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Women Should Not Be Boxing?

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It was meant to be a historic first for Africa and women’s professional boxing – it was a flop. On February 3 2007, Gwendolyn O’Neil of Guyana challenged Laila Ali, the daughter of legendary professional boxer Muhammad Ali, for a WBC super-middleweight world title at Emperors Palace, in Johannesburg. To the chagrin of 2,800 spectators, who paid at least $50 a head, with the late Nelson Mandela ringside, Ali pulverized O’Neil in the first round to win with a knockout. The then 30-year-old Ali earned a $522,000 purse and quit the sport.

Many boxing enthusiasts saw the fight as a breakthrough for struggling professional female boxing in South Africa, which started in 2001. But Rodney Berman, the man who put it together, had other thoughts. Berman, the leading promoter in Africa, wanted to fulfil Ali’s wish for his daughter to fight on the continent, like he did in Kinshasa in 1974 in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman. But this was the first and the last female bout under Berman’s Golden Gloves Promotions.

“I won’t do it again; I don’t want to think about seeing two women in the ring bleeding. For me it’s not a sport for women, it is something I think is unfeminine. In my opinion women shouldn’t be boxing. It doesn’t interest me. I can’t watch women taking punishment. They have been trying to encourage it in South Africa but I don’t know why? Laila Ali was different; she was accepted worldwide as something special. She was the only one I was interested in because of her family pedigree,” says Berman.

Top trainer Nick Durandt, of Durandt’s Boxing World, is also not keen on female boxing. Durandt, who trained one woman boxer, says women’s boxing doesn’t make business sense and there’s no big money in it. In 30 years as a trainer, Durandt guided 38 world champions and 97 South African champions.

Eight years after Ali’s bout, South Africa has not even come close to staging another high profile women’s bout.

“It’s not only a South Africa problem, but worldwide. Have you seen a female bout headline a big event?” asks Durandt.

“In general, boxing is in a bad state in South Africa, so women’s boxing is even worse. The unfortunate passing of Phindile Mwelase didn’t do them any favors. If the tragedy of that nature happens early in the existence of sport, many people will surely keep away from it. Women’s boxing is almost non-existent to be honest. Nick Durant would know better,” says Peter Leopeng, a senior boxing analyst.

It is not merely an African story. Female boxers in the United States are migrating in droves to Mexico where the sport is lucrative and growing. New York-based Alicia Ashley was one of the Americans to take her chances in Mexico. In September, Ashley lost her WBC super bantamweight title to the Mexican Jackie Nava. She is still boxing at the age of 48.

In Africa there is a dearth of fights and sponsorship. Many women have quit the sport but those who remain earn peanuts. According to Boxing South Africa, there are fewer than 40 licensed women boxers in the country, with a majority coming from the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng. Few of these boxers have challenged for world titles – none have won. The names are little known: Sandra Almeida, the country’s first professional boxer; Noni Tenge; Julie Tshabalala; Gabisile Tshabalala and Unathi Myekeni.

It is a dangerous game of risk in the ring. Mwelase, a fairly inexperienced boxer with five professional fights, was knocked unconscious in the sixth of eight rounds in October last year in Pretoria. She died at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital after two weeks in a coma – the first African female boxer to die. The 31-year-old was fighting for $400.

Kenyan Conjestina Achieng was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, Mathare Mental Hospital, but couldn’t pay the bill. The government had to intervene. She was a former middleweight champion and the first Kenyan to fight internationally. In 2004, Achieng beat Uganda’s Fiona Tugume for the vacant WIBF middleweight world title. She would go on to win four world titles under different categories, registering 17 wins and four draws, earning the nickname Hands of Stone.

Despite these difficulties, women’s boxing is not dead, merely struggling.

Stanley Ndlovu, owner of Sir Stan’s Athletics, is a struggling trainer who has not given up on female boxers. Ndlovu became a trainer in the 1970s to keep youth off the streets of Soweto. He trains three professional female boxers in his stable. Among several male champions, Ndlovu guided his own son, Takalani, to the junior IBF featherweight title.

“While there were riots in 1976, we were busy training the youngsters in our gyms. After the hard practise, we sent them home to protect them from the brutality of police in the streets. We saved them from crossfire. The passion I had for boxing from those days I still have this day. Boxing is the same as any other institution. If you are not disciplined, you will face the consequences alone. But I don’t tolerate that with my boxers,” says Ndlovu. Sir Stan’s Athletics is hidden in the heart of a tourist trap in the Maboneng Precinct, in Johannesburg.  Every weekday, Ndlovu nurtures the talent of his students. The late and unfortunate Mwelase turned professional in 2012 under his eye. All Ndlovu’s female students hail from rural areas and are unemployed. They all hope boxing will one day change their lives for the better.

