South African sportsman of the year for 2019 Moruti Mthalane prides himself on hard work. He also carries the confidence that every world champion has, but does not hide the anxiety that pressure brings when he steps into the ring.
Mthalane is currently in his second reign as the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight champion. When he started out 19 years ago, he would not have been tipped as a prospect to succeed on the world stage with an amateur career record that stood at 35 wins and 35 losses.
Mthalane told the Mail & Guardian that at an amateur level, he lost so many fights because he was still learning the art of boxing and figuring out new techniques. His professional career currently stands at 38 wins and two losses.
His two losses came in 2004 and 2008. While the 2008 fight against Nonito Donaire shows a loss, it may have been the first big break the babyface — as he is known — needed. It was the first time that he fought outside of South Africa, something he’d only dreamt of.
“Those losses didn’t disturb me or have any effect on my career, because they were controversial losses. I came back strongly, because I haven’t lost since that second fight in 2008, and even that fight, it was controversial. Many people complained when the fight was stopped, so it has never affected me.”
A year later his next fantasy became reality when he was back in South Africa to win his first IBF title.
“I never thought that one day I would be fighting overseas and I would be a world champion,” he said.
Mthalane’s first championship reign was marred by pay disputes and inactivity, as he struggled to find fights to defend his title, which eventually led to the IBF revoking his belt. It was a point in his career where he could have thrown in the towel, but he stuck with those in his corner to help him get back up. It’s no wonder Mthalane pays tribute to his former coach, the late Nick Durandt, and his current coach Colin Lathan.
“With Nick Durandt, I used to know him very well, I used to know what he likes, what he doesn’t like and at the same time, he used to understand me. Our relationship was very good.”
Lathan’s coaching guided Mthalane back to gold in 2018, and it would be the best year of his career, defending his title around Asia.
The next highlight for Mthalane will be a fight against Akira Yaegashi on December 23 in Yokohama. Yaegashi, the former IBF flyweight champion, will want that title back around his waist and has the height and reach advantage over Mthalane. But this is where the babyface’s staunchness kicks in.
He discloses that he’s nervous before every bout, but that it’s only because of the pressure he puts himself under to produce a positive result. He emphasises that he draws self-motivation from the anxiety as he believes that he is prepared for anything. This ultimately turns his edginess to confidence.
The faith he has in himself shows by what he had to say about his next opponent: “He is a strong fighter. I respect him a lot because he is a former champion, but for sure I will have this one. I will defend my title.”