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The Hexecutioner - by Pete Moscardi

Art Pelullo, head of Banner Promotions , edged forward in his seat to concentrate on the four-round preliminary fight taking place in the Emperor’s Palace ring on one of Rodney Berman’s Golden Gloves Promotions. Pelullo, Berman’s American business associate, attends the majority of shows Berman stages at this superb venue. But what had caught Pelullo’s eye was a bottom of the bill four rounder featuring a pale and frail youngster with schoolboy looks and a physique which looked positively undernourished. The name of the fighter, whose performance in the ring was mesmerising Pelullo, was Hekkie Budler, a junior-flyweight who was having only his third professional fight - a four rounder against Sibusiso Ngqalathi.

The fight only went into the second round, with Budler notching up an impressive TKO win after having his opponent on the canvas several times. Art was impressed. So impressed, in fact, that he sought out Colin Nathan, Budler’s mentor, immediately after the show and there and then offered him a fight on a promotion he was staging a month later at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, British Columbia. What was highly unusual about the offer was that the fight Art proposed was only a four rounder. Since when do promoters offer to fly a prelim kid half way around the world to take part in a four round down-the-bill fight? The question is rhetorical - but Nathan did not think twice before jumping at the offer. So a few weeks later Nathan and Budler were on a flight bound for Canada where Hekkie was to fight a Mexican by the name of Mario Gaxiola on 28 December 2007. Hekkie missed out on Christmas with his family that year, but the fight came first. It was Budler’s fourth professional fight and he thrilled the fight-hardened Canadian crowd by winning every round and the unanimous decision.

But the Budler story is jumping ahead of itself and one has to go back 12 years to
when Hekkie was nine-years-old and had been introduced by his father, also called
Hekkie, to the Hugenot Boxing Club in the west of Johannesburg. “My Dad was a keen amateur boxer when he was young and he knew I hated losing at anything - so he thought boxing would be a good sport for me to get involved in. My first 18 months were very frustrating as all the coach would allow me to do was to concentrate on my footwork and balance. I was not allowed to spar - or even to hit the bag,” he recalls. His first amateur fight came in March 1999 when he was 11-years-old. “I was so excited before going into the ring I couldn’t wait for the action to start. I knocked my opponent down five times before getting the unanimous
points decision,” he says. Hekkie boxed for several amateur clubs before ending
up at the historic Booysens Club in the south of Johannesburg. Budler boxed
through the various amateur categories, starting as a cadet which is in the 12-16 age bracket, going on to the juniors which fall within the 17-19 age bracket and ending as a senior which is from 17 upwards.

Budler’s amateur career, which lasted until he was 19, was nothing short of spectacular and is considered one of the best records, compiled by an amateur boxer in recent times. He had over 150 fights, losing only 10 and acquiring a handful of titles. He won his first title at the age of 12 when he picked up the Johannesburg Cadet championship - weighing just 28kg. As a cadet he won a South African title twice, and as a senior he won the Johannesburg title, a Provincial title
and, in 2005, the South African title.

“I engaged in 23 international fights, boxing four times against English opponents
(two of these in England) and winning all. I boxed twice against opponents from the Seychelles and won those fights and I also won the Zone 6 (Southern African countries) championships twice. On the latter occasion I beat the then Commonwealth champion who was from Namibia. Another amateur achievement was being the youngest boxer in the history of South African amateur boxing to win a senior national title - a feat he accomplished when he had just turned 17 and had just qualified as a senior.

Budler does not wish to elaborate on his decision to go professional - other than to
say that he eventually found the politics, which permeated the amateur sport at that time too much to handle. Joining forces with Colin Nathan at the latter’s Hot Box Gym in 2007, Budler stepped into the Emperor’s Palace ring to make his professional debut on 5 July to face Michael Sediane in a scheduled four rounder. Hekkie came out of his corner like a whirlwind, demolishing his opponent in the first. He has since notched up 10 wins in as many fights, with his last outing culminating in winning the vacant IBO All Africa junior flyweight title by utpointing
the tough Charity Mukondeleli over 12 gruelling rounds.

Explaining his close friendship with his trainer, Budler says: “When I was still fighting as an amateur Colin came to watch me when I was fighting an opponent from a touring Irish team. I won my fight clearly. Colin passed on some advice to me and told me I could come to his gym at any time and with no obligation to be given some coaching tips. We hit it off well and today we are close friends, apart from having a professional relationship.” The friendship and respect, is enthusiastically reciprocated by Nathan, who says of his young fighter: “Hekkie is the most dedicated and talented fighter in the country today. I am confident that he can go all the way.”

A day in the life of Hekkie Budler when he is in full training starts at around 05.00
when he gets out of bed to run for an hour. He then rests until 08.00 when he has
breakfast - usually oats or an omelette. He passes the time watching movies and relaxing until midday after which he goes to the gym where he puts in two-and-a-half hours of hard work which includes sparring, bag and pads, skipping and callisthenics. A further light run in the evening is completed before turning in at 22.00.

Hekkie makes no secret that he finds the discipline and grind of professional boxing a tough challenge, but he accepts that it will take nothing less than 100 percent dedication if he wishes to achieve his ambition of becoming a ‘world’ champion. “I can’t go out with my pals while I am in training. After a fight I will go out and have a drink or two, but I never let it all hang out. I am lucky in having a steady girl friend, Rhodä, whom I have been dating since our school days. She is a professional dancer so she also understands and practices a disciplined regimen,” he says.

Hekkie’s home life is stable and he has a supportive family backing him all the way. “My 14-year-old sister, Michaela, my Mum, Karen and my Gran are my biggest fans and they all give me huge encouragement,” he adds.

Budler allows himself just one distraction from his life of boxing - and that is his collection of four very large and mean looking pythons, together with a corn snake. “When I was small I started playing with all sorts of animals. A school pal once gave me a snake when I was 10-years-old and that started my interest in reptiles. My snakes are not the most popular household inhabitants with my Mum, but she has learnt to put up with them,” he explains. I end my interview by asking Hekkie if he is ever nervous before stepping into the ring. But watching him coolly handle a couple of rock pythons at the same time - either of which could probably have him for lunch if handled incorrectly - makes the question superfluous.