“The mentality of promoters towards lady boxers must change, we won’t despair. Look at the [South African women’s football team], Banyana Banyana, today. No one gave them a chance of making it when they started. Here, I will produce Commonwealth champions,” says Ndlovu.

Still they come, female and proud with gloves on. It is a Friday morning in the gym at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, three young women are punching bags like they hate them. One of them is Cebile Mlotsa, who weighs less than 50 kilograms and has a quick jab.

“I don’t really pay attention to money, but I just want to turn professional and follow my passion. Just because there are two men who decided that it’s not going to work, it doesn’t mean that women should stop boxing. I started with a coach that told me you are getting there. There was no discrimination that I am a girl, they will help you. They were all very supportive,” says Mlotsa, an amateur boxer and engineering graduate.

In 2013, Mlotsa joined the Wits boxing gym because she saw people running around campus looking fit and followed them. After a few days in the gym, she was introduced to boxing. Mlotsa has only two fights in two years.

“I liked the intensity involved in it. You have to prepare and it takes a lot out of you. There are no girls or boys in our gym, we run with the boys, we are sparring with the boys, everyone is a boxer. My mother raised concerns about violence in boxing, but I told her Mandela was a boxer too,” she chuckles.

Hedda Wolmarans is a young promising boxer and sports management student who is turning professional this year. She is unfazed by the penury of the sport she took up in 2012 just to keep fit. Wolmarans is currently the Gauteng amateur champion in the under 69 kilogram division. She fought 13 times under different trainers around Johannesburg but late last year joined reputable trainer Colin Nathan.

“I have what it takes to be a professional. Colin Nathan has warned me it is not going to be easy to get fights because Rodney Berman is not interested in female boxers. It’s going to be hard but that’s a risk I am willing to take. I am not driven by money, I just want to fight and get a South African title. Look at other male South Africa boxers, they still keep their jobs. I fell in love with the sport, it is very difficult, yet addictive. You have to constantly push yourself,” says Wolmarans.  And constantly push the boundaries of the sport for women.

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The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019-20: LeBron James Scores Record $92 Million

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NBA salaries have skyrocketed in recent years, but the biggest stars have earned more off the court than on it to this point in their careers. LeBron James, who tops the ranking for the 2019-2020 season, has made more than twice as much from endorsements than his $270 million in playing salary over his first 16 years. Kevin Durant’s on-court earnings of $187 million in 12 seasons is dwarfed by his current ten-year, $275 million Nike deal.

At $92 million, including salary and endorsements, James is the NBA’s highest-paid player for the sixth straight year. It is a record haul for an active basketball player. Nike is his biggest backer, and the company is naming a new research lab at its Beaverton, Oregon, corporate campus after James. Last month, the 17th iteration of his Nike signature shoe, the LeBron XVII, hit stores.

The four-time NBA MVP added a pair of endorsement deals in 2019 with Rimowa luggage and Walmart, which joined Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza and NBA 2K in his sponsorship stable.

He also has a budding digital media company, Uninterrupted, and a production firm, SpringHill Entertainment, which will release a sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam in conjunction with Warner Bros. in 2021. All of the off-court work is worth an estimated $55 million for James this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers star’s comments about the NBA’s geopolitical mess in China also reveal the precarious position everyone in the league is in as political unrest in Hong Kong shows no signs of abating.

As the league’s 74th regular season tipped off Tuesday night, the NBA was still reeling from the crisis set off by a tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to free speech, but some players didn’t, including James, who called Morey “misinformed or not really educated” on the situation. “We love China,” said Rockets point guard James Harden.

It was a rare misstep for two of the league’s more media-savvy stars, both of whom have close ties to China. Adidas, which has Harden as the face of its basketball business, generated more revenue in China last year than in North America, and the Rockets are China’s most popular team after drafting native son Yao Ming in 2002.

Nike’s China revenue topped $6 billion during the last fiscal year, and the country is a growth leader for the brand. James has represented Nike on 15 off-season trips to China. The sports giant pays James more than $30 million annually to pitch its products around the globe.

And the threat of losing its growth trajectory in China could have far-reaching consequences for team valuations.

But back at home, the financials of NBA franchises remain solid, which is good for player salaries. The league’s salary cap is soaring, fueled largely by the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT signed in 2014.

