight with Frank Bruno which didn’t come off, and right away, Courage swam in the deep waters with the sharks.
Back then, Main Events was a mega-company, and had a stellar stable. Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, and Andrew Golota was working his way up. Courage has eyes wide open on where he fit on the food chain, and never, he says, got irked that the spotlight didn’t fall on him more than it did. “Lou Duva basically adopted me, I was with his family at Christmas. So yes, I have full acceptance. I was meeting good people, and I sat back, and learned,” he said. There were hiccups as he acclimated to the States, but more of the humorous variety, such as when in a deli, he asked for chips, and was bewildered when a bag of Lays was thrown to him. “I want em fried,” he recalls asking, chuckling.
Courage lived in Jersey, but went to camps everywhere. Vegas, Texas, wherever a Main Events XL hitter was readying for a rumble, he went. Today, he lives in the Valley, in Cali, and lives in the present, as he seeks to help find talent for Sheer, which boasts the talents of irish banger/boxer Jason Quigley, under the Golden Boy banner, who impressed mightily in his last outing, which ran on Fox Sports 1.
The South African, now divorced, has three children, a 22-year-old in med school, a 14 and a 7 year old. He says that he knows Quigley is a future star, and is impressed by his “talent and charisma.” Courage got a good sense of the power of having a guy who has a fanbase when he got to know Irish-American Martin O’Malley, a pro from 1996-2005, who had throngs snapping up tix when he rumbled. “Quigley is a skillful, good looking white kid who can fight his behind off,” says Tshabala. “He had a great amataeur career and he’s getting better. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. At Sheer, that’s the kind of talent we want, and we want to create relationships like in the old school way. We want to bring that back, it being more than just a business. Kids need to be comfortable, we need to nurse their talent.”
Sheer backs a gym in Santa Monica, Iron Boxing, and two more facilities, in the Valley, and in West LA, are in the works. “You can go there, and you can train like a pro,” Courage says.
The talent scout told me that he accepts and understands why boxers, like, say, a Floyd Mayweather, talk their smack and act up and enjoy the pub from that. But he likes what he learned from Lou Duva, which is that “character is the most important thing in a human. And people are humans before and after boxing. Back then, I was young, and I didn’t really get it. In my late 30s, I got it.”
It seeped into Courage when he saw Duva hooking up Johnny Bumphus, an ex champ down on his luck, with contender Kassim Ouma, helping “Bump City” get back on track. “How can you not admire that?” he said to me.
To this day, Courage (May 27) and Lou Duva (May 28; is 92 years old) exchange phone calls around their birthdays. “It’s more than just a relationship, we’re all connected, whether we know it or not. The biggest thing that came out of my boxing time was to understand true nobility, that we are not superior to another, to never compare myself to somebody else. What I did when I was younger, I share those lessons. There is nothing new being done. What Floyd is doing, Jack Johnson did, with cars and women. Therefore, we can take lessons from that. I learned that things are not always going to go your way, that what you plan and the universe does can differ. I don’t dwell on the challenges, you can find a way to move on. Letting go of such things is the hardest lesson, one I learned late in life.”
All too often the story we read about ex fighters is the “what might have been” or the “now down on his luck” sagas. This one is different; like most of us humans, he fell short of some goals, but he came out stronger, wiser, and I dare say a better man for it. That’s a role model, again, I dare say, a better one than one who wants you to look up to him for the money he’s made or the baubles he’s collected.
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