IBO Edward Levine looks back at SA boxers’ performances in 2019

Zolani Tete struggles to get back on his feet after being plummetted by John Reil Casimero.
Zolani Tete struggles to get back on his feet after being plummetted by John Reil Casimero.
Image: Reuters/Peter Cziborra

There was a time when South Africa boasted several world boxing champions and the country’s sparse representation in the respected sanctioning bodies these days paints a gloomy picture.

There are about 750 boxers in total registered with Boxing SA and 50 of them are females.

The sport’s alarming decline in this part of the world is illustrated by the fact that SA only has three world champions —  Kevin "Two Guns" Lerena, Gideon "hardcore" Buthelezi and Nkosinathi "Mabere" Joyi.

Lerena reigns supreme as the cruiserweight champion while Buthelezi rules with an iron fist as the junior bantamweight king. Joyi was crowned the mini flyweight champion on Monday last week.

The other "world" champion is Ayanda "Greyhound" Nkosi and he holds the WBF lightweight belt. A lot of sceptics still refuse to recognise IBO and WBF title holders  as true world champions and yet there seems to be a cordial relationship between the IBO, WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO.

With hindsight, South Africans should actually be grateful to Edward Levine whose Florida-USA based IBO has been kind to local fighters.

Levine, a former boxing judge, has always believed in South African talent and started to work with local boxing in 1998 about 10 years after the formation of the IBO  when Simon Ramoni won the junior featherweight belt from Patrick Mullings in Scarborough, Northern Yorkshire in England.

‘‘As you know, I have always believed that South Africa contained a wealth of boxing talent,” the hall of fame inductee said.

‘‘I use the term diamonds in the rough who just need the opportunities which are more readily available in many other countries.

‘‘When properly trained, managed and promoted, these then polished South African diamonds have proven their championship-caliber abilities.

‘‘2019 has not been an easy road for South African fighters but it was another year which proved that through perseverance and exposure South African fighters can gain worldwide attention.”

Levine said any review of 2019 would have to start with the two champions who have managed to accomplished an extremely difficult task, which was to win the IBO world title and then defended it successfully five times in a row.

‘‘Kevin Lerena and Gideon Buthelezi have this year attained that rare achievement also achieved by some marquee past and present IBO world champions such as Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones Jr., Wladimir Klitschko, Antonio Tarver, and Gennadiy Golovkin as well as other South Africans Hekkie Budler and Silence Mabuza,” he said.

The story of Lerena is not a typical one.

He became a professional boxer with little to no amateur background, but with persistence, dedication and proper training he defeated the tough Youri Kalenga to win the IBO title in September 2017.

His victory was followed by five successful defenses against fighters with a combined record of 88 wins and 5 defeats.

‘‘At the still-young age of 27, unification titles are definitely on the menu,” said Levine.

Buthelezi’s story is one of persistence, experience, and talent.

After winning the IBO world super flyweight title against the then-undefeated Makazole Tete, his five consecutive defenses were displays of his maturity and rare boxing talent.

The unfortunate cancelation of his title defense last week deprived him of his opportunity to display his talents in conjunction with his IBO diamond championship ring presentation.

Levine's thoughts of 2019 includes Rowan "Braveheart" Campbell who won and successfully defended his IBO All Africa super middleweight title three times.

Campbell,  who is stable mate of Lerena at the Smith Gym of trainer Peter Smih, has climbed to No. 26 in the IBO ratings.

‘‘As a young and undefeated IBO titleholder with only three years of professional fighting, his future is unlimited and extremely bright,” said Levine.

‘‘I also look forward to the return of Thulani Mbenge to the ring after a disheartening close decision loss in Germany for the IBO welterweight title.

‘‘No thoughts on 2019 would be complete without mentioning the re-emergence of the veteran boxer Joyi who 10 years after  his former reign as IBO minimum weight titleholder has rejuvenated his career in a dominating performance by winning the IBO minimum weight title on Monday last week."