There will be four world champions in the gym in 2020 — Lerato Dlamini

Lerato Dlamini

Lerato Dlamini believes that the gym he trains at, Hotbox, will have four major title winners by the end of the year.

“Hekkie (Budler) is going to be a WBC champ and I am as well,” said Dlamini.

The WBC Silver Featherweight title holder believes him, Budler, Moruti Mthalane and Azinga Fuzile will all have major belts around their waists.

Before Dlamini can fight for the big one, however, he has to get past Nathaniel Kakololo on March 8 at the Orient Theatre, East London.

“I should look like an elite fighter (against Kakololo),” he said.

Confidence is running high with Dlamini as he is coming from a convincing win over Dave Penalosa in 2019, where many experts felt he was the underdog going into the fight.

“I drew a lot of confidence you know. I perform better when I’m the underdog. But now I don’t have to lower my performance next week. I’m going to raise the bar. I’m really confident going into this fight,” said the fighter nicknamed “Lights Out”.

The importance of the matchup cannot be underestimated as Dlamini knows that he is edging closer to a world title shot. He currently ranked fourth by the WBC and with talk that world champion Gary Russell is planning to move up to 130 pounds, Dlamini could find himself in a position to fight in an eliminator in the near future.

He is not getting ahead of himself though.

“I can’t overlook Nathaniel. I need to get through him and then I will look forward to the future. This is a must-win fight for me,” he said.

“This fight is very big for me, bigger than the Penalosa fight. So I’m going to look impressive. I’m focused, I’m disciplined and I’m ready.”

So what are Dlamini’s predictions for this fight?

“Judging by how I’ve been training and sparring I’m going to knock him out,” he says.

“I don’t know which round, I can’t predict which round but he’s very tough. Maybe in the later rounds I’ll stop him.”

Lights Out feels he has had the good preparations for this bout.

“I’ve been putting in rounds with (Ludumo) Lamati, Anthony Grobelaar, David Rajuille, Lusanda Komanisi, recently (Tshifiwa) Munyai and (Ronald) Malindi. So I’ve had very good sparring partners. Different styles of boxing. So I’m feeling good going into this fight. Camp has been amazing.”

Altamura believes SA will produce more champions

Mike Altamura and Colin Nathan.

MTK Global International Consultant Mike Altamura believes that there are a number of South African fighters who can become international superstars in years to come. The boxing manager spent a week in the country and was in East London over the weekend for the Azinga Fuzile-Shavkat Rakhimov fight.

“There was (Khanyile) Bulana, the other night, who overcame an acid test. A lot of people wrote him off completely in that fight (against Phila Mpontshana). So he’s moved now to 12-0. I think he’s got a good future, we just have to be smart with the kind of fights that will move him forward and keep developing his skill set,” said he said.

Altamura also mentioned Luyanda Ntwanambe whose fight against Fikile Mlonyeni excited many fans.

“I think he’s very, very talented. Very raw, he has is fighting spirit and he had a good test the other night because he was under heavy assault in rounds seven and eight where the other guy (Mlonyeni) was game and tested him to the body and he came back from that. He’s still a young kid, I believe 8-0-1 but I think he’s got a good future,” he said.

The Australian, who has been managing fighters for 19 years, also spoke about Lerato Dlamini who is ranked seventh by the WBC.

“Boxing is so record driven in this generation that people see that he lost on debut but they don’t see that he lost on debut, they just see a loss and write him off a little bit. But I think he can give a lot of the top featherweights in the world a hell of a tough time. He might not be on a lot of people’s radars. I know here he is because he beat Simphiwe Vetyeka and a lot of notable fighters in South Africa. Obviously there is the win over Dave Penalosa,” he said.

The fighters he talked about are signed with MTK Africa, which is headed by Colin Nathan with Altamura working closely with him.

So what are the plans for the fighters?

