Joyi - by Pete Moscardi

Nkosinathi "Mabere" Joyi, the undefeated IBF Strawweight champion, was still at school when he made his professional debut in April 2002. Joyi's first professional contest was an inauspicious points win over Dalisizwe Komani at the Indoor sports Centre in Queenstown - a small, sleepy town in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Nothing from this fight could convey the message that joyi was destined to become one of South Africa's best pound-for-pound fighters in the country's history. And nothing from this fight could provide any indication that his greatness would be the cause of a tragically unfulfilled career.

Joyi, who is single and who still lives with his mother in the sprawling township of Mdantsane, swept through his first eight opponents, with only two lasting the scheduled distance. His ninth contest, which took place in April 2004, was against Mzikayse Foslare for the vacant South African strawweight title. The fight took place at the sea shore Orient Theatre in East London - a venue which was to become Joyi's stamping ground. "Mabere" - so named because of his custom of bringing into the ring with him an oversized teddy bear ("Mabere" being the Xhosa word for bear), made short work of his opponent, scoring a first round TKO victory. This was his second fight of 2004 and he would later consider himself fortunate in having two more in that year. It is interesting to note that from the moment Joyi won the South African title every one of his subsequent 13 fights - with the exception of one IBF Eliminator - have been title fights of various descriptions.

Joyi followed up this victory by making his first defense of his title against Khuselekile Gada at the Great Centenary Hall in Port Elizabeth. The fight, which tool place in July, lasted less than a round with Joyi a TKO winner. His next defence, and his last fight of that year, was against the experienced and crafty Wle Maqolo at Joyi's "second home", the Orient Theatre. For only the third time in his career Joyi was taken the distance, winning a shut-out unanimous decision.

The word on Joyi had spread rapidly throughout the country and hereafter the drought set in. He made two defences in 2005, surprisingly being taken the distance by Mawanda Sineko in March. But in a return fight in October he pounded out a sixth round KO win to the delight of his fanatical fan club who packed the Orient Theatre.

Joyi saw off two more challengers in 2006, with Thulani Ndyamara being dispatched in one round in April and Thobani Mbangeni lasting into the second round in their fight in September.

Thereafter came his biggest moment. Joyi's achievements had attracted the interest of Golden Gloves Promoter, Rodney Berman, who brought him up to Johannesburg to fight the battle-hardened Filipino, Armando de la Cruz, at the Emperor's Palace Casino in November for the vacant IBO Strawweight title.

"Mabere" approached this fight - his 16th - in the manner in which he had approached all his others. The South African Champion engulfed his Filipino opponent with a barrage of punches, ending the fight via a lean KO in the second round. Joyi now held a version of "world" title and thus relinquished his South African crown. His dynamic Johannesburg debut set the local boxing scene alive with excitement. But if Joyi had any hopes that this stunning victory would lead him on a path of glory in the City of Gold he would be sorely disappointed.

This was the first and last time he was to fight under the banner of Golden Gloves. Rodney Berman is reluctant to elaborate too expansively on the reason for this, other than to say: "There was a lack of compatibility between myself and Joyi's manager, Siphato Handi, which led to a breakdown in our business relationship." Joyi's opportunity to enter the big time ended as abruptly as had his fight with De la Cruz.

Joyi's spirits were high as he celebrated the start of 2007. But he was to wait for over 10 months before his next and only fight that year. Another Filipino, Gabriel Pumar, was brought in to challenge Joyi for his IBO crown. The fight in November at the Great Centenary Hall in Port Elizabeth lasted less than a round, with Pumar being hammered into a KO defeat. Thereafter Joyi entered a higher strata of boxing, with a major step-up in the quality of opposition.

His next defence, in June 2008, was against a tough Mexican, Sammy Gutierrez, who entered the Orient Theatre ring with a 21-1-2 record. Gutierrez was, by Joyi's own admission his toughest opponent and he would go on to become an interim WBA strawweight champion. The Mexican gave Joyi a torrid time before being stopped in the seventh round by a crushing combination to the head which left him defenceless.

Joyi recalls the fight: "Sammy Gutierrez was certainly my toughest opponent. The longer the fight continued, the more I realized he was the strongest boxer I had ever come up against. Sammy was not the most brilliant boxer, but he was a very hard worker who certainly made his opponents sweat. However, there never was a time during the fight when I thought I might not be able to win on points, and I was shocked when I stopped him." This was the fight that elevated "Mabere" onto the world stage.

His other other fight in 2008 saw him defend his title against another Mexican, Lorenzo Trejo, who suffered a devastating second round KO at East London's Mdantsane Indoor Centre in November. This win was followed by an event which was to promote, and change the path, of Joyi's career.

Johannesburg promoter, Branco Milenkovic, decided to take Joyi under his promotional wing and steer him towards an IBF title. Branco commenced this campaign by matching Nkosinathi with the former IBF champion, Florante Condones. The Filipino had won the IBF strawweight crown by beating Muhammed Rachman in Djakarta, Indonesia in July 2007. He had lost it the following year via split decision to the then unbeaten Mexican, Raul Garcia. Joyi literally toyed with Condones in their Orient Theatre fight in June 2009, winning by scores of 120-107 (twice) and 119-108. The win put him in direct line to challenge the unbeaten Raul Garcia - a fight which took place none months later in East London's International Convention Centre. If Condones was Joyi's sole opponent in 2009, the champion was his sole opponent in 2010.

Garcia took a dreadful pounding for 12 rounds in their March 2010 fight, with only his toughness and fortitude allowing him to survive the distance. Joyi's dominance of this fight is illustrated by the scores in his favour which were 119-109 (twice) and 118-110. It was around this time that The Ring magazine voted Joyi the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Joyi's next defense, against the former WBA Interim and WBC Strawweight champion, Katsundari Takayama from Japan, represented Joyi's second time to fight in Johannesburg. Takayama, who was 23-3 going into this fight, looked destined to be on his way to an early stoppage defeat when a cut over his right eye in the third round brought an abrupt halt, with the fight being declared No Contest.

Milenkovic explains his outlook on Joyi's situation when he says: "it is very unfortunate that he is in the smallest weight division, which sadly fails to attract the big purses and the major international TV exposure. As his promoter, I am open to any offer to fight in a unification contest - and so is Joyi. However, there have been no offers and there is no other fighter in his weight division who is keen to enter the ring with him. We are prepared to go to any country in the world to fight in a unification contest. It is my confident opinion that Joyi is, by far and away, the best fighter in the world at his weight."

The champion is not happy about the situation he finds himself in. "The lack of fights is definitely working against me in my boxing career. I am currently averaging one fight a year, and when fights are few and far between ring rust sets in. I believe I should be having four fights a year. My last fight was in January this year," he says.

The tragedy of Joyi (21(15)-0) is his nationality - together with his fearsome reputation. Had he been born a Mexican, Japanese or Filipino he would have had double this number of fights and could possibly have achieved multiple championship status. He is a talent that demands to be showcased far more frequently that once a year and, sadly, there looks to be no answer to this insoluble problem.