Johannesburg - The untimely death of renowned boxing trainer Nick “Mthakathi” Durandt has left the country and the boxing fraternity reeling.
Mzansi’s most successful boxing mentor, Durandt failed to answer the proverbial final bell after being killed in a motorbike accident in Clarens in the Free State on Friday.
Although he had not boxed himself, Durandt enjoyed a sparkling career, having trained an unprecedented 95 South African champions in all 17 weight divisions, as well as 38 world title holders and 27 international kingpins through all the leading sanctioning boxing bodies globally.
Boxers such as Thulani “Sugarboy” Malinga, Isaac Hlatshwayo, Phillip “Time Bomb” Ndou, Cassius “Hitman” Baloyi, Zolani “Lastborn” Tete and Silence Mabuza trained and won titles under Durandt’s tutelage.
Besides his stellar roster of fighters, Durandt also trained international superstars such as Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr. He also helped train US boxer Hasim Rahman, who knocked out three-time world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis at Carnival City in the famous 'Bliksem in Brakpan' fight in 2001.
Mthakathi was a flamboyant, no-nonsense and frank personality, who was widely respected by fighters, trainers and managers from different camps, as well as by boxing journalists for the discipline he instilled in his charges.
He was also a ring tactician of note. When Durandt shouted instructions from the corner as one of his charges was slugging it out in the ring, people watching the bout would be enthralled by the way in which Durandt’s fighter would come out smoking and win big.
One such classic case was when he helped Baloyi lift the World Boxing Union and International Boxing Federation featherweight titles, which the boxer defended successfully many times.
Boxers from the Eastern Cape would trek to Johannesburg just to be part of his stable.
For all his strict ways, like many shrewd trainers, Durandt had a good heart and was liked by many boxing scribes. I saw this side of him while on a work assignment with his camp in Reno in Nevada in the US in 2006.
Abundance of tournaments
Mabuza was to meet Mexican Rafael Márquez at the International Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation bantamweight championships. Before the fight, Durandt let me stay close to Mabuza’s camp so that I could get all the scoops, to the chagrin of the international media.
Although Mabuza was knocked out in the fourth round, Durandt showed humility by inviting me to the boxer’s dressing room afterwards to give me exclusive insight on why his man lost.
That is how forthright Mthakathi was.
Now he has gone to the beyond to set up a training camp with the likes of Ginger Tshabalala, his former fighter. The late light heavyweight kingpin was killed in central Johannesburg in 2001.
Mthakathi announced his retirement as a trainer in May last year, but continued to run several gyms in Johannesburg. He told me of his disillusionment with the way in which boxing authorities were running the profession compared with previous years, when there was an abundance of tournaments.
He handed over the reins to his son Damian, who oversees the boxing gyms in Johannesburg. Damian was with his dad when he died.
When Mthakathi called it quits, he said he would focus on heading a motorbike club.
May his soul rest in peace.
*Meanwhile, Kaizer Chiefs announced via Twitter on Saturday that their most successful coach of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jeff Butler, had died.
The tweet read: “Our deepest condolences to the family & friends of our former coach‚ Jeff Butler, after passing on this morning. May his soul RIP #Khosi4Life.”
The Premier Soccer League dedicated a minute’s silence in honour of Butler in last night’s Nedbank Cup quarterfinal between Amakhosi and SuperSport United at the FNB Stadium.