I have come to the startling realisation that boxing is the new Book Club, except that the guys can come with. (If they behave themselves and stop leaving wet towels on the floor.) It is just the most heart-wrenching sport I have ever watched. Except that it has to be seen “live” to be truly appreciated. There I was at Emperors on Saturday night, in tears for the second time that evening, as I watched 20 year old Flo Simba win his bout against Stephen Castle – just two days after his 18 year old brother died of a heart attack. Simba is supposedly the hottest local heavyweight South Africa has seen in years, and the sight of him holding up his hand in victory with tears streaming down his face for his brother that was supposed to walk with him when he made his grand entrance through the crowds, was almost too much for me to bear.
I must say, that at one point, I was almost envious of these men that were literally fighting with every ounce of strength they possessed. It must be the most incredible feeling to walk into the ring with thousands of people shouting your name. And I can understand why the terms “have someone in your corner” and “throwing in the towel” have become so widely used. Because you may be alone there in the ring with your opponent, but you have a host of people “in your corner” ready to jump into the ring at a moment’s notice to give you what you need to carry on. Or to “throw in the towel” if you are out of your depth. It also just amazes me that you can knock the living daylights out of someone for half an hour, but then hug them tightly and congratulate them just a few minutes later. There is such dignity in the game, such sportsmanship, and such enormous discipline that I can’t help but learn from the excellence of what some people might dismiss as “just boxing”.
I have to say – on a slightly negative note – that I was unimpressed with Tommy “Gun” Oosthuizen. I have been a fan of this light heavyweight boxer for the past few years – not only because he remains undefeated, but also for his skill in the ring. He has a superb way of masking his movements and taking someone unawares that actually reminds me of a black panther. But on Saturday night, my very personal opinion is that he did not do himself, or the sport, any justice. His opponent, Thomas Awinbono, was not the most exciting of boxers, and to my untrained eye, I thought he just wanted to avoid getting knocked out. Awinbono played a defensive game and didn’t throw a lot of punches – something that made Tommy pretty angry. Not to mention cocky. At one point, Tommy waved to his fans (the equivalent of Serena Williams filing her nails in the middle of a tennis match to indicate her boredom) and then proceeded to cross his arms and stand in the middle of the ring as if to say “you are now wasting my time; come and get me”. I can appreciate that Tommy had a tough time fighting against such a defensive player, but I felt he demeaned both himself and boxing as a sport. If you’re that good, then find a way to wear down your opponent without patronizing him. It’s such a pity that Awinbono didn’t take that opportunity to knock Tommy out and teach him a lesson. I would quite happily have done it myself.
Someone that earned a fan for LIFE was Munyai “The Atomic Spider”. Wow – this kid is awesome, mostly because he makes boxing look like an art form. I was literally sitting biting my nails as he fought round after exhausting round against the Filipino Ferreras because Ferreras was almost superhuman. Anyone could see that Spider was the stronger, better, more skilled fighter – and yet Ferreras was like The Terminator in his ability to be smacked on the face with no signs of swelling, bruising or redness. The crowd was remarkably quiet as they watched the reigning champion nearing exhaustion and battling to stay motivated when a lesser opponent would have been knocked out by then. And then Ferreras got to him with a punch that landed Spider on his back with the ref counting …. It was over. Or so we thought. Because unbelievably, Spider got to his feet. He was dazed and he was battling. But he was up. “It’s too late,” whispered the gentleman behind me. “He won’t last another few rounds after that punch.” And that was when I started to cry – it was just too heart-breaking to watch. But he did it. Spider stayed up, he managed to focus, and he got back in the ring. And lasted another two rounds. When he won. I couldn’t help it – I was on my feet, cheering for this man that had overcome enormous odds to win. In that half hour, he earned my respect – for the reminder of what we all have in us – the ability to survive, to face our opponents, and to dig deep to find a strength we may not have known we had. And to stay the course. (In fact, when it was time to take media photos later that night and I was asked if I would like photos with Steve Hofmeyr, a former Miss South Africa, or my very favourite man Derek Watts, I declined. And asked if I could have my photo taken with Spider. It will be a good reminder for me of the lessons I learnt that night whenever I look at it. It was an honour to have my photo taken with him.)
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next big event in June, and am slightly relieved that I have the “Back to Back” on Tuesday, 30th of March to keep me going – and it happily coincides with Stephen’s birthday, which is SUCH a bonus! The evening has a slightly different format because it is a “Box & Dine” event – so you can have dinner while you watch some guys beating the living daylights out of each other. I love it!