Colin Nathan is one of the few people who can say they are living the dream. As a successful boxing trainer, he wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work.
He shares his beautiful house in Norwood, south of Johannesburg, with his wife Lara, his eight-year-old son Daniel and a new addition to the family, Jamie, who is only two months old.
After settling in at his home, we get straight to where it all began for the man some regard as presently the most successful trainer in the country.
“I was only seven years old when I started nagging my father to take me with him to the boxing gym,” he says.
Nathan brightens up and become passionate when he talks about his formative years in boxing while growing up in Cape Town. His father, Stan, was a cutman and worked with boxers like the Whiteboy brothers Chris and Derrick, Sydney Hoho and Bashew Sibaca.
At the Sea Point Boxing Club, the young Nathan fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the boxing gym. His favorite activity was using boxers’ stomachs as punching bag, and the pugilists were happy to let him as he was too small and skinny to hurt them. In 1988, while in the fourth grade at school, Nathan remembers yelling instructions at the sparring boxers, much to the amusement of everyone in the gym.
Noticing his growing passion for the sport, Stan started taking his son to work with him in the corners of his boxers. This was illegal and when noticed in 1990, Stan was forced to register him as a bucket boy. This makes Nathan the youngest bucket man in South African history.
Boxing has always been a constant in Nathan’s life, especially as his mother, Helen, was a professional boxing judge, the first woman to hold the position in the country. Nathan’s early boxing career was not restricted to carrying the bucket. He was also given the role of wrapping boxers’ hands, a skill that even experienced trainers find difficult to master. Nathan says his most memorable family outings were going to boxing tournaments to watch epic fights like the national title bout between Nika Khumalo and Phumzile Madikane. He also never missed the boxing program Blow By Blow that was aired by the public broadcaster, SABC, on Sunday afternoons.
But boxing wasn’t Nathan’s only passion. At the age of 16, he received national colors in judo. He represented South Africa in several tournaments and was crowned national champion. Despite this, he never stopped his boxing activities. Nathan started holding mitts for boxers to hit and repaired cuts in the corner. He says this was a turning point and he quit judo as his responsibilities with the boxers mounted.
Nathan’s involvement in boxing deepened when he moved to Johannesburg in 1998 to double up as a television presenter on SABC. This led to him becoming the youngest boxing commentator in the country at 20 years of age. Another milestone was in 2000 when Nathan, at the age of 22, became the youngest South African to own a boxing gym – the Hot Box Gym in Glenhazel, a north-eastern suburb of Johannesburg.
After making a name for himself on television, boxers started approaching Nathan to be their manager. The first professional boxer in his stable was bantamweight, Andries Dick, who won his first five fights under Nathan. His second was Springkaan Khongoane who is still working with Nathan to this day. By this time, Nathan knew he wanted to become a fulltime trainer. Being relatively young, it was tough convincing the boxing fraternity that he was the real deal. Boxing authorities used to mistake him for a boxer during weigh-ins and he found it difficult to convince promoters to sign his fighters.
Around two years later, Khongoane became his first champion when he won the provincial super-bantamweight title. With his growing success, former national champions like Tshepo Lefele, Mpush Makambi and Malcolm Klassen started joining his ranks and it became more and more difficult for Nathan to keep his head above the turbulent waters. He decided to sign up with KO promotions and later with Branco Sports Productions, run by Branco Milenkovic. In 2005, he approached the biggest promoter in the country, Rodney Berman, who told Nathan he didn’t have any boxers he wanted to promote. Berman, however, had a change of heart the following year and signed up the young trainer in the Golden Gloves Promotions family. The rest is history.
“The last eight years have been nothing short of amazing,” says Nathan.
He has great respect for Berman, whom he says is one of his idols. Nathan rubbishes claims that the only reason Berman gave him a chance was because they are both Jewish. At one stage, people even said he was Berman’s nephew, especially when the promoter walked him down the aisle at his wedding.
Berman’s faith in Nathan has paid off. He has since produced world champions like Hekkie Budler, the IBO and WBA strawweight champion and the Ring Magazine’s No.1 ranked boxer in his division, and Zolani Marali, the former WBF junior-welterweight champion. He is also training the highly-rated Ryno Liebenberg who is undefeated in 16 fights.
To take his training to the next level, Nathan spent two weeks with Freddie Roach, considered by many to be the world’s greatest trainer, in his Wild Card gym in Los Angeles. So, what did Nathan learn from Manny Pacquiao’s famous trainer?
“Commitment and responsibility,” says Nathan.
He has also met and taken advice from other renowned trainers like Angelo Dundee, who worked with Muhammad Ali, and Teddy Atlas, who worked with Mike Tyson. But does he consider himself the best trainer in South Africa?
“In my eyes, yes, I think I am,” he says.
The latest success is Budler. The trainer considers Budler’s win over the dangerous Nkosinathi Joyi as his best achievement.
“Few gave light-hitting Hekkie a chance against the hard-hitting Joyi. But people didn’t know that I briefly worked with Joyi in my gym and I knew his weak points,” he says.
His biggest disappointment was when Budler lost his IBO light flyweight title, his only professional loss, by a split decision to Gideon Buthelezi.
Colin Nathan says he was the first in the country to open his gym to commercial clients. He boasts training celebrities like musician Danny K, sport presenter Carol Tshabalala and President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
Although he now is well known in the country, Nathan has his wife and kids to ground him whenever he gets big-headed. To prove the point, he asks his wife who the best boxing trainer in the country is. With a mischievous smile on her face, Lara says “Nick Durandt?”