Regarding Dlamini he said: “The key is to just build his ranking. Hopefully within the next 12 to 18 months close in on a world title eliminator for him and deliver him the opportunity. I believe he’s got the skills to be at that level so I think we just have be proactive in setting the plans in motion, keep him busy and see where it takes us. He’s got a very good local promoter as well (Rumble Africa) so that makes it easier from a management perspective.”

“Hekkie Budler we just looking where to place him. Maybe place him somewhere in November and then just another assault on a world title. He’s still at that level, he’s a hell of fighter. This might be the last run of his career so let’s make it a great one.”

What about the legendary Moruti Mthalane?

“He’s like fine win,” he says. “It’s an incredible story. One of my closest friends outside of boxing is Hussein Hussein and Moruti beat him in a world title eliminator 12 years ago. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Moruti would be a force 12 years later and never would I have thought that this last world title run I’d have the opportunity to work with a South African boxing legend like that. Such a pleasant, nice and humble man. You know he’s a fighter we positioned for the IBF World Title. Then the subsequent opportunity we landed in Macau and also the mandatory defense in Japan. Every time he comes to me and he’s like ‘you know Mike thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me and my family and for all the other South African boxers’. I’m like you got it the wrong way ‘thank you for letting me be part of your journey and even if you in the last few years of your career, thank you for letting me be part of your story and legacy’. Looks like we’ve got a big fight announcement for him which is in its final stages of negotiating.”

Mthalane might have just a few fights left in his magnificent career but MTK’s involvement in Africa might just help us see more African fighters given the opportunity to fight for major titles.

The boxers are the stars — Colin Nathan

Lerato Dlamini and Colin Nathan.

Colin Nathan has seen his fighters pulling off one great victory after another as his gym has been on an incredible run in recent years. The latest win being, off course, Lerato Dlamini outclassing Dave Penalosa in Saudi Arabia.

You would think the trainer/manager Nathan would want to take credit for these achievements but that is not the case. He believes it is the fighters who make him look good.

“Without the fighter we don’t have the sport, we don’t have jobs, we don’t have careers. It’s because of them,” he says.

The trainer known as “Nomakanjani” spoke to 10 Count about the state of affairs at his Hot Box Gym, No Doubt Management and MTK Africa.

“The gym and the team are still on a high because of Lerato’s outstanding upset victory against all odds. A lot of people in this country wrote him off for this fight. I thought he boxed out of his skin and produced a world class performance and kept the South African flag smiling,” says Nathan.

The manager also talked about former two-weight world champion Hekkie Budler who is back in training after losing his WBA title to Hiroto Kyoguchi, last December.

“We’ve got a championship that we are working on for him,” said Nathan.

Nomakanjani also talked about Ryno Liebenberg who was recently a victim of a controversial decision in Germany. His fight against Nick Hannig was declared a draw despite many people being of the opinion that he had won the bout.

“I thought he won the fight eight rounds to four. I was trying to be as objective and unbiased as possible. Getting a draw in Germany is pretty much as good as getting a win, so I’m very proud of him,” said Nathan.

“People are asking what’s next? We obviously working on a rematch towards the end of the year for that fight. Ryno proved that he’s still got a lot of fights in him still at this stage of his career.”

Which other fighters will be in action soon?

“I’ve got Hedda Wolmarans fighting for the SA junior welterweight title (against Nomandithini Ndyambo) on the fourth of August. I’ve go Shervontaigh Koopman fighting next week on the undercard of Ludumo Lamati-ichie Mepranum for Rumble Africa Promotions. We’ve got (Simpiwe) Konkco-Wanheng Menayothin that I’m busy putting together right now. Also finalizing Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov and Azinga Fuzile. So we very busy,” said Nathan.

The manager told 10 Count that there is still “a lot of work being done behind the scenes” regarding Konkco’s WBC strawweight title challenge and Fuzile’s junior lightweight IBF title eliminator.

Despite many people not believing that South African boxers can go all the way to the top of the sport, Nathan is determined to keep pushing his charges to greatness. He believes recent results have proven that local fighters have what it takes.

