The undefeated Lwando Floyd Molwana got the shock of his boxing career as he tumbled to the ground twice after suffering the double jabs and straight rights from experienced former bantamweight champion Oscar Mashudu Chauke.
At the Johannesburg leg of the Premier Boxing League (PBL), the odds were against the 22-year-old Molwana who had to face Chauke in front of his home crowd at the Black Chain Centre in Soweto. Molwana showed guts but couldn’t stop himself from falling to the canvas in the third and fifth rounds.
The gallant youngster, however, showed heart to continue fighting throughout the action-packed and entertaining six-round bout, much to Chauke’s frustration.
“It was tough but I had to win this one. I thought he’d be down forever when I knocked him down, but he always stood up to fight back. He annoyed me,” says Chauke after winning the fight on points.
Nevertheless, Chauke broke Molwana’s 10-fight undefeated streak and positioned himself among the top contenders for the winner-take-all prize. He also sent out a fearsome message to his next opponent, former South African junior-featherweight champion Macbute Sinyabi.
The night also saw physical onslaughts between Grant Fourie and Vusumzi Tyatyeka as well as Toto Helebe and Innocent Matengo. Chauke’s clinical performance, however, stood out and he earned himself the head honcho award—the prize given to the fighter of the night—worth $500 (R5,000).
These were just six of the 16 boxers vying for the $100,000 (R1 million) overall prize money at stake. This is on top of the $18,000 (R180,000) sum that each boxer receives for participating in three matches over nine months. These fighters made the cut from a pool of 53 applicants. This is the elite crop that SA boxing currently offers, but none of them have ever come close to earning fees as substantial as this.
“Today we have a South African boxing champion defending his title in Spain for a mere R75,000. At PBL we have boxers fighting six rounds for R60,000 and one boxer stands a chance of winning a million rand,” claims Dicksy Ngqula, the brains behind the boxing league.
Ngqula, a former television boxing commentator and businessman, spent five years developing this concept to resuscitate boxing before selling it to Boxing South Africa (BSA) in 2012. He was also inspired by cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL).
“The PBL is modelled on the IPL. It is the first of its kind in the country and its aim is to resuscitate boxing and bring it back to its former glory,” Ngqula says.
South African boxers usually receive $1,000 (R10,000), or less, for a six-round match. The lack of sponsorship is a constant frustration for boxers. Philip Ndou is a former WBA international featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder and fought the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter, Floyd Mayweather. The cash-strapped Ndou recently accepted a fight with little-known Namibian Pohamba Mandume for $4,500 (R45,000), reduced from $10,000 (R100,000), in September.
“Boxing has challenges these days. I know a lot about the rules and regulations of the game because I have been involved in it for more than 10 years as a television commentator. I grew up with the sport back in the Eastern Cape,” says Ngqula.
He says the PBL had to be born to rekindle boxing. It needed a punch to awaken it from its slumber. In the recent past, boxing had been rated among the top sports in the country and enjoyed weekly television broadcasts.
“Through a strategic analysis of the situation, we diagnosed the problems in the sport. We came up with honest questions that required honest answers. So, I think PBL answers some of the problems, including packaging and promotion,” says Ngqula.
“Boxing is definitely not where it used to be and not where it should be at present… You can have the best seven guys in the same division all gunning for the same title, but unfortunately never get the chance to fight each other. We are denied derbies.”
This is what the PBL is trying to achieve. It wants to give boxers a chance to fight for a title. Ngqula says besides paying boxers, what other dissenting promoters call inflated purses, the league aims to empower boxers and increase their marketability.
“We want to see the money going to the boxers. Our vision is to empower them because they are the most important people in the game. South Africa does not quite get that; we want to entrench it,” he claims.
Ngqula says the bouts were reduced to six rounds to create action-packed matches; like Twenty-20 cricket. A minimum of two female fights has also been endorsed as curtain-raisers.
“We want to recruit new spectators to boxing, hence we involved other entertainment forms such as designers, musical acts and betting, but we have to keep the integrity of the game safe,” he says.
The Eastern Cape gambling board, BSA, a local Sunday newspaper and a national television station are among the legion of partners that the league has amassed since launching in March.
The plan for the future is to export the concept to the rest of the continent and then hopefully to international promoters.
“We will export this idea someday. We think we have come up with a novelty business which can be executed anywhere. This is a legacy project. West African promoters have seen this and they want to come on board,” says Ngqula.
The league organizers are meticulous in seeing all participants adhere to boxing regulations. BSA-commissioned medical doctor, Robert Selepe, was on hand to examine the boxers during a weigh-in session a day before the fight. Ngqula told FORBES AFRICA a boxer who fails to meet the weight requirements will forfeit 30% of their match fee.
PBL spokesman, Brian Ndevu, acknowledges that they have earned supporters as well as dissenters. He says the latter does not worry them.
The league was initially supposed to be run monthly but has since deviated from that plan. An event scheduled for Cape Town was skipped for the Johannesburg leg.
In the Eastern Cape, boxing promoters had threatened to banish the tournament in the province, with promoter Ayanda Matiti preventing his two boxers from participating any further. The Western Cape and Eastern Cape are thought to be where most of the PBL’s dissenters reside.
There is a rumor that other small-time promoters disapprove of the PBL’s huge payments, that they can’t match.
But, Ngqula is optimistic about the future. With BSA’s endorsement, and the continued support of spectators, the league is expected to grow over the next five years.
Whether the league continues with the razzmatazz it started with or becomes the international phenomenon that Ngqula envisages, will go to the scorecards.