10 Point Must System by Devon Currer

Will “White Collar” boxing resuscitate boxing in the Western Cape?

Cape Town has arguably suffered the biggest decline in support and recognition in the sport of boxing than perhaps any other major centre in the country. Many factors are involved with the main culprit being the fact that the country’s free to air television channel that used to show boxing with regularity has all but completely withdrawn its support of the sport.

With fewer television dates going around, there is less money being offered to promotional outfits to put on professional fights. The amateur system of boxing in the Western Cape has become so degraded that the talent pool is drying up. Tournaments that are infrequently held are coupled with poor organisation.

Enthusiasm for the sport is still prevalent and can be seen on the young and hopeful faces competing in these events along with their trainers and support crews. Above that, on a professional level, the Sunday afternoon fight card is played out in community halls in generally impoverished areas. These highly entertaining fight cards held in front of small crowds for an admission fee of between R20-R30 are also becoming an endangered species in the Cape. Fewer promoters are capable of organising development tournaments and even fewer sponsors are willing to apply their name or chequebooks to events. Boxing in the Western Cape has been terminal for some time now...

Meanwhile across town on a cold winters evening in May, a small boxing gym located in the oldest part of the city has what one would expect to find – a boxing ring. There is also something that up to about 6 years ago, one would not expect to find in Cape Town – roughly 500 people crammed into every corner of the joint.

These fight nights take place about five times a year in this particular venue with a gain in popularity seen countrywide from a small initiative started between friends in Cape Town all those years ago. Today, you will find five white collar boxing gyms within a ten kilometre stretch across the city centre.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of white collar boxing, its origins can be traced back to New York City in the mid 1990’s where white collar workers who grew tired of the usual rigmoral of the treadmill or bar bells at the local gym wanted to try something new. They started to train at boxing gyms like the famed Gleeson’s of Brooklyn and then took their training one step further in the form of fights with their peers.

White Collar boxing matches have the fighters wearing full facial head gear, mouth guards, groin protectors and 16 ounce boxing gloves to enhance the feature of the ‘safety first’ aspect which is white collar boxing. All bouts go a distance of three rounds of two minutes and broken by the usual one minute interval between each round. No decision is given at the end of the fight.

The Western Cape has only one SA champion Toto Helebe who annexed the bantamweight title by doing the impossible and taking the long trip to the East London where he knocked out the then champion Phumzile Matyhila in the fifth round of their scrap at the Orient Theatre back in 2012.

Due to financial reasons resulting in a laundry list of cancelled dates, his first proposed title defence against the number one contender only materialised a few days short of a year later in 2013.

Promoter Steve Kalakoda brought interested parties around the table to put on a wildly entertaining fight card held at a grand old venue and famous hotel located in the epicentre of the city. This was the first South African title fight held in over a decade in the Cape of Good Hope.

One of the fights featured the name of Carlos Spencer the former All Black fly half in a pair of ‘sixteens’ and was billed as the star attraction ahead of Helebe and challenger Klaas Mboyane and heavyweight banger Zack Mwekassa on the fight poster.

The card was held as a black tie Box’n Dine format where ten-seater tables were going for R1000 a head and general admission in the back going for an extremely reasonable price of R150. The attendance confounded the sceptics with a packed house of close on a thousand people inside the venue, heavily supported by the rugby and business community.

The fact that no local television network would pick up the event did not matter either – the entire card including the white collar fights were available to be seen for free on the internet and filmed by a crew of less than four people. This was not only localised exposure but also seen across the world with the highest viewership numbers coming from Japan, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. The reliance on local television channels has become less essential and will continue to decline as advances are made in internet speeds and availability increases across the country.

In the main event Helebe managed to retain his title on split decision victory.

This was the first fight card in South Africa where professional and white collar boxing came together to bring out a crowd packed with people from across the financial divides of society.

Importantly, it was the first professionally sanctioned boxing event held in South Africa that was available to be seen online, free of charge worldwide. While purists may scoff at the idea of rugby or cricket players fighting each other in the name of charity on the same bill as paid professionals, in the Western Cape white collar fight cards are not only resuscitating boxing, but keeping it alive.