“It proves that we’ve got the talent to go abroad and (fighters) carve their names in stone. We have the ability, we have the talent and we just need the opportunities,” he says.

“We proving that now, we’ve got the opportunities now and we getting the results.”

I always believed I could become champion — Kriel

Deejay Kriel. Photo by Nick Lourens.

When you mention names such as Henry Armstrong, Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Rafael Marquez and Ricardo Mayorga you think of elite names in the sport of boxing. These fighters all became champions. Another thing these stars have in common is that before they held titles they lost their professional debuts.

One of the latest additions to the list of champions who lost their first fight in the paid ranks before holding a world title is none other than IBF Strawweight champion Deejay Kriel.

This is a list that the 23-year-old had never thought about.

“I didn’t know that,” said Kriel when asked about it.

“Like a lot of people know I lost my first three amateur fights and I just carried on boxing because I have the love for boxing. A lot of people at that time told me, when I was still an amateur, ‘you have a professional style and we believe you can do good’. They said to me I’ve got what it takes to be a world champion. That drove me a lot. I also had the hunger, I wanted to box. It was the only sport I was good at even though I lost those fights.”

Kriel remembers his pro debut.

“The hardest fight was in my pro debut against a guy called Colin Tloubatla. It wasn’t because the fighter was so hard to get over but what happened was I thought I was going to come in and be undefeated because we all want to be like Floyd Mayweather. To get over that I remember I was in tears wondering what to do. My old coach Rupert (van Aswegen) told me we going to get a rematch and ‘we are going to beat him bad’.”

Kriel got the rematch and comfortably beat Tloubatla and set his career in motion. Four years and four months later his hand was raised, after stopping Carlos Licona, he was named the new world champion.

“I always believed that I could become a world champion. I was always with guys like Hekkie Budler and Moruti Mthalane in the ring. I did very well from where I’ve come from in boxing. I always believed that I could be at the top,” he says.

He talks fondly of the champions he has sparred with over the years. The likes of Budler, Mthalane and Nonito Donaire have had numerous sparring sessions with the fighter nicknamed “Bamooza”.

“I learned a lot from these guys. Working with these guys made me a better boxer. They are the best in their divisions. Moruti is the best in his division and the best in South Africa (pound for pound) I believe. Hekkie was the best in his divisions. Simphiwe (Khonco) is another. There are a lot of names I can go through. The guys played a big role in my career. I really appreciate it because they taught me a lot of what I know today,” says Bamooza.

Kriel’s career has grown a lot since he lost the four round bout to Tloubatla, his only professional loss to date. In 2018 he decided to make a change in his life. Despite his career steadily growing in South Africa, he decided to speed up the process by relocating from his home in Boksburg to Las Vegas.

“It was one of the things that I always wanted to do. I always got advice from people to move to the US and try making it there. I always believed that you’ve got to take risks to get somewhere. I wanted to be different from everybody else. If you watch my boxing I’m different from a lot of guys in South Africa. I try different things,” he says.

He does admit that moving away from his loved ones was not easy.

“I was very lonely (in first few months in the US) it was tough to get through. But what always drove me was that I knew what I wanted. That drove me to stay and not come back because I was lonely. My coach (Kenny Adams) and everybody also helped by making it comfortable for me there. I have good people behind me in the US,” says the new champion.

Kriel motivated ahead of title fight

Deejay Kriel. Photo by Nick Lourens.

Anybody that has ever been around DeeJay Kriel will know that the 23-year-old has been dreaming about fighting for a world title for a long time. Kriel will get his shot when he challenges Carlos Licona for the IBF Minimumweight World Title on February 16 at the Microsoft Theatre, Los Angeles.

“I am so excited, I’ve been dreaming of a shot like this since I started boxing. So I’m feeling very motivated and excited,” Kriel told 10 Count.

The man who has held the WBC International Title before has been living in Las Vegas in recent months.

