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this is one tough guy you don't *&^% WITH

By unknown | Oct 06, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Boxing trainer Nick Durandt is like a movie character. A mean, bad character.

Boxing trainer Nick Durandt is like a movie character. A mean, bad character.

He says he weighs about 100kg. This does not include the sagging bling around his neck and both wrists and on his fingers.

If the rules governing bad-ass-ness allowed it, he'd most likely sport more gold around his ankles.

Born in Wolverhampton, England, his accent is now completely Seffrican, otherwise, based on his knowledge of the game alone, he'd easily play a younger Angelo Dundee, the world-renowned boxing cornerman who worked with no less than 15 world boxing champions, including Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman.

His office, a cubicle really, from where he surveys the goings-on in his upmarket Norwood gym, in the north of the city, is a sketch of his life - fights, fights and more fights.

This is a man who was born on Boxing Day - December 26!

Autographed boxing gloves adorn the wall, from the Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman humdinger, among others. Almost like a chapter on narcissism, there are pictures of him with Riddick Bowe, Jerry Springer, Nelson Mandela and two with the bad boy of pugilism, Iron Mike Tyson.

This is the same room where the thumping feel-good music fills the Grant Street boxercise - a new concept that combines boxing with exercise - which has drawn celebrities from beauty queens, actors and politicians to work out here under his hawk-like eye.

Having gone only as far as standard 6, Durandt is the embodiment of the "self-made man". He should in fact hold the copyright to it.

At age 14, the Jeppe Boys graduate owned a video store in Johannesburg: "I remember that I was too young to sign the lease. I had to get my mother to sign it for me."

In no time he'd moved into the clothing trade and had his name on 10 shops in the city while those with a better education were still studying the prudence of running a business.

His life changed in 1989 when he met Willie Toweel, the Benoni-born boxing trainer who won bronze at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland.

"In a month I was working as a cornerman with Toweel," says Durandt, a former bouncer in Hillbrow nightclubs.

In less than a year, the two had fallen out and two of the biggest boxers in Toweel's camp, the late, tragic Ginger Tshabalala and Thulani Sugarboy Malinga had followed Durandt away from Toweel.

"They asked me to manage their careers," he says. "I took the gap."

Within a month he had 20-odd fighters.

"I was thrown in the deep end," says the man whose introduction to fitness was working out in gyms and befriending the likes of Dingaan Thobela, in his prime, the Rose of Soweto.

In a few years the son of a footballer, Cliff Durandt, who played home town club Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) and Charlton Athletic, would have made such an impact on boxing that the world took notice.

He's worked with every boxing body in the world, he says, from the IBO, IBF, WBA to every other known abbreviation. As we speak, the man who guided the careers of such eminent boxers as Philip Ndou, Hawk Makepula and Silence Mabuza says he has on his books eight international champions, seven world (there's a distinct difference between the two, he says) and 11 national title holders.

He's taken his boxers to every stage in the world of fists, from its mecca, Madison Square Garden to Las Vegas, he says, deadpan. He pauses to consult with an employee at the gym, one of 22, about a diary entry for a client. My eye moves to another picture on the wall. He's with Don King, the most flamboyant of all characters in boxing.

Another worker comes in and the eye moves to the album on the wall. It's a snap with Rambo, Sylvester Stallone. Like a mind reader, he helps me decipher the identity of the lad in the Afro: "That's Will Smith. We were in Maputo."

The F-word plays a huge role in the Durandt vocabulary and work life. He needs this attitude in the fighting business, he'd say later. Boxing is about fighting, "from the time you negotiate a deal for your boxer to the final moment in the ring".

The best fight in his book has been the Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard scrap where, even as the latter won, Durandt is still adamant "my man won, fair and square".

Boxing has been good to him, he says: "I've seen the world."

Success in the game means "taking a young man with nothing - not even shoes on his feet - to a point where the guy now owns a house, cars and has children".

In his book, "no fighter comes from UCT or Harvard. They come from the ghetto, with nothing".

The conversation moves to his wheels. The 745i is resplendent with shiny rims that have replaced the factory-fitted ones. He also owns a BMW M5, he says about the marque he loves.

Outside boxing?

"I drink, sleep and eat boxing," he says. "When I read a newspaper, I start from the back."

When he finds the time to unwind nothing is as relaxing as deep-sea fishing. It is the waiting for the fish to bite, the patience, that allows him time to be alone with his thoughts. Otherwise, his life is about the sport of Muhammad Ali, as trainer-cum-manager: "I can motivate a man to walk through a wall if I have to."

Do you beat up people?

The answer sounds like a "No" but more audibly he says: "I'm not a person you f... with."

Cassius Baloyi, another of his fighters, walks in towards the end of the interview. Yes, he'd wanted to see the boss. There's no limp handshakes and fake smiles. There's bobbing and weaving and the mock throwing of punches. Aahh, the simple beauty of being Nick Durandt - WYSIWYG!

He worked on the movie Ali with Will Smith. But that's about where his relationship with movies ends. He says he has no time for them because whatever little time he has he spends with his family - wife Michelle and kids Storm, 16, and Damien, a 17-year-old who has already worked in the corner in world title fights.

But he won't get into the ring: "I didn't pay private school fees for him to be a boxer."

Still on movies ... given his disinterest, I did not get to ask what he thought of Denzel Washington as The Hurricane, Rubin Carter, or Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

But the story of Nicholas Durandt, when the flick finally comes, will be an uplifting piece of work though marked "VL" in big bold letters.

What a character, what a man!


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