NBA players are entitled to 51% of the league’s “basketball-related income” as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement. The rich TV deal and budding international business means 46 players will earn a playing salary of at least $25 million this season, according to Spotrac. The $25 million club had zero members five years ago. And unlike in the NFL, every dollar is guaranteed upon signing.

The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
The Highest-Paid NBA Players - Dataviz

On-court salaries in the NBA are capped based on a player’s number of years in the league and accolades earned in cases in which an award like MVP entitles them to a bigger percentage of a team’s salary cap.

So the pecking order for the elite stars is ultimately determined by their off-court income, with the shoe deal the biggest component of those earnings. There are ten active NBA players who will make at least $10 million from their shoe contracts this year, by Forbes’ count.

Stephen Curry comes in at No. 2 on the earnings list this year and is expected to generate $85 million this season, including $45 million off the court. Under Armour represents nearly half of his off-court income.

Curry’s $40.2 million salary from the Golden State Warriors is the highest in the history of the NBA; he’s in the third season of the five-year, $201 million contract he signed in 2017. Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media, has a development deal with Sony Pictures.

Unanimous’ first movie, Breakthrough, was released in April, with Curry playing a role in marketing the Christian-oriented film, which grossed $50 million on a $14 million budget.

Durant has the NBA’s second-biggest annual shoe contract after James’ at an estimated $26 million this season. His total earnings from his playing salary and endorsements is $73 million. Nike sells more KD shoes in China than in North America, according to Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman.

Like James and Curry, Durant has his own production company, which is co-producing a new basketball-themed drama, Swagger, that is inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experience and will air on the Apple TV+ streaming service.

The NBA’s ten highest-paid players are expected to earn a cumulative $600 million this year, including $250 million from endorsements, appearances, merchandise and media.

A Closer Look At The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
#10: Damian Lillard

Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax extension in July with the Portland Trail Blazers that kicks in for the 2021-2022 season. The final year is worth $54.25 million for the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star. Lillard’s Adidas shoe deal is worth roughly $10 million annually.

#9: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The “Greek Freak” is eligible for a five-year, $248 million contract extension next summer with the Milwaukee Bucks. It would be the richest deal in the history of the sport. In June, Nike unveiled the first signature shoe, Zoom Freak 1, for the 2019 NBA MVP.

#8: Chris Paul

Only Curry will earn more on the court this season than Paul, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. Paul was an early investor and ambassador for Beyond Meat, whose stock price has quadrupled since its initial public offering in May.

#7: Klay Thompson

Thompson’s coach, Steve Kerr, says the sharpshooter is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during the NBA Finals in June. But he’ll still collect his full $32.7 million salary—almost double last year’s—under the first season of the five-year, $190 million pact he signed in July. Thompson is the basketball face of Chinese shoe brand Anta.

#6: Kyrie Irving

Irving joins his third team in four years this season. His four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets is worth $136 million and includes an additional $4.3 million in potential incentives. A viral Pepsi ad campaign featuring Irving as the elderly Uncle Drew eventually led to a 2018 feature film; Irving has partial ownership of the character. Irving is another Beyond Meat investor.

#5: James Harden

The 2018 NBA MVP purchased a minority stake in the Houston Dynamo of MLS this summer for $15 million. Harden also holds equity stakes in BodyArmor, Stance socks and Art of Sport. His salary with the Rockets jumps $8 million this season with the start of a contract extension he signed in 2017.

#4: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook’s five-year, $207 million contract is the largest deal in the NBA right now. The eight-time All Star extended his deal with Nike’s Jordan brand in 2017 for another ten years and in 2018 received his first signature shoe, the Why Not Zer0. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.

#3: Kevin Durant

Durant is likely to miss the entire season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in June during the NBA Finals. He’ll still pocket his full first-year salary from the Brooklyn Nets under the four-year, $164 million deal he signed in July. He’s invested in more than 30 startups, including Postmates and investing app Acorns.

#2: Stephen Curry

The two-time MVP used some of his hoops money in June to buy a $31 million home in Atherton, California, with his wife, Ayesha. He also made a seven-figure donation this summer to Howard University to help launch a golf program at the school and recently signed an endorsement partnership with Callaway Golf. Curry became the only player to win the NBA MVP unanimously when he won his second of back-to-back awards in 2016.

#1: LeBron James

James signed an endorsement in 2019 with Walmart that is rooted in community work. He worked with the retail giant on its Fight Hunger. Spark Change. initiative, as well as the company’s back-to-school campaign. James is part of an investment group that owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises across Illinois and Florida.

-Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen

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