LEGENDS CORNER: For The Hawk, Welcome Ncita, it wasn't an easy flight into boxing
"MAKHOSI!" Please excuse the ancestral salute. I have to say this to appease Welcome Ncita's ancestors, otherwise he would not have granted this interview.
Indeed, I'm talking about the once revered boxer from Mdantsane in Eastern Cape, who is otherwise known as "The Hawk". Ncita, 48, has since hanging up his gloves answered the ancestral call to become a Isangoma.
This unsung hero remains an ordinary former world champion despite rewriting the history of South African boxing, especially in the junior featherweight division.
Trained by Mzimasi Mnguni, Ncita was the first South African pugilist ever to win the IBF belt and was also the first world champion from Eastern Cape. He won it in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 10 1990 against Fabrice Benichou. The fight was organised by Rodney Berman and Cedrick Kushner.
Ncita turned professional on March 3 1984. He first raised eyebrows when he outboxed highly competitive South African flyweight champion Johannes "Baby Joe" Miya on March 15 1986. After four defenses and 10 non-title bouts, Ncita captured the IBF World title.
He was dethroned in his bid for the seventh defense by Kennedy McKinney on December 2 1992. The American [bantamweight Gold medalist at the 1988 Summer Olympics] handed Ncita his first defeat in 33 fights. That was a record on its own, but unfortunately his achievements went unnoticed.
He retired after his draw with Steve Robinson for the WBO Inter-Continental title on October 3 1998. Ncita had a remarkable record of 40 wins [with 21 short-route wins], three losses and a draw.
Where did it all begin?
WN: You know, boxing is the most talked about sport in Eastern Cape. You go everywhere people talk about "Happyboy" Mgxaji, so in the end I was inspired although I was a footballer. My brother Mzwandile was into boxing.
You were born in Duncan village and later moved to Mdantsane. Is this where you began taking boxing seriously?
WN: Not at all. I continued with my football until boxing was introduced at Luzuko Higher Primary School, and I thought, "let me try this". My first fight was against the late Mveleli Luzipho. Our fight ended in a draw. That shocked many people including Zamva Njova and Honey Ndwanya, who then started fetching me from home so I could train at Modern Boyz Boxing Club, which was under the late Boycie Zitumane.
You then got involved in the South African Games in Johannesburg in 1992. Tell us more.
WN: It was only myself and Vuyani Nene who won Gold and Springbok colours [at the Games] from the entire Eastern Cape team. My brother and his club-mates, including Thabo Spampool (now a top referee and judge), all left Modern Boyz and approached Mzimasi Mnguni to be their manager.
It was agreed that the gym be named after his shop - Eyethu. I turned pro in 1993. Even then I still did not take boxing seriously. I would beat an opponent and immediately go and play my soccer.
When did you begin to take boxing serious?
WN: After beating a veteran, Frazer Ndzandze, for the Border flyweight title (TKO 8). That win shocked many people. I went on to beat Joe Miya for the SA title. I was the first boxer from East London to win the flyweight title.
When did you team up with Golden Gloves?
WC: That was after I had beaten Miya. Ruben Rasodi, Golden Gloves talent scout, attended the fight. He told Rodney Berman about this wonder boy, and Rodney spoke to Mzimasi and myself. The rest is history.
Rodney and Cedrick sent you to the US where you trained at the camp of Lou Duva. How was is like?
WN: Great. Those guys actually made lots of adjustments in my abilities. Unfortunately they had a very busy stable, so I moved to the Kronk Gym where I teamed up with the likes of Thomas Hearns. I had gruelling wars in sparring there. That also turned me into another fighter - and that was, and still is, highly appreciated.
Were you ready to fight Benichou when the offer came?
WN: I was more than ready. In fact, I was supposed to chose between him and Orlando Canizalez, but I chose Benichou. Rodney and Cedrick were surprised that I chose him. I knew that I would beat him using the strategy of Mgxaji, Sugar Ray Leonard and a little bit of what I learnt at Kronk.
Was it not difficult to fight for the IBF title at the time as SA was banned in the international world of sport [due to apartheid]?
WN: It was but many people including Mthobi Tyamzashe and Mluleki George played a major role. But let me tell you, the national anthem that was sung for me before the fight in Israel was Nkosi Skelela, not Die Stem although we were still under apartheid.
Why have your achievements gone unnoticed?
WN: I don't even want to speculate. For me really it was about making history - the first boxer from Eastern Cape to win the World title, the first to win the IBF in the country and the second black boxer in the country to be a world champion [the first was Peter Mathebula, WBA flyweight].
How were monetary remunerations?
WN: [Big laughter] Leave that one for another day.
You owned Steers. Did that happen when you were still a fighter?
WN: Yes, but I was on my way out. I was using it as something to fall back on. I ran it successfully for eight years.
Why did you stop?
WN:Ubizo [a calling to become Isangoma). But I don't want to talk more about that [ubizo].
Would you advice your son to box?
WN: No, I discouraged him when he was still very young. He is 23 years now and he plays rugby. I saw trainers handling boxers badly, so I felt no man will do that to my son.
Your advice to aspiring boxers and your view about the future of local boxing.
WN: It is very difficult to do that. Today's boxers know too much. But the future looks bleak because of the way the sport is being run.
- Ncita has since his retirement produced SA and World champions as a trainer. He has teamed up with Vuyani Bungu and have established a promotion company - Ncita-Bungu Promotions. They staged their first tourney at the Indoor Sports Centre in Mdantsane last month.