In 2003, all eyes and ears in the local boxing world were on Mbali Zantsi, a new kid in the business. Scores of talented boxers flocked to her new Johannesburg-based stable, Showtime Boxing Promotions.
Many big names left their stables to be promoted by her, including superstars such as Simphiwe “V12” Vetyeka, Sizwe “The Fighting Eagle” Sinyabi and Oscar “Golden Boy” Chauke.
Her peers didn’t like the intrusion. People would say things such as: “We can’t be promoting boxing with a woman; what does she know about the game?”
Sometimes the comments were put to her directly. But “Don Queen”, named after legendary American promoter Don King, is still in the game.
Zantsi told the Mail & Guardian: “A lot of women look up to me as a trailblazer and a pioneer, and that’s why I have stayed this long in the game. I was never going to fail them. Males quit but I was not made to break.”
Tenacity is critical in a boxing industry that is struggling to survive.
Without much television coverage, there is less money for new fighters and boxing bouts. A fight she organised with the Nelson Mandela metro almost didn’t go ahead because the SABC was not going to show it. It had to be postponed by a week to today.
“I’m not a quitter. I’m doing this for the love of boxing. I said, if there will be a TV blackout, then there must be another way of doing this.”
This includes getting fights on television, even when she is not paid for the broadcast rights.
The fight, in her hometown of Port Elizabeth, will be dominated by women fighters.
Headlining the bill is one of South Africa’s most feared female fighters, Unathi “African Queen” Myekeni. She is also known as “Show Girl” after her famous boxing brother, Mhikiza “Showtime” Myekeni.
Unathi will defend her World Boxing Federation (WBF) flyweight crown against local golden girl Nozipho Bell.
The focus on women fighters doesn’t mean that this is all Zantsi focuses on. “I don’t solely promote females; I promote males too. Even this tournament will be a mixed tournament but women will take centre stage.
“I have not left behind my male boxers but they will fight on the under-card, while women will be [in] the main bouts.”
A two-time winner of the G-Sport Women’s Sport Award and the 2016 WBF Promoter of the Year, Zantsi is determined to revive the glory of the game.But without support from municipalities and business, the chances are minimal. There’s also nothing she can do for those who are half-hearted.
“If you only have boxers who are weak, can’t really box or are not serious in the gym, then there’s nothing to promote or sell to the world.”
Zantsi illustrates her point by mentioning current World Boxing Organisation world champion Zolani “Last Born” Tete and former International Boxing Organisation lightweight champion Xolisani “Nomeva” Ndongeni as examples of boxers who lead lives of champions.
The two are renowned for spending more time in the gym than out of it. Tete was recently appointed as brand ambassador by German car-maker Mercedes-Benz.
“Sponsors love boxers who are dedicated. Noni Tenge has a [sponsored] Mini Cooper and all of this [is] due to her dedication. That’s what we want for all our girls.”
Zantsi believes, for female boxing to grow, more women need to show an interest in promoting the game.
“We need more women so they can assist in promoting females. It doesn’t help to have numbers and then people don’t promote. They must be able to raise money whether it’s from business, corporate or municipalities. This is to make sure that your business of promotion is growing.”