Swaying into his Norwood executive gym 15 minutes late for our rendezvous, boxing trainer-cum-promoter Nick Durandt carries himself with a hip-hop artist’s demeanour; a white boy with an appetite for the big-and-bad black-boy image.
”I’m the biggest figure in boxing,” says 47-year-old Durandt. ”If it’s great and it’s in boxing, you bet I’ve seen it.” Durandt has produced 31 world champions and 84 South African champions in his 22 years in the sport. The best figures by far, with the closest contender in the country boasting only 15 champions in their stable.
He sports a pair of basketball shoes; a pair of black nylon sweatpants and a black converse muscle vest that accentuates his many tattoos and loads of bling. He wears thick gold rings on almost every finger and flashes gold chains with boxing medallions. This is part of the grand fight game performance. You’ve got to ”look hard to win” in this game.
Durandt masters the hard-ass guy image for most of the conversation. He knocks and bangs on the office desk, raising his voice to emphasis his well-rehearsed opinions. It’s only when the subject turns to family that the tough talk ebbs and yields to sentiment, albeit for a short moment.
”I just want to be a loving father and husband,” he says, his face betraying emotions held back by self-regard.
Durandt is married to his second wife, Michelle, and has fathered two sons. Their names are tattooed around his right arm.
”They are protected,” he says, pointing out the three names framed by barbed wire. Durandt’s youngest son, Storm — he pulls up his vest to show me — has his portrait drawn on his father’s right shoulder blade. ”He’s my baby.” The eldest, Damien, works with him as a ring corner assistant.
Pushing my luck, I ask him if he ever buys flowers for his wife, only to have him flip and revert to boxing talk.
”I don’t carry roses, I carry fighting gloves,” he says, proposing that he has a ”love affair with boxing”.
The seasoned trainer, who describes himself as ”everything” to his boxers, conflates comments about his family life and his relationship with his fighters. The ”function of a father is to take care of his children and these guys entrust me with their lives”, he says, adding that he’s always there for his fighters, as ”an adviser, a trainer, doctor .. and a fucking ATM machine”.
But families break up, even in boxing. Recently Cassius Baloyi, who has been with Durandt for 17 years, announced that he was considering dumping him as trainer and manager. Baloyi made his comments after losing his IBF championship to Malcolm ”the hit man” Klassen. He cited possible betrayal from Durandt as his motivation. The tussle has since been resolved harmoniously.
Durandt describes the bout between his two fighters as ”the most difficult time” of his career.
”I had nothing to gain in that fight … they are both my babies and they wanted to win,” he says.
Speaking with sadness in his voice, he says Baloyi ”came out smelling like manure because of the bad and unnecessary things he said”.
But he is not disconcerted by the idea of fighters leaving him. ”I’m not one that cries when a fighter leaves,” he says. ”Divorce is a common thing today. I don’t necessarily vote for it … but you can’t handcuff someone.
”If a guy wants to leave, I will shake his hand and say goodbye, but there’s no return to my establishment upon departure.”
The lesson, he says, is that ”the grass is greener on the other side because there’s more fertiliser on that side”.
Durandt’s grass turned green early in life. At the age of 14 he opened his first business, a video shop in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. He left school long before matric and turned to working as a bouncer in night clubs. He says he raised his seed capital from the seven years spent in that job. By the time he was 18 years old, he owned a number of clothing shops in the city.
Today, he’s the kingmaker in South African boxing and the walls of his office bear testimony to this: photographs of handshake poses with Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Will Smith, Don King, Mike Tyson — a multitude of famous people stare at visitors as if to vouch for Durandt.
Born on December 26, Boxing Day, Durandt says his life path was predestined: ”I was meant to be in the fight game.” A tattoo on his left calf reads ”Blood, Sweat and Tears”.
”No one has achieved as much as I have in local boxing,” he says, ”and I am not done. I will only stop when I cannot walk to the ring any more.”