Related Stories By Southern Times Writer Published: 20140131
Pound for Pound - The Allure of Professional Boxing


Boxing, like athletics, is one of the oldest sporting codes, which continue to mesmerise spectators even in the modern world.

When you talk of boxing, the names of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Frank Bruno immediately come to mind.

Some critics dismiss professional boxing as brutal and prefer the highly regulated environment of “amateur” or “Olympic” boxing with protective head-gear, among other imperatives. 

Despite the various criticisms levelled against it and sometimes great controversy, professional boxing, especially in the heavyweight category, continues to have a strong alluring factor. Even professional boxing bouts for women are becoming increasingly popular.

Professional boxing is a big crowd puller throughout Southern Africa. Hopefully, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr’s recent visit to South Africa is a sign of better things to come, especially if a world title fight can be arranged for this legendary boxer in this part of the world. 

The hype and marketing frenzy around Mayweather fights can also help to raise the profile of the sport in Southern Africa. South Africa and Zimbabwe have been dominant forces in professional boxing in the region producing some of the great names to captivate the interest of Southern Africa in the form of legendary pugilists are Dingaan Thobela, Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, Gerry Coetzee, Proud “Kilimanjaro” Chinembiri, Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago, Anderson Size, Masibulela “Hawk” Makepula and many others.

Despite the huge reservoir of world-class boxing talent in the region, Southern African, and African boxers in general, are not really making waves internationally. They are seldom main attractions at the widely marketed and televised international title bouts in Europe, Asia and North America. This implies that African boxers are not commanding the huge purse paid world stars such as the retired Lennox Lewis, the Klitschko brothers, Vitaly and Wladmir, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Shane Moseley.

Even the title fights that are held mostly in South Africa and broadcasted by the Supersport Television Channel do not command the same hype as those in North America, Asia and Europe. Put simply, Africans fight for peanuts!

Now considering the inherent health risks in the sport of professional boxing, the various professional boxing and sport authorities of the region should be fighting for African boxers to get the same respect and treatment by the promoters and International sanctioning bodies.

Furthermore, professional boxing should be utilised to promote sports tourism to Southern Africa. The region has a wonderful climate. It is relatively peaceful, politically and economically stable compared to other parts of the world   where some of these big money fights take place. However, the region and its boxers are not being aggressively marketed on the world stage to bring the much-needed revenue to Southern Africa.

African Football has produced world-class performers such Lucas Radebe, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Steven Piennar who have earned or are earning millions of dollars through their engagement as professional sports persons. In addition, African Professional Golfers have not done too badly with big names, world-class competitors and earners such Ernie Els, Nick Price, Mark MacNulty, Retief Goosen, Charl Westhuizen and Brandon Grace competing with the best in the business.  Clearly, African professional boxers are struggling. They are paupers!

Obviously, something is wrong with the African professional boxing set-up. It needs innovative sports marketers and leaders to diagnose the reasons for the sorry state of the sport and the boxers themselves. After that, speedy remedial action is required.

The conventional business models are no longer applicable.  Unfortunately, the era of “business as usual” is gone. There is need to engage international sponsors and sanctioning bodies to totally overhaul the African professional boxing industry. Furthermore, there is need for organisers of bouts in Southern Africa to develop good working relationships with the American, European and Asian TV networks that are the prime sources of patronage and most importantly, revenue in professional boxing.

The promotion of professional boxing offers Southern African tourism authorities yet another tool to combat the prevailing negative impressions and stereotypes of Africa as a continent of people dying of hunger, civil wars, HIV/AIDS and natural disasters. There are so many places of interest, tourist resort centres and facilities whose fortunes could be practically and literally transformed through professional boxing. It also provides Supersport as the dominant TV service provider and host broadcaster for practically any part of Southern Africa with good business opportunities of transforming professional boxing into a lucrative pursuit for everyone involved in the industry.

Professional boxing and regional tourist authorities really need to come together in a consultative forum, Pitso or Indaba to strategise and really determine the way forward.  The sport can be utilised for business development as well as poverty eradication for talented youngsters, many of whom see professional boxing as their only ticket out of deprivation and oblivion to wealth and super-star status.

South African professional boxing authorities, marketers, promoters, trainers and, of course, Supersport also need to think outside the box. They need to go beyond their “splendid isolation” mentality, whereby every big fight is taking place in Gauteng or Eastern Cape. It might be initially expensive but there is greater value and long-term benefits in cultivating markets through staging of regional and international bouts at various venues throughout Southern Africa. The region has potentially excellent venues in the form of Victoria Falls, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Okavango, Maputo, Luanda and Blantyre. If the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” could be organised in Zaire (DRC) in the early 1970s what is really stopping us now?

The time for bold decisions is now. Hopefully, we will in our lifetime, get to witness reputable challengers emerging from Southern Africa going head to head as well as pound for pound with likes of the Klitschko brothers, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and David Haye.

Bringing the fights right here in Southern Africa, where our boxers could and should enjoy home-ground advantage anywhere within the region, is even more wonderful. It would be thrilling if Southern Africa could produce multi-millionaires through this sport. It certainly provides good entertainment for many folks!

I hope and pray that the economic planners and gurus at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) also think of modern multi-purpose arenas for sport when they talk of infrastructural development for the region. As Martin Luther King stated, “I have a dream!”