Undefeated Boxing Champ, Thulani “Tulz” Mbenge, aims to popularise boxing, as he gears up for the biggest fight of his career with Mexican boxer, Diego Cruz.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
It is without a doubt that Thulani is the golden boy of South African boxing. The Boxer has been on an impressive winning streak, with twelve fights that saw him conquer all his opponents. But come 3rd March, he will face a new challenge when he faces off with Mexican boxer Diego Cruz, in Emperors Palace. Many sports publications are already predicting that the undefeated champ might be under pressure to maintain his winning streak.
“With anything in life, no pressure, no gold’,” he says with glistering confidence.
“This will be a big step for me, I won’t lie. I am rated no.68 in the world and winning the title in March will put me on 15 in the ratings of WBC (World Boxing Council), which means I can fight for WBC, anytime.”
He adds: “I shine on the light’. I have never been given a task and failed – I am unbeaten for a reason. I’ve had twelve fights and had ten knock outs and two wins by points. I work hard.”
Like anyone else, I have failed a lot. I was an amateur and I lost so many fights but I also won. So, I don’t fear failure.
Meeting Thulani at Smith’s Boxing Gym, in Fourways, I am startled by his rather inviting demeanour. For an undefeated champ he surprisingly carries a permanent and infectious smile. He is tall and passes off as the guy next door but the scar under his right eye slightly gives away that he is a fearless fighter. Because of his boy next door look, some have labelled him the “smiling assassin”.
The Mdantsane born-boxer reveals that he isn’t fazed by losing in life as it is inevitable. As a boxer, he maintains that he cancels out any thoughts of failure.
“Like anyone else, I have failed a lot. I was an amateur and I lost so many fights but I also won. So, I don’t fear failure,” he says.
“I make sure I put in my hours, I know what I am facing and I work hard to prepare for the task at hand.”
The champ says he inherited his fighting spirit from his parents, especially his mother. He reveres the way his mother managed to raise him and his four siblings even though her and his father were unemployed.”
“My mother is a fighter. She has been there for us throughout the hard times.
“It was hard for us to even go to proper schools, but my mother always supported me with boxing. Even my dad is a fighter because he is one man who never gave up in life.
“So, I would say I got it from my parents because they gave me the courage to do better in life and never allowed social issues get to me, but pushed me to get to the other side, where I would be a better person. That’s why I wanted to be a fighter, so I can be a better person and show my peers that there is more to life than drugs, crime etc.”
Before winning the bronze in 2014 at the Common Wealth Games in Glasgow, Thulani was just a young boxer in Mdantsane with dreams of conquering the world. He recalls that at the age of 12 he joined boxing after being notorious for being embroiled in fights at School. After his teacher grew tired of calling his parents to complain about his behaviour, he made him join the local boxing club.
“Few days into it I was really enjoying and I started beating all the other guys and that made me famous at school,” he shares with a laugh.
When I hit someone and they fall, I am like ‘Yaass that’s it’, because that’s what I want for my family, I want them to knock out life.
The young champ would earn his stripes in the Mdantsane scene as a fighter to look out for. But it was in 2013 when he won the Gold Medal at his very first National games in Johannesburg that he thought about pursuing boxing full time.
Coming from a township that gave us respected boxers like Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Nkosana Mgxaji, Masibulele Makepula and many others; Thulani tries by all means to uphold the high standard. He shares that to be born from a township with such a golden reputation in boxing inspires him continuously.
As a boxer, he describes himself as a powerful fighter.
“In boxing we have Southpaw (boxer has his right hand and right foot forward, leading with right jabs, and following with a left cross right hook) and Orthodox (boxer places his left foot farther in front of the right foot, thus having his weaker side closer to the opponent). My style is Orthodox and I have quite a long range, I hit from a distance and I don’t allow you to come closer to me.
“I would say my height also helps, that’s my advantage most of the time, because I have such long arms and they help me,” he laughs.
Thulani says he draws inspiration from his family every time he hits the ring. As the breadwinner, he states that he does all of this for them. “When I hit someone and they fall, I am like ‘Yaass that’s it’, because that’s what I want for my family, I want them to knock out life.”
While Boxing may not be as popular as other sporting codes like Soccer, rugby and Cricket in the country, Thulani says recently it’s been doing very well. Even the Boxing Awards came back on the calendar in 2016, after a six-year absence. Thulani says he has a dream of making boxing also a household sport.
“As an entrepreneur, I want people to know and to get more involved. I want people to see that there is life in boxing.”
He adds: “Look at people like Floyd Mayweather; they are big because they are relevant in media. We also have the likes Zolani Tete, a world champion, last year he achieved the fastest knock out in history and he is from here. People should know about him.”
Thulani also shares that he is also broadening his avenues and becoming an entrepreneur. He adds that even though former boxing legends paved the way for them, they didn’t have other options to invest in beyond boxing and hence now he wants to show people there are many more opportunities beyond the sport.
“I want to leave a legacy. I want to make sure that we as boxers are businessmen too.
“The reality is that sport is a very short career and that’s why I am open to exploring.
“We must think beyond because I don’t want to be known as just as boxer. We as human beings have unlimited potential but we must just put our mind and invest time in whatever it is that we want.”
As for the future, Thulani says people can expect fireworks on 3rd March. If he wins the fight then he plans to defend the title against four international fighters, this year. More importantly, he wants the upcoming fight to show South Africans that boxing is still very much relevant.
“People know me, but after the 3rd of March, people will really know me.”