Soweto's modest golden gloves

Bongani Mwelase, the reigning national welterweight champion, believes he is the best technical knockout (TKO) boxer the country has produced.

The 26-year-old from Meadowlands in Soweto has a record of 10 knockouts in his 11 fights since he turned professional in 2006.

“I am the best boxer in the country at the moment and that will never change. Bongani is bigger than any other boxer in the country. I don’t just talk but also do the job in the ring,” he says proudly.

This weekend Mwelase will get his long-awaited international title shot against Juan Carlos Villarreal for the World Boxing Foundation (WBF) welterweight championship.
The 38-year-old Argentinian has drawn one of his 50 professional bouts, lost only twice and won 24 of his fights by knockout.

“He is coming here to learn a lesson from me and I will definitely teach him something. I’ve been boxing for quite some time,” says Mwelase.

Unlike his fellow boxers in Soweto and his twin brother, Siphiwe, Bongani Mwelase was dragged to the Mofolo boxing club at the age of eight by his neighbour. This neighbour hoped to instil some discipline in him after Mwelase beat up the neighbour’s two children for not buying him amaskopas (coloured popcorn) after he had asked them to.

“I was a problem child who enjoyed fighting at all times and so was my brother. After beating them up their father came and dragged me to the boxing gym because he wanted me to be beaten. When we got there I was beaten by my opponent and didn’t know what was happening. I learned a lesson in a hard way,” he says.

After being beaten at training for three days, Mwelase had to face the real challenge during a boxing tournament. On the day Mwelase beat his opponent by technical knockout and won his first boxing medal. He says: “I never looked back. From that moment on I wanted more medals. My neighbour made me join boxing because he wanted me to be disciplined and that’s exactly what happened.”

Because of his talent the hard puncher competed against senior boxers at the age of 13. Mwelase enjoyed boxing so much that he fought about 15 opponents in a single tournament. By the end of his amateur career in 2006 he had fought 450 fights, losing only 20.

The highlight of his career came in 2006 when he won the Commonwealth amateur welterweight championship and became South Africa’s first black boxing champion at the Games.

That was the beginning of empty promises, he says. “Administrators from boxing started making me promises that they couldn’t fulfil. Boxing administrators only care about what goes into their pockets.

“I’m a genius but I don’t even have a single sponsor. Sponsors are only willing to give me supplements and I don’t know if supplements will pay my bills or will make me run from Johannesburg to Germiston, where I train. Boxers across the world are well taken care of by their federations, which is why they perform well. That is why my twin brother Siphiwe is no longer a boxer,” says Mwelase.

Mwelase’s main goal is to stage a fight at the newly renovated Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

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