Kaizer Mabusa - by Pete Moscardi
When boxing people get around to discussing the major surprises and upsets which took place during 2010 one of the names that will be on top of the list is that of a former South African junior-welterweight champion, 29-year-old Kaizer Mabuza. Other than his astute trainer, Manny Fernandes, there is no one either in South Africa or the US who would have given Mabuza a snowball's hope in hell of beating the highly rated former WBO light-welterweight champion, Kendall Holt. But on a bitterly cold night in February at Ballys Park Casino on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, Mabuza turned the odds and the bookmakers on their heads by pounding Holt into a sixth round stoppage defeat. This was the latest chapter in what has been a wild roller-coaster ride for the quiet spoken South African.
The Mabuza story does not exactly have an auspicious start. Born in Maputo to Mozambican parents, Kaizer was brought to South Africa when he was just two as his parents immigrated in order to abandon a then war-torn country and to go somewhere where they could make a living. Kaizer's first introduction to boxing was in 1996 when he joined a kick-boxing club in Tembisa, the township on the outskirts of Johannesburg where he resided with his parents. "I had no thought about becoming a boxer and I never fought as an amateur. I just joined this club as it gave me something to do and kept me away from the streets which were always the breeding ground for crime and trouble", he explains. Kaizer had about 16 fights as a junior, winning all but one. A year later kick-boxing lost its popularity and the tournaments started to dry up - so the club changed its focus to boxing.
"A well-known boxing trainer called Archie Nyinga took over the club and I decided to stay with the new-found discipline, so I turned professional right away," Kaizer says. But his introduction into the ranks of professional boxing was to prove a rude awakening, and Kaizer soon found out that 16 fights as a junior kick-boxer was not sufficient as a background to equip one for the brutally hard professional ring. His first fight, in February 2000, saw him stopped in one round by a promising prospect called Isaac Hlatshwayo. "Isaac was also making his professional debut, but he was coming off an extensive amateur career both as a junior and senior, and I was a raw novice." He says with open candour.
Nine fights and nine wins later and Kaizer finds himself challenging for the South African Lightweight title against a familiar opponent, the then unbeaten Isaac Hatchway. "I had learnt a lot since my first professional fight, and although I lost by unanimous decision to Isaac I put a good fight and I made him battle all the way. To this day Isaac remains the only South African fighter to hold a win over me," he says. Kaizer's performance must have made a good impression, for in his next fight he was taken to Denmark to face one of that country's brightest prospects, Martin Kristjansen. Kaizer dropped a debatable six round decision, but in his next fight found himself against a very different class of opposition when he faced off against Ray Rarh in Accra, Ghane. Kaizer was stopped in two - but this was no disgrace considering that Nahr, who was 7-0 then and is today 24-1 and based in the US where he is a leading contender for a title shot.
Kaizer made a switch of trainers in 2005, joining Harold Volbrechts' stable of fighters. But following a fight in the December of that year Kaizer was inactive in 2006. "The fights just dried up, but I still kept myself in shape," he says. His next two offers came from overseas. A fight in Australia in February 2007 against the then unbeaten Robert Medley for the IBF Australasian title resulted in a points loss, and in August that year he dropped a decision to Emmanuel Lartey in Accra in a fight for the vacant ABU light-welterweight title.
Kaizer made another change of trainer immediately prior to the Lartey fight when he joined Manny Fernandes. Manny takes up the story when he says: "I only had Kaizer with me for a couple of weeks before the fight in Accra. Lartey was a tough opponent, but Kaizer could have beaten him had I had the time to work on a strategy." This was the last fight Kaizer lost, and since then he has run up eight wins and a draw. "I regard this time as the turning point in my career and I give Manny all the credit for taking me where I am today," he points out. After winning the South African and WBA Pan African titles Kaizer was given the biggest fight of his career - at just two weeks notice. "We were offered a fight in the Ukraine against the unbeaten Sergey Fedchenko who was 23-0 at the time. It was a huge risk at such short notice, but as it was for the IBF Inter-Continental light-welterweight title I decided to gamble and take the fight. Kaizer is a natural body puncher and we worked on this strength for the fight," Manny says. A very vociferous and highly partisan crown in the packed arena Dnipropetrovsk had the effect of intimidating Kaizer who, Manny says, lost the first two rounds. "I had to get heavy with him and I slapped him a couple of times in the face and told him to wake up and fight. This got the result I wanted as he won the next 10 rounds with a sustained body attack. He ran out of steam in the last round, which he lost, but by then the fight was ours." This win came against all expectations, and led on to his last fight. It was no less formidable.
"We were offered an IBF light-welterweight title eliminator against the world rated Kendall Holt, who holds a win over my other fighter, Isaac Hlatshwayo. Kendall was 25-3 and a former WBO champion. But I told anyone who would listen that Kaizer would bust him up in the body providing the referee did not allow Holt to hold", Fernandes says. Kaizer concurs with Manny when recalling his fight against Holt. "We had a well planned blue print for this fight and that was to concentrate on Holt's body. By the fifth round I could sense that Kendall had shot his bolt and he was grunting every time I landed a punch in his midriff." An exhausted and well beaten Holt was unable to come out for the seventh round and retired in his corner. The win against Holt - who had so decisively beaten Isaac Hlatshwayo back in November 2006 - astounded the fight fraternity in South Africa. But it came as no surprise to either Kaizer or his confident trainer, Manny Fernandes.
Kaizer Mabuza has now presented his credentials to the boxing world and now awaits the IBF to advise him of his next move - which he and Fernandes expect to be a final mandatory eliminator against the former WBA light-welterweight champion, Andriy Kotelnik. Until that time Kaizer will carry on with his daily training routine and run his business, which is selling linen to schools. These activities take up most of his time, and what the has left is devoted to his wife, Elevy and his two daughters - Faith (8) and Lisa (4). Fernandes describes Kaizer as still being a work in progress and says: " He is not the finished article yet. There is still room for improvement. But when I get him to the stage I want him to be at we will take on any junior-welterweight in the world with confidence."
The boxing world is still to hear more of Kaizer Mabuza.