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So near yet so far for SA Boxing - by Loyisa Mtya

The African Continent has for time immemorial been known to produce some of the best boxers in the world. The legendary names that spring to mind are Nigeria's Dick Tiger, Ghana's Axumah Nelson as well as South Africa's own son Brian Mitchell. These gladiators fought their way to the International Hall of Fame where only the greatest are mentioned, let alone appointed.

The appointment of these history makers comes as a result of not only the impact and influence the left as they gloved and punched their way in the square jungle, but the social footprints and political legacies they left behind. All who have followed Michell's career know that he remains the only boxer in the country, as well as perhaps in the whole world who carved his record by going out and conquering his opponents in their own backyards.

Michell made his bones fighting in the townships, especially at the Mpathlalatsane Hall in Sebokeng and Uncle Tom in Orlando West, Soweto, where he fought and beat the best black boxers of his time amid their own crowds, in their own backyards. The nurturing he received at this early stage of his life honed him mentally for his destiny. This was when it was not yet fashionable for white athletes to ply their trade in the townships and locations.

History will attest that the episode was his best school, yet unknown at the time that he would develop into a world champion, a worthy one for that matter, and be forced by the inopportune sanctions imposed against his country for its Apartheid Policy at the time to defend his world title on foreign soil. He certainly deserved the call to the Hall of Fame.

The question that implores to be answered nonetheless is why have there been such rarities of African, particularly South African boxers who reached the pinnacle of world boxing and stayed there?

South Africa itself has produced its own set of stellar performers reminiscent of Vuyani Bungu, Gerrie Coetzee, Dingaan Thobela, Sugar Boy Malinga - oops! My ink will run out. On the other hand, none of them heeded the call when history beckoned with fights that poised to catapult them to super stardom, fame and fortune. They lost when it counted most.

Were they not good enough? Were they not passably prepared for the contests whose calls go beyond physical talent and capabilities so as to challenge the mental strength of their opponents and minders? Or was Michell just so much better than all of them?

Maybe South Africa needs to look itself in the mirror and ask whether; with all its advanced achievements in economy, technology, political stability as well as ready global acceptance, it does have the capability to produce well prepared and ambitious athletes. Do we have teachers, trainers, strategists, dietitians, psychologists etc?

One would argue that we have world class trainers in the likes of Boy Boy Mpula Mpula, Nick Durandt, Harold Volbecht, Manny Fernandez, Elias Tshabalala, Benny Pailman etc. but is that enough? As you can only count them on one hand, the answer is naturally: no. Statistics will show that the number of boxers as against the producers make the situation very dire.

We have promoters like Branco Sports and Golden Gloves to create opportunities and facilitate. The latest talent includes Nkosinathi Joyi, Moruthi Mthalane, Kaizer Mabuza, Tommy Oosthuizen, Zolani Tete, Bongani Mwelase, Thabiso Mchunu and a whole lot of others, but will the pass the test of time?

You be the Judge.