When Moruti Mthalane started boxing as an amateur at the age of 13, he always showed commitment and was destined for bigger things.
‘Baby Face’, as he is affectionately known, is from a family of seven that is heavily involved in boxing. His father, Michael, used to train him and his older brother, Innocent, was a national champion. He grew up in Durban, in the KwaZulu Natal province, and just like most kids in his neighborhood he was an avid football fan and supported Orlando Pirates. However, his passion for boxing took over and he is now the current IBO flyweight champion and former IBF flyweight champion.
“Sport has always been part of my life. I remember back in the days as a youngster I used to play soccer with other kids in Durban. I preferred to be around the brilliant players who were capable of dribbling and scoring goals. Pirates were my favorite team and I used to admire Steve Lekoelea because he was such an exciting player, a good passer of the ball and he used to create scoring opportunities. However my passion for boxing took control and I concentrated on spending more of my time in the ring,” he says.
“I have always been focused as a boxer and I had ambition to make it to the top level. I was confident that I would make it because whenever I went to the gym I gave my best.”
When Mthalane turned professional at the age of 19, he realized he had to take his boxing more seriously. Throughout his career, he has had many tough bouts and fought all over the world. Now, at the age of 32, he feels there is still a lot he can offer in the ring. One of Mthalane’s biggest highlights was when he won the IBF world flyweight title against Julio Miranda of Mexico in 2009.
“I always make sure that I prepare well for my fights. I respect my job as a professional boxer and I arrive on time at the gym. It is very important to work hard in the gym and give all the necessary effort in whatever I do. I have the winning mentality and I am always determined to give everything that I can against whoever I face. I like to attack, even when it is tough in the ring. I just need to remain optimistic that I can do it. My victory against Julio Miranda was fantastic, I was very happy with my achievement when I won, you could just see the way how I celebrated that it really meant a lot to me.”
He has not looked back since that fight and feels that under his manager and trainer, Nick Durandt, his reign as a world champion will continue.
“It is good that I am working with Durandt as my trainer because he is the best. He has always guided me well when we are preparing for the fight. I have been working with Nick for a very long time and we have had a very good relationship,” he says.
Mthalane was stripped of his IBF belt when he pulled out of his mandatory defence against Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng last year. That fight was set to earn him R120,000. He was instead offered R1 million to fight Filipino Jether Oliva for the vacant IBO title – he won the fight and has since defended the title.
Mthalane is inspired by the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who recently fought in the highest-paid boxing match the sport has ever seen. What does the South African think of the huge sums these superstars were paid?
“It is very encouraging when some top boxers in the world get paid well. It is very good for the sport.”
“I have always been interested in watching other top boxers around the world. I used to enjoy watching the heavyweights, the likes of Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield. Whenever there was a big heavyweight fight, I woke up early in the morning to watch the fight. I really enjoyed watching Bowe, his style really impressed me.”
Though he is disappointed that boxing does not get the television coverage it deserves in South Africa, Mthalane is determined to emulate past South African heroes such as ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala and Dingaan Thobela.
“Here in South Africa we have also produced many top professional boxers. I admired the late Baby Jake’s fighting style. He was very short but he used to give the taller fighters a tough time. It was really exciting watching him fight, his movements in the ring and the way he used to throw punches impressed me. There is a lot that I gained and learned from watching how him fight. I am the type of fighter that likes to attack. Even when it is really tough in the ring, I am always determined to give my best.”
Many boxers around the world have fallen victim to bankruptcy when their careers come to an end. Most did not make wise decisions with the money they earned. However, it seems to be a different story with Mthalane.
He is aware that boxing careers are short and has invested his money while he is earning it. Many up and coming boxers look up to him and he is always prepared to give them advice.
“I am so thankful that I got an opportunity to be a professional boxer and through what I earn I am able to look after myself well.”
“I believe I will still have a good life after I retire from boxing because I am not just thinking about now. I have invested a lot for my future. I live a clean lifestyle and I always make sure that I hang around the good people. It is very important for youngsters to follow their dreams and do the right things in life. Discipline is very important in boxing. One has to be focused inside and outside the ring. I encourage the young boxers to be very committed and work very hard in the gym. In order to be ready for the fight, one has to take the right steps during the preparations,” he says.
Mthalane is a religious man and a huge R&B fan. In his downtime he listens to R. Kelly and Brandy.
He has proven his worth in the ring and is determined that there is a lot more he can offer. It is now up to boxing administrators and promoters to ensure that boxing is followed by millions in Africa and the boxers get rewarded for their hard work.