“When they say this is the place to be for boxing they are not lying, that is the truth. This is the heart of boxing. The difference (between South Africa and USA) is that here it’s boxing all day, everyday for me since I’ve been here and they know how to promote their sports. I have also come to realise that the boxing theory the trainers bring to their fighters is very different to South Africa.”

Licona won the IBF title in December and picked Kriel for his first defence. The question is does the champion and his camp underestimate Kriel? The challenge thinks so.

“Definitely!” he said.

“I’m going to win no matter what.”

Kriel has sparred with some of the sport’s biggest names in the smaller weight divisions. He has trained with the likes of Moruti Mthalane, Hekkie Budler and Simphiwe Khonco in South Africa. In the US he sparred with Nonito Donaire as the Filipino was getting ready for the World Boxing Super Series.

With Kriel fighting for a world title next month and Khonco ranked at number one by the WBC, one has to wonder if it is possible that we could see an all-South African title unification bout in the future.

“Well it depends on time,” says Kriel.

“Because I’m going to win the IBF now then I have to defend and from there move up to 108lbs. I want to be a multi division world champion. That’s always been my plan and goal.”

So how much of a surprise was it to get the call for a world title shot?

“God is good man. I was praying to get this fight. We were working to get this fight for a few weeks. My coach Kenny Adams was always on the grind calling everyone, trying to get the fight. Then Sean Gibbons helped us out so thanks to him I got this fight,” said the South African.

Kriel promised to make his home nation proud by becoming a world champion.

The slick boxer also thanked his sponsors (MED Attorneys, C&E Engineering, Eastern Hydraulics, CR Visser Transport, Bokwa Incorporated and Anima Mundi) for helping him in his career.

I have to look after the fighter – Colin Nathan

Vusi Mtolo, Hekkie Budler and Colin Nathan. Photo by Nick Lourens.

Trainer Colin Nathan has been criticized by some people on social media for stopping Hekkie Budler’s fight against Hiroto Kyoguchi at the end of the 10th round. Some have said that Nathan stopped the WBA title fight too early as they feel Budler was not hurt.

“I will never apologise for looking after the well-being of a fighter. It’s the fighter’s responsibility to fight in the ring and it’s my responsibility to look after the fighter. Hekkie was legitimately ill the night before, he had sinus issues and his nose was blocked going into the sixth round. After round six he couldn’t breath, he told me. I felt round eight and nine he was shipping a lot of head shots and I said to him he is taking too many shots for my liking,” said Nathan.

“He tried to comeback and turn it around but it just wasn’t his day. No excuses I’ll own the loss, it was my responsibility, it was my actions. I’m the one who called the fight. But having said that we lost to the better man on the night. Hiroto is a good fighter and all credit to him, he was the better man on the night and he got the win.”

Nathan feels that Budler can still fight at the top and be a champion again.

“I believe that he’s got another title run in him,” said the trainer/manager nicknamed “Nomakanjani”.

“We’ll give him a rest for a few months. I like May or June for him to come back and see how he responds after this loss. It was a heart breaking loss for all of us and it wasn’t an easy decision for me to do but I will never apologise for looking after the well-being of a fighter. My fighters will always come first in my career.”

He does, however, acknowledge that there will always be people who do not agree with his decision.

“People will always have an opinion, people will always be judgmental naturally because boxing is an individual sport. At the end of the day nobody knows Hekkie the way I do. I just feel it was the right moment to stop the contest. There was no point in going on for another six minutes. All those old school guys who have the mentality that ‘oh as the champions he should go out on his shield’ – no. There is a reason why the game has evolved, there is a reason why we don’t use six ounce horse hair gloves anymore, there is a reason why we don’t do 15 rounds anymore. The safety aspect of boxing comes first. I don’t need to remind you that people die in the sport. It’s my responsibility to make sure the fighter walks in the ring and walks out of the ring. I will always do that.”


Budler motivated to win more


Hekkie Budler.

