Ringmaker - by Pete Moscardi

Under the category heading of ‘Unusual Occupations’, the work carried out by 57-
year-old Johannes Masekela must rate pretty highly. There cannot be too many
people around who can claim to do what Johannes does for a living – and that is to
supply and erect boxing and wrestling rings.

The quietly-spoken Masekela has been doing this since June 1979 when he joined
the late Paul Joubert and his son Hannes, who today runs the operation. Recalling
how he got into this somewhat different occupation, Johannes says: “Back in 1979
I was out of work and was sitting on a pavement in Boksburg thinking about my plight and wondering where I was going to earn money to provide my family with the next meal. I was suddenly approached by a stranger who asked me if I was doing anything at the time. I told him I was unemployed and looking for work. He asked me to come and help erect a ring. This was how I came to meet Paul Joubert and his son Hannes, owners of the operation.

“The job was in Lichtenburg and it was a wrestling ring that we had to erect for an
event that was taking place on the same day that Kallie Knoetze fought John Tate in Mmbatho in June 1979. This was my first experience of erecting a ring,” he says. Paul Joubert has since passed on and Hannes has taken over a still very busy operation.

There have been countless rings erected since the Jouberts first got into the business back in September 1975 when they erected their first ever ring for the Victor Galindez v Pierre Fourie clash at the Rand Stadium. “Don’t ask me how many boxing and wrestling rings we have erected in total. It would be completely impossible to try to give an answer to that question,” says Hannes. Wrestling has practically become extinct in South Africa, but boxing is the country’s second most popular sport and it keeps Joubert and his stalwart operations manager, Johannes, busy.

“Our areas of operation are not just within the borders of South Africa, but we
have erected rings as far afield as Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. The rings are
transported in a bakkie and trailer owned by Hannes, and I drive this to whichever
destination at which the ring is to be erected. Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth,
East London and Bloemfontein have all been some of the many points on the
map where we have delivered and erected rings,” explains Johannes.

The company today has two rings – a 7m x 7m and a 6m x 6m. It previously had
others, but sold several to the likes of Nestor Tobias, who promotes in Namibia,
and to Mzi Nguni in East London. The size of the ring to be erected is dictated by the promoter and/or the boxing commission. The Nasrec Indoor Arena, for example, always has the smaller 6m x 6m ring erected due to its confined floor space. “Usually the larger venues, such as Emperor’s Palace, require the bigger 7m x 7m ring,” says Johannes.

The time it takes to erect a ring is, on average, 2.5 hours from start to finish. “I
usually operate with a team of four people comprised of casual labour recruited off the street.” Sometimes it is not plain sailing. Johannes recalls an incident prior to the Lennox Lewis v Hassim Rachman fight at Carnival City in April 2004.

“Lennox Lewis approached me and asked to see the rubber undermat which
we place on top of the ring floor and underneath the ring canvas. He was not
happy with the material I showed him and he demanded to see other samples. I
managed to source several other samples of rubber matting of various thicknesses. He examined them and selected a less dense material. It cost R12 000 for sufficient material to cover the ring floor and the Lewis camp happily met this bill. Unfortunately, it was Lewis who got dumped heavily on the harder ring mat by Rachman,” says Johannes with a wry smile. This undermat, incidentally, is still in use today.

Johannes is meticulous about the appearance of the ring. “If it is a major tournament with a title fight on the bill, the rope covers are removed and washed. If a sponsor wants his own rope covers on the ropes, we do this as well. The ring canvas is also washed after each tournament, and the ring corner pads are cleaned,” he says. So, if you are a boxing promoter and you are looking for someone to supply and erect a ring, who do you call? Just give either Hannes or Johannes a ring!