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Money, Secrets And Low Blows As Mayweather Lands In Africa

Published 8 years ago
By Forbes Africa

The first visit to Africa by the world’s highest paid sportsman brought disappointment, controversy and champagne.

Floyd Mayweather Jr, the undefeated pugilist from the United States, was treated like a king in South Africa, amid questions over who paid for him and his 16-strong entourage to be here.

The Mayweather controversy began as soon as he touched down at OR Tambo Airport, in Johannesburg on January 15. Journalists asked him why he was in the country. He replied that he was unsure, but he was here.

In a statement, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) described Mayweather’s visit as a tour of goodwill.

“No financial liabilities were incurred by our office for bringing Mayweather here,” the minister of sport and recreation, Fikile Mbalula, told the crowd in Soweto.

“We did not cough up a cent for the visit of Mayweather. The state can’t afford to pay his demands. The trip was sponsored by someone [whose name] I can’t disclose in the media,” says Mbalula’s spokesman, Paena Galane.

All we know for certain is that Mayweather was in the country to endorse a project called ‘Reawakening the Giant’, which aims to resuscitate boxing, a sport that once filled South Africans with pride. He was supposed to inspire young boxers and take part in coaching clinics for a week.

The 36 year old and five-division world champion instead spent a mere two days doing boxing work—shaking hands and sharing positive thoughts with people. On his second day in the country, with Mbalula in tow, Mayweather renamed the renowned Dube Boxing Gym in Soweto after Baby Jake Matlala, the late South African boxer and former world champion. There was a large crowd in attendance, but Mayweather made a hasty exit after the ceremony, much to the chagrin of his passionate fans.

Even worse, thousands of fans traveled long distances to other major cities to meet up with Mayweather but the American had other priorities. He instead went on shopping spree, enjoyed a nature reserve in the North West province and then visited Robben Island, where the late president, Nelson Mandela, was incarcerated for 18 years.

Mayweather refused to visit Mandela’s former cell 46664—saying he had spent two months in a cell and didn’t want to see another one. In 2012, he served a jail sentence for battering his ex-girlfriend.

Deprived of his luxurious lifestyle, Mayweather told people at a gala dinner in Johannesburg, he immediately drove his Bentley to his house and had his nails and hair treated by personal aides once he was released.

“As the ministry, we would have loved to have had him for the five days but we had to accept his terms because we didn’t pay a cent for him being here. We were glad that Soweto people benefited from his memorabilia that was auctioned for R800,000 ($71,000). This will help establish their academy and revamp the gym,” says Galane.

Mayweather also had a reunion with the only African to have fought him, Phillip Ndou, at a dinner. Ndou, who had the hopes of Africa on his shoulders, suffered a technical knockout to the American in their 2003 fight in Las Vegas. This encounter at Emperors Palace, in eastern Johannesburg, was equally excruciating for the South African, who is making a comeback after the brain damage he suffered in 2004.

“There’s a gentleman in the audience by the name of Phillip Ndou, I believe you know him, I believe you punched him, I believe you knocked him out,” the master of ceremonies and local sports reporter, Robert Marawa, said to Mayweather before calling Ndou up on stage.

Once on stage with Mayweather, Ndou appealed for a rematch.

“Look, as I stand here I can proudly say I fought the best in the world and I would like to do it again,” said Ndou.

“If you wanna be the best, you gotta fight the best. That particular time he was one of the tough guys. He put pressure on me, he bruised me,” said Mayweather.

Marawa declared that Ndou was not fit enough to continue boxing, which many in the audience thought was condescending. Mayweather politely suggested that his former opponent consider retirement.

“To fight Mayweather you need to have a chin. In Phillip Ndou’s fight, his chin wasn’t too bad for the seven rounds, Mayweather caught him out. Mayweather is a class act, you have to be really good to beat him,” says Brian Mitchell, a South African manager and former WBA and IBF world champion.

“When he says he is the best, he is not just saying it in words. Many men had fallen [when facing Mayweather], and among them is our own Phillip Ndou,” says Mbalula.

When FORBES AFRICA later interviewed Ndou, he said he was unfazed by the suggestion that he should consider retiring. The 36 year old says he has a few years of boxing left in him.

“Wow man, I never thought I would ever meet with Floyd again. We are friends on Twitter but he doesn’t reply to my tweets. I wasn’t joking about the rematch in South Africa. I believe I am the only guy who can stop his unbeaten record. I know the media have written me off,” says Ndou.

Before the American returned home, Steve Masike, a co-founder of the renamed gym, fired a salvo. Masike acknowledged the plan to rename their gym was announced at a memorial service for Matlala, but claims there was no further consultation with them.

“As a sensible man, I expected someone from the minister’s office to call us and discuss the way forward. The gym has a committee, there’s a constitution, [we are] not a one man-show,” says Masike.

Galane disputes this claim.

“We are aware of the people who are rubbishing our efforts to build the Baby Jake Matlala Boxing Academy. The founders of the gym are not involved, hence they were never part of the discussions, the club has its management that we consulted with,” he says.

Galane says the gym is the property of City of Johannesburg.

“We didn’t need the founders’ permission, we had the consent of the Johannesburg Boxing Organization,” he says.

Jeff Ngwenya, the Johannesburg Boxing Organization chairman, said that the correct people at the Dube gym were fully involved in the renaming process.

Mbalula initially attempted to get Mayweather to attend the South African Sports Awards, a ceremony that was criticized because of the large amount of money spent on it. Whether Mayweather’s visit to the country was a success or not is still up in the air, but Mbalula’s dream of hobnobbing with the American superstar was certainly fulfilled.

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Related Topics: #Boxing, #Champagne, #Controversy, #Floyd Mayweather Jr, #March 2014, #Sportsman.