Great expectations for Khotso Motau

Unbeaten knockout artist and Olympian Khotso Motau is destined to be one of the greatest middleweights in the world. At least that is what the media frenzy would have us believe, comparing the South African welterweight champion with world greats.

Perhaps the question the local media should be asking is: Will Motau become the next Dingaan Thobela? Thobela—who arguably is on his way to being regarded as the most gifted fighter produced by South Africa—won three credible world crowns. He accomplished this by proving in gruelling battles that he was meant for the championship.

Maybe Motau should be likened to great middleweights such as Americans “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Robinson if he wins a credible world title.

To reach those heights, Hagler had to endure and walk through a hail of devastating blows, unleashed by the equally fearsome Thomas Hearns, to land his blows in a super fight appropriately hailed as “the eight minutes that electrified the world”. Hagler stopped Hearns in round three more than 20 years ago.

Motau said he has never absorbed punishment in his career as an amateur or a professional and is not at ease being compared with fire-spitting fighters such as Hagler.

“I have not been tested yet as I was never in a position of taking bombs from opponents,” said Motau. “I never miss my training. In the ring I am alert, keeping a vigilant eye on my opponent, moment by moment.”

Motau learned from his hero, American Floyd Mayweather Jnr (WBC middleweight kingpin), that “boxing is an art; you have to hit your adversary without getting hit”.

Motau undoubtedly has run out of local foes who can fight him for more than a round. He has registered 11 paid fights, winning them all on knockouts. Fighters he has taken out in the first round include Page Tshesane, Innocent Ncobo, Emmanuel Gwala, Loyolo Katylon, Terrence Ngobeni, Oupa Mahlangu, Xolani Ngemtu and Kabelo Ndlovu.

Motau has stopped Christopher Buthelezi (in the second round) and Kenneth Masikwane (in the fifth). The only fighter who really challenged him was Simon Mokoena, who crumbled in round 11 of the national title fight.

This week, at the famous Dube Boxing Club, it was easy to see why Motau’s fearsome reputation is growing. He was training hard and sweat cascaded down his face. Those watching were in awe of his breathtaking speed as he punched the bag, pads, medicine balls and speed balls and boxed with an imaginary opponent.

The Dube stable has produced a number of greats, including Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, the first local to win four world titles, former multiple national champion Anthony Morodi and former South African featherweight kingpin Levy “Golden Boy” Madi.

Motau—who was born on October 7 1981 and grew up in Dube—started lacing gloves in 1992. He has boxed in more than 300 amateur fights, winning most on knockouts. His greatest disappointment was failing to win a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He lost against the 2003 world championship silver medallist, Ukraine’s Oleg Mashkin.

Though Motau still believes he won that fight, impartial observers like boxing connoisseur Ben “TNT” Lekalake say Motau’s work rate deteriorated towards the end, costing him the fight.

In the amateur ranks he has boxed in a number of countries, including Morocco, Denmark, Russia and Nigeria.

Motau’s dream is to win a WBC title “because the WBC is the most prestigious body” and he believes his promoter, Rodney Berman, will help turn this dream into a reality. Berman is in the process of arranging his first international fight in the paid ranks in Canada on July 14.

Motau is studying sports recreation and fitness management in Johannesburg and is three assignments away from his qualification. But fitness is not only an academic pursuit for the boxer. His trainer, Stanley Ndlovu, said: “Unlike most trainers, I always restrain Motau from over-training as he never wants to stop once he starts.”

If Motau lives up to the hype, he will have some big shoes to fill. South African boxing is bereft of athletes worthy of iconic status. Not since the likes of Brian Mitchell, Thobela and Matlala has a boxer captured and sustained the imagination of the public.

Motau admits to only one addiction: boxing. “It is like a drug to me and I cannot imagine myself not involved in it. I would like to be remembered as the first South African to unify the world titles.”

But before the local media and boxing fraternity gets ahead of itself, it might be worth remembering that Motau himself says only a rigorous test against a rugged foe will determine if he is the real deal or just another rose that wilts at the earliest misfortune.

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