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The making of a champion

Phumzile “Sweetboy” Madikane may not yet be a household name — but give him another year or two and he could become one of the greats of South African boxing.

Until last month Madikane, who holds the SA junior welterweight title, was not known to many people outside the Eastern Cape. When he took on Harold “the Hammer” Volbrecht for the welterweight crown the (white) newspapers gave him no chance. “How can he hope to beat a man who has twice fought for a world title?” they asked.

But they were in for a surprise. After being dropped in the second round, the Port Elizabeth hero got up and gave the champ a boxing lesson. With only four minutes to go Madikane was well ahead on points. But then he dropped his guard for a second — and “The Hammer” caught him with a left hook. Madikane went down.

Volbrecht did not step back — he hit Madikane again while he was on the canvass. Referee Clement Martin should have stepped in and warned Volbrecht, or maybe even given the fight to Madikane.

But he started to count instead. Madikane was on his feet at “10” but the ref ruled that he had been counted out. Afterwards Martin said he had made a mistake — and decided that he would be a referee no longer.

When Madikane found out he had lost, he burst into tears. He had been so close to victory. But the tears dried up when he learned that he had won the respect of many boxing fans — and that he could be sure of big things in the future.


Madikane grew up in a working class family in the townships around Cape Town. It was there that he first learned to box. For the young Madikane, boxing was not only a sport. It was a way to defend himself from the “bully-boys”.

But just when he was learning the ropes his family moved to the Transkei. There were no boxing clubs there — and Phumzile’s boxing career was put on ice.

A few years later, Phumzile moved to Port Elizabeth to finish his matric — and to carry on where he left off in the ring. Four years ago, he turned professional.

As a tall, skinny lightweight he lost his first two fights to fighters who were older and wiser. Then, after two good wins, he took on top SA title challenger (and future champion) Nika Kumalo. Madikane had to “boil down” to make the weight. This made him weak on the night. He lost on points.

“I’d really like to fight Nika again — I’m 100 percent sure I can beat him easily,” says Madikane. “Until now he’s been keeping out of my way because he knows he doesn’t have a chance of repeating that 1984 win.”


After that Madikane beat everyone who crossed his path, winning 18 in a row, most on knockouts. Two years ago he travelled to Johannesburg and shocked Transvaal boxing fans. He outpointed Brett Taylor for the SA junior welterweight title.

Since then he has defended his title three times. Now he has one big hope: a return fight with Volbrecht. And this time he is certain he can win. Madikane’s trainer, Patrick Fulela, calls Phumzile a “model fighter”. He says: “Phumzile gives his best. He doesn’t chase the bright lights and trains harder than any boxer I know.”

Madikane, who is not married, shares a small house with Fulela in Zwide township. At the moment he is a full-time pro — but he still hopes to go back to school one day. He never finished his matric because of the school boycotts of 1984-6.


In the meantime Madikane is giving his heart to boxing. But it is not easy. There are many problems for boxers like Madikane who live in the eastern Cape or in places outside the big cities. It is hard to find people to put up money for a fight in these places — and you do not often see the fights on TV.

“We feel angry that people like Ellerines, who have mainly black customers, don’t sponsor our tournaments. They often sponsor tournaments with white fighters instead,” says Zolisa Mlaleki of Supreme People’s Promotions, who promotes most of Madikane’s fights.

Because there is little money, Madikane must do without many of the things that white fighters have. He trains in the Centenary Hall in New Brighton without a ring and with little equipment.

“It might be bad for Phumzile, but other fighters I know have even a harder time. For example, take Vuyani Nene (the SA junior flyweight champ) — he has to train in a tiny Uitenhage Hostel room in candle light,” said Fulela.


Madikane has had his fair share of problems and difficulties — but he has turned into an excellent boxer who improves with each fight.

Tall for a featherweight (1.8 meters), he has a chopping left jab, a tight defence and perfect balance. He can weaken the strongest of boxers with his body punching. He can box southpaw or straight. Add all this together and you have a boxer who can make it all the way to a world title.

His aim, he says, is first to get even with Kumalo and Volbrecht. Then he will defend his welterweight title three times before taking the junior middleweight title. Then he will be ready to take on the world.

“Our belief is that life is like a stepladder, and you have to take it one step at a time,” says Fulela. But enough said! Action speaks louder than words! And when “Sweetboy” Madikane’s fists do the talking, action is the name of the game!

NEW WORDS a household name — famous, known to many people “to put on ice” — to wait for a while professional — somebody who does something for money. A professional boxer is paid to fight sponsor — to put up money. promote — a person who promotes a fight is called a promoter. He will book the hall, advertise the fight and pay the fighters.


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