I remember speaking to Hekkie Budler when he was the WBA and IBO Minimumweight World Champion and he told me his ultimate goal was to win the Ring Magazine title. This year he realised his dream by beating Ryoichi Taguchi to hold the belt at light flyweight.

“It has rejuvenated me a bit and I want to keep it more than anything now. It’s given me that extra push to train hard and to achieve more and do more. A lot of guys stop doing the hard training when they win what they want, I don’t believe in that. I want to win more. I want to win more titles. I need two more (WBC and WBO). So there are few more things that I still want to win,” said Budler.

The champion known as “The Hexecutioner” will put his WBA “Super” and Ring belts on the line when he takes on Hiroto Kyoguchi in Macao on December 31.

Kyoguchi boasts a 73% knockout percentage, which is quite high in the lower weight divisions.

“I think he’s a good fighter,” says Budler. “He hits hard and is a knockout artist, technically skilled guy but I’ll be ready for him. If you worry about the guy knocking you out then you not going to be ready. You have to keep your hands up anyway no matter who you fight because anybody can knock you out. I’m ready, we have the perfect game plan so I’m ready.”

With the fight being on New Year’s Eve one would assume that preparing for a world title defence could be tricky with people around you celebrating the festive season.

“I’m actually very lucky,” says Budler.

“I think this is the fourth or fifth time in my boxing career that I’ve fought over December. The first time was my fourth fight when I fought in Canada (against Mario Gaxiola). You get used to it. My wife understands it, she takes it a bit harder than me but she understands it. The family has to understand that it’s my job and I have to go do my business and then bring home the bacon. That’s just how it works. I’m used to it. It’s hard seeing other people enjoying Christmas and eating. But at least I’m away so I can’t see my family eating what they are going to eat. South Africans love their food over Christmas but it’s okay.”

Sharing this struggle is off course training partner Moruti Mthalane, who will be facing Masahiro Sekamoto on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s been brilliant (training with Mthalane). I got a lot of sparring with a legend like Moruti. It’s amazing. I’ve always said he lost his IBF title because he didn’t fight. He should have been IBF champion for much longer. He’s a great fighter and it’s an honour to fight on the same bill,” said Budler.

Evergreen Mthalane confident ahead of title defense

Moruti Mthalane. Photo by Nick Lourens.

There are not too many 36-year-old flyweights still fighting at the top level, but the ever-green Moruti “Babyface” Mthalane did not get that memo. The IBF champion is still looking strong and feels he can go on for a while.

“Age is just a number, I’m still feeling very strong,” he says. “I’m still feeling like a young boy. I know these young boys are very strong and they going undermine me and think they can take advantage of the fact that I’m old but I’ll show them.”

Mthalane defends his world title against Masahiro Sakamoto of Japan on New Year’s Eve in Macao. This is Babyface’s first defence since beating Muhammad Waseem back in July to regain the IBF strap.

“I’ve been over the moon having my title back because if you remember it’s a title I had before and never lost in the ring but lost it due to other problems,” said Mthalane who was stripped off the title back in 2013 due to inactivity.

Taking on Sakamoto presents its challenges which the champion has noted.

“He is such a good boxer. He’s a banger so he hits hard. That’s why I’m working hard on my defence. Working hard on attacking him as well. I’ll be ready for him.”

Mthalane has been training at Hotbox Gym in Glenhazel, Johannesburg, alongside Hekkie Budler who will also be on the bill. Budler will be defending his WBA “super” Light Flyweight title against Hiroto Kyoguchi on the night.

“We’ve been training together, preparing for this fight. Doing good together. Sometimes we spar each other, helping each other. I think we’ll go there and represent South Africa well. We coming from the same gym so it’s a good thing,” said Mthalane.

Any predictions from the champ?

“I know I’ll win. Every time I go fight I’m always ready for 12 rounds so when the knockout comes it will be a bonus. At the end of the day I’m the one who is going to be victorious.”