By Pete Moscardi
The introduction into the professional boxing ring for 39-year-old heavyweight, Stephen Castle, was one of the most bizarre events in South Africa’s boxing history. Explaining how it all came about, the balding fighter says: “I was training a couple of fighters in my Fourways TopBox gym, one of whom was a promising Zimbabwean supermiddleweight called Farai Musiyiwa, and the other a rookie welterweight, Graham Diedericks. One day I was sitting in promoter Jeff Ellis’s office negotiating upcoming fights for both Musiyiwa and Diedericks on a bill Jeff was promoting on 2 April 2008. Jeff was agitated as he was unable to find an opponent for the heavyweight, Bully Muravha. I had had a couple of amateur bouts and was in reasonable shape, and so I volunteered my services. Jeff was utterly stunned by my offer, but when he saw I was serious he asked if I had a boxing licence – which I did not. The tournament was just two weeks away so he told me I’d better get my skates on and get one asap.”
The Gauteng Boxing Commission was unable to oblige as their next date for screening aspirant fighters applying for their professional licences was after the scheduled date of the April tournament. My only alternative was to jump into my car the next day and drive to Durban as the KZN Commission happened to be holding screening tests the following day. I drove down there in time to spar in front of this commission and they were obviously satisfied with what they saw because I came away with a professional boxing licence. I then drove back to Johannesburg the same day.”
The story gets even stranger come fight night. “Both Graham and Farai had bouts on the bill and, being their trainer, I was due to go into their corner to look after them. But I was on the same bill and had no trainer for myself. I arranged with Jeff to have Graham fight first and I went into his corner to second him. My fight was on next. Graham was making his professional debut and I think nerves got to him as he lost on a first round TKO. I then rushed back to the dressing room and changed into my boxing kit, got into the ring with Bully Maravha and, giving away 16kg, managed to box a draw, with Farai in my corner seconding me. It was then back to the dressing room and a quick change back into my second’s kit. It was a case of frenetic activity – but I made it in time to go into Farai’s corner. Farai put up a ferocious battle against the KO king, Kgotso Motau, and lost a close points decision over eight all-action rounds. It was a hard night’s work for me and a sharp learning curve of my entry into professional boxing,” he recalls.
Today Stephen fights simply because he loves the sport. At the time of writing I found him in training for his fight against Elvis Moyo on the undercard of the Budler v Buthelezi IBO juniorflyweight title fight at Emperors’ Palace, which was dedicated as a fund-raiser for the ailing and down-on-his-luck Baby Jake Matlala.
Stephen grew up in Cape Town where he attended Wynberg Boys High. But it was rugby and not boxing which absorbed every spare moment of his time. “I loved rugby and after school I played club rugby in Cape Town for Villagers.” While still in Cape Town Stephen started to take an interest in boxing and joined the Dieprivier Boxing Club where he was trained by Brian Schaffer, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nika Khumalo and Gary Murray.
He went to Windhoek where, following a year of playing rugby for Wanderers Club, Stephen landed up in Johannesburg in 1994 and opened a large keep fit gym where he also started coaching amateur boxing. “My rugby playing days were prior to the 1995 World Cup. I moved to Johannesburg in 1994 and was involved in a family business as well as running the gym. I also joined the Johannesburg Wanderers to continue my rugby career for another year. I formed a boxing club at the gym which I called the Uptown Boxing Club and which I ran for four years. The gym was the second oldest keep fit gym in the country.”
Thirteen years ago Stephen opened TopBox gym in Fourways, which serves as both a boxing and keep fit facility Stephen was unbeaten in seven fights (which included two draws) before coming up against the unbeaten sensation, Flo Simba, at Emperors’ Palace in February last year. Simba stopped Castle on a fourth round TKO, but Stephen had acquitted himself well until he got caught by a big right hand which took him out of the fight. “Peet Bothma, my trainer, was right to stop it when he did but I feel I was doing well against Flo until walking into that blockbuster,” he says with frankness.
Stephen needed little persuasion in accepting the fight with Moyo and says: “I ‘retired’ after the Simba fight but I love the sport so much I did not hesitate when asked if I would be prepared to box on Baby Jake’s fund-raiser bill. I have a huge respect for Jake and it was a pleasure to make this contribution.” Stephen negotiated with the corporates for this fight, securing R1 000 for every round he lasted and a further amount if he managed a win. Stephen Castle is, no doubt, a role model from whom boxing can only profit.
Castle was fighting on even terms in the first two rounds in his contest against Elvis Moyo on the undercard of the Baby Jake Matlala fundraiser bill at Emperor’ Palace on January 27. In the third round he took a cracking right to the short ribs which left him winded and in great pain. The punch dropped him for a count. He got up to fight on gamely but had obviously suffered damage to his ribs and had to be retired in his corner at the end of the round.