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 and no defeats.
But on 03 March, he will face a new challenge, when he faces Mexican boxer, Diego Cruz, at Emperors Palace. Many sports publications are already predicting that the undefeated champ might be under pressure to maintain his winning streak.
“When asked about the upcoming fight, he tells Blacklight, “Like anything in life, no pressure, no gold.”
“This will be a big step for me, I won’t lie. I am rated no.68 in the world, and winning the title will put me on 15 in the ratings of WBC (World Boxing Council).
He adds: “I have never been given a task and failed – I am unbeaten for a reason. I’ve had twelve fights and ten knockouts 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. So, I don’t fear failure.
I meet Thulani at Smith’s Boxing Gym, in Fourways.
For an undefeated champ, he surprisingly, carries a permanent infectious smile.
He is very lean and tall. While he may easily pass off as the guy next door, the scar under his right eye slightly gives away that he is a fearless fighter.
Due to his boy next door demeanour, some have labelled him the “smiling assassin.”
The Mdantsane-born boxer reveals that he is not 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. So, I don’t fear failure,” he says.
“I make sure I put in my hours. With every fight, 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 she and his father were unemployed.
“My mother is a fighter. She has been there for us throughout the hard times,” he shares.
“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 on life.
“They [my parents] gave me the courage to do better in life and never allowed social issues get to me.
“That’s why I wanted to be a fighter, so I can be a better person, and show my peers that there was 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 with no dreams.
He recalls joining boxing at the age of twelve, after gaining notoriety for always being embroiled in school fights. His teacher grew tired of calling his parents to complain about his bad behaviour and made him join the local boxing club.
“Few days into it, I was really enjoying myself, and I started beating all the other guys. That made me really famous at school,” he laughs.
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 make great strides in the Mdantsane boxing scene, and become the fighter to look out for. In 2013, he would win a gold medal at his very first national games, in Johannesburg, making him think about pursuing boxing professionally.
Coming from a township that gave us respected boxers like Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Nkosana Mgxaji, Masibulele Makepula, Thulani says, he tries by all means to uphold the high standard set by the boxing legends.
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 powerhouse 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, because I have such long arms that helps me overpower my opponents,” he explains.
Thulani says he draws inspiration from his family every time he hits the ring.
As the breadwinner, he states that wins 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 a household sport, again.
“As an entrepreneur, I want people to know more about the sport, and also get more involved. I want them to see that there is life in boxing.”
He adds: “Look at people like Floyd Mayweather; they are big because they are seen as a brand.
“We also have the likes of Zolani Tete, a world champion from South Africa. Last year, he achieved the fastest knock out in history. Everyone should know about him.”
Thulani also shares that, as an entrepreneur, he loves tapping into other avenues beyond just being on the ring.
He wants to show people there are also many opportunities outside of the sport.
“I want to leave a legacy. I want to make sure that we as boxers are seen as businessmen, too,” he says.
“The reality is that being an athlete is a very short career, and that’s why I am open to exploring.
“As an athlete, we must think beyond. As human beings, we have unlimited potential, we just have to put our mind and invest time in whatever it is that we want.”
As for the future, Thulani says people can expect fireworks on 03 March.
If he wins the fight, he plans to defend the title against four international fighters, this year.
Most 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,” he says.