Tommy Oosthuizen by Pete Moscardi

Tommy Oosthuizen faces one of his biggest challenges when he defends his IBO super-middleweight title for the seventh time against his Argentine challenger, Ezequel Osvaldo Maderna at Emperors Palace on 9 November. It is not the fact that Maderna is a Tyrannosaurus Rex of the super-middleweight division, but more due to the fact that Tommy has more to prove in getting past this hurdle than in any other fight of his 23 fight career. Why so?

Well, after bursting on the scene back in February 2008 with a show of potential, the likes of which had not been seen since the days of Charlie Weir, Tommy has, in recent times failed to deliver. He has remained unbeaten (21-0-2) but in his last fight, a lack-lustre draw against Brandon Gonzalez in the US in June, it was clear that not all six cylinders were functioning. Another performance of this ilk would not induce his promoter, Rodney Berman, or his US backers to retain their interest in him.

I drove over to Boksburg to the new corporate premises of Nashua East Rand to chat to this highly likable young man. The first thing that struck me was some large signage which said ‘Nashua Hammer Gym’. This, I was to discover is the new training quarters for Harold Volbrecht’s fighers – courtesy of the generosity of Nashua which is sponsoring both Tommy and the Volbrecht stable. Although not finally complete, this facility will have all the trappings of any of the best boxing gyms in the world. Present at my meeting with Tommy was Richard Wainwright, managing director of Nashua East Rand, and one could sense that there was a genuine bond between the two.

Although Tommy Oosthuizen is something of an enigma, he comes across as a straight shooter. Impeccably polite, he answers all questions with disarming frankness and honesty. He admits to being guilty of some dilatory behaviour in the latter part of his career which put him off course and caused consternation among those who care about him. But he told me that he was aware of his errant ways and that this was now water under the bridge. “You have not seen the real Tommy Oosthuizen yet,” he said. “I know I have a lot to prove when I fight Maderna and you are going to see a different fighter.”

The pleasant, smiling features had undergone a sudden change and there was a look of cold menace in his eyes. I knew that what he had just said to me was not simple idle chat. I got deeper into the heart and soul of Tommy when I questioned him further on his life, hopes and dreams.

Tell me about your early days. How did your interest in boxing start. And was it influenced in any way by your father?
I grew up in a boxing family. My dad is a former South African junior middle and middleweight champion and my grandfather was also a fighter. Even before I had learnt to write my dad made me go to the boxing gym every Monday and Thursday. When I was 15 I had run out of fights so I played rugby for the next two years. But I later came back into the sport and fought in the SA Championships in 2007, winning the title at light heavyweight.

Which amateur club did you box for?
Van Dyk Park Boxing Club and the Tony Green Boxing Club in Boksburg.

Where did you go to school? Were there many playground fights?
Van Dyk Primary and Hoerskool Oosterlig. Yes, I did get into playground brawls at school.

Jarrod Lovett was the big “breker” around town at the time you fought him. He called you out at the press conference and swore at you. You boxed very cautiously when outpointing him that night. Were you nervous of fighting him?
I boxed Lovett while adhering strictly to instructions given to me by Harold. I was not nervous of Lovett the person, but we were worried that with him being the crowd favourite a decision was going to be difficult to come by. So Harold told me to keep the fight on the outside and not to get involved in any war. I know it made for an unexciting fight but the tactics worked for us and I got the decision.

Who has been the toughest opponent you have fought to date?
An American called Marcus Johnson. I fought him in Oklahoma USA on April 27 2012. I put him down in the eighth with a body punch but I could not put him away. Man, he was tough. He was 21-1-0 when I fought him and he had come to win.

You have an excellent sponsor in Nashua. Tell me about your relationship with the company and also about the new gym built by Nashua?
I have been with Nashua for three years and my relationship with the company is brilliant. They have been so professional and have looked after my needs and also have provided good advice. The gym which Nashua is having built will be, when completed, one of the best facilities of its kind in the country. Harold has personally built the ring and played a major role in its design. It will provide me and my colleagues with the most advanced equipment available. Richard Wainwright enters the conversation at this stage by saying: “We have been with Tommy from his first IBO title fight against Isaac Chilemba and we have full faith that this young man will go all the way.
“Tommy shares with us a deep sense of social responsibility and we have formed a combined initiative whereby Nashua has purchased 500 tickets for his next fight. These will be re-sold by us and all proceeds will be donated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), specifically for the rhinos. Each person buying a ticket will also receive a commemorative T-shirt. A cheque for the funds raised will be presented to EWT after Tommy’s fight.”

You recently sustained a severe injury to your right eye which eventually required plastic surgery. The eye has looked very vulnerable in your last few fights. Has it completely healed now and do you still worry about it being your “Achilles heel”?
The eye has totally healed and it does not bother me anymore. The plastic surgeon did an excellent job.

You had a tough fight with Isaac Chilemba which ended in a draw. There was no love lost between the two of you. Do you feel you won that fight?
I feel I performed poorly that night but I thought I had nicked the decision. I believe I was landing the cleaner blows. I wanted a return with him but he would not give it to me.

You battled to make weight in a recent fight at Emperors. You are huge for a super-middleweight, standing well over 6’. For how long do you think you can go on making super-middle?
On the occasion that I had a weight problem it was a case of my lifestyle catching up with me – something I will never allow to happen again. I am not having to starve or cut liquids to make weight so I can do super middleweight comfortably. Unless my life alters drastically I plan to stay at super middleweight.

You are at the top of the “second tier” of fighters in the super-middleweight division. There is a top or “first” tier which consists of fighters like Andre Ward, Carl Froch, James Groves, Mikkel Kessler, Saiko Bika and Andre Dirrell. Do you feel you are ready at this stage of your career to make a step-up and take on any of these fighters?
Yes, I believe now is the right time to step up and fight some of these big names. I can adapt to any style and none of these names hold any fear for me. I would look forward to meeting any of the above fighters.

Your last fight in the US ended in a disappointing draw in which your form appeared to be right off. Can you explain this?
When I went into the ring with Gonsalvez I was not mentally prepared. I never took this fight seriously which was my bad error of judgement. My team did everything right – but I never delivered on the night. I was so disgusted with myself that I was back in the gym the day I landed back in South Africa from the US.

You have seen your next opponent Maderna fight? Is this going to be a tough fight for you and how do you predict it will go?
Just two words – a win!

Is your dad a big supporter of you and does he attend all your fights in Johannesburg?
My dad is always at my fights and is a huge supporter.

Where do you live and are you in a serious relationship?
I have bought a cluster home in Benoni and I am not in any serious relationship right now.

What are your interests outside boxing?
I play a little golf and I like spending time on X-Box games.