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Sipho Taliwe Genuine Prospect - by Pete Moscardi

Every once in a while a boxer will burst on the scene to display that indefinable quality which suggests that his talents can be nurtured into something special. The outstanding performance produced by Sipho Taliwe in defending his South African junior-lightweight title against the previously unbeaten Warren Joubert at the Wembley Arena suggested just that. Taliwe, who has had only 13 professional contests, went about dismantling Joubert in four one-sided rounds. It was a devastating display of box-fighting, and such was the punishment he handed out to Joubert that it will be doubtful if Nick Durandt’s young prospect can come back from such a pounding.

Sipho Taliwe (28) is a quietly spoken and humble young man whose dedication to boxing puts a new definition to the word. One of four children – with two elder sisters and a younger brother – Sipho’s home is in Aliwal North which is located right on the boundary line of the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Located on the Orange River, there is not much going for Aliwal North other than the farming activity which takes place around it and the warming, health-giving waters of the natural spa mineral baths in the town. It was in this backwater town that Sipho was raised, attending the Malcolmess High School. “I first became interested in boxing at school. I was 13-years-old when I started to take an interest in the sport, but we did not box competitively – boxing was just taught to provide the kids with a means to learn how to defend themselves,” he says.

But the boxing bug had bitten Sipho and he decided to pursue his interest after leaving school. “It was difficult while living in Aliwal North as there was not a single boxing club in the town. I found someone who had a bit of equipment which he allowed me to use, and I made contact with the trainers of some amateur clubs in East London and they arranged for me to box in some of their tournaments. I would travel down to East London at my own expense to compete in the tournaments held there,” he explains. Sipho Taliwe’s limited experience in the amateur ranks comprised five contests as a junior and 19 fights as a senior with just one loss.

The need to find employment saw Sipho head for Johannesburg, arriving here in 2002. It was here that he was to meet two people who have a major influence on his life. He met his wife, Murwa, when attending church, and he was introduced to businessman and boxing trainer, Bernie Pailman who took him into his gym in Westbury. “I saw the kid had talent when he was working out in my gym, and after having three amateur fights I decided that he was ready to turn professional. Taliwe is a totally dedicated young man and has lived up to all my expectations,” Pailman says. Sipho’s dedication to the sport is taken to levels which extend beyond that of most boxers. During the week he lives in a house in Noordgesig which is owned by Bernie Pailman and in which he houses his professional fighters. They have named the house “The Club”, and as a close-knit community has been formed by the boxers “messing” together the title is not inappropriate. The boxers keep the place clean and they cater for themselves and cook their own meals. “They get on well and there is a good spirit of camaraderie,” Bernie says. It is only at weekends that Sipho gets to see Murwa and his four-month-old daughter, Siphosethu, who live in Soweto. “I would say that the most difficult aspects of boxing are the sacrifices which have to be made. I am a family man and love spending time with my wife and daughter. But it would be too difficult logistically to be with them during the week and travel the long distance to the gym every night,” he explains.

Sipho made his professional debut by scoring a third round KO over Laten Vaaltein in Cullinan in June 2004. He then notched up a further four inside the distance wins, with only Sydney Milanzi lasting beyond the first round. His next two fights were valuable learning curves as he found himself facing seasoned opponents who were far more experienced. Jasper Seroka, from whom Sipho would eventually win the South African title, had too much experience and got the decision, and Gabriel Phakula, who had given Ali Funeka a close call, outpointed him over six rounds. The two back-to-back losses did not deter the determined Taliwe, who viewed them as valuable learning experiences. “I believe I learn with every fight, and I certainly learned a lot from Seroka and Phakula who are both top class fighters,” he says. That experience must have stood him in good stead, for his next four fights resulted in inside-the-distance victories. Then, in November last year, he was matched with one of the two fighters who had beaten him – Jasper Seroka. The fight, which took place at the Finetown Centre in Lenasia in November, was for the vacant South African juniorlightweight title. Seroka, who had an 18- 2 record going into the fight, was a challenging test. But Sipho, who had only 12 fights on his record, upset the odds by getting a unanimous decision after 12 all-action rounds.

When Sipho’s first defence came up against Joubert it was his 13th fight. “Although Warren was unbeaten going into this fight I was not worried as I had every confidence that his aggressive attacking style would be tailor-made for Sipho’s slick boxing. We had great sparring with Kgotla Baeti, who is a hard-hitting lightweight, and on the night everything went according to plan,” says Pailman. Casting aside any superstitions about it being his 13th fight, Taliwe turned in a scintillating performance, and a gutsy Joubert was never in the fight.

A day in the life of Sipho Taliwe starts at 4.30 am when he gets out of bed, regardless of the weather, to run 10-12km. He then puts in a day’s work at his manager’s company, Beachway Auto Spares in Maraisburg, before going off to the gym at around 17.00. Here he will put in 10 rounds of sparring, 10 rounds on the heavy bag and a gruelling session of calisthenics and ground exercises. I asked him what he does for fun and relaxation. “I spend all my spare time with my family and we go to church. At the weekend I allow myself to eat my favourite food which is pap and maas (sour milk). I love gospel music and I enjoy the singing in the church – but I am not good enough to be in the choir,” he says, flashing a big, pearly white grin. A lack of dedication and determination are not factors which are going to impede Sipho’s quest for top honours in the boxing ring, and with the outstanding ability he has shown to date, this may just be enough to get him where he eventually wants to be – a world champion.