Thulani 'Sugar Boy' Malinga will not go down without a fight

11 February 2019 - 13:36 By Bongani Magasela
Boxing gloves.
Boxing gloves.
Image: iStock Images

Thulani "Sugar Boy" Malinga had the world at his feet after he beat Nigel Benn to win the WBC super-middleweight champion in March 1996 and financial institutions were beating a path to his door.

The fighter from Ladysmith‚ KwaZulu-Natal‚ introduced himself to the 55,000 boxing fans inside Lainside Telewest Arena in Newcastle‚ England‚ and to the world after he stunned a man few had given him a chance of upsetting.

Malinga made good money in those heady days and his flush bank account allowed him to buy a massive mansion in Benoni.

The world was his oyster and his win opened doors to the business world‚ he appeared in television and print advertisements‚ and his trademark smile became a constant feature in the public domain as the lights and cameras followed his every move.

His exploits even earned him an audience with former president Nelson Mandela and he had breakfast with the beloved statesman‚ who died in December 2013 at the age of 95.

But his life was to make an unexpected turn in 2000 after a fire tragically razed his house to the ground with his grandson Sabelo trapped inside a wardrobe.

Malinga suspects that the fire was caused by faulty electric cables and he looks back at the tragic incident with pain that continues to torment him to this day.

‘‘Sabelo was inside the house playing and he hid himself in a wardrobe when the house caught fire.

‘‘We were unable to rescue him. He was always with me in the gym. Who knows maybe he would be a boxer today‚” said Malinga this week.

That tragic incident stayed with him during an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows that saw him win and lose world titles with monotonous regularity.

The boxer would eventually retire in the year 2000 after losing the IBA light heavyweight belt to Ole Klemetsen via an eighth round TKO in what his 13th defeat from 57 bouts.

Those glamour days are long behind the now 63-year-old and he is focused on transferring his experience and skills to the youth in Ladysmith‚ Alexandra in Johannesburg and Katlehong in Ekurhuleni.

‘‘The age group is between 12 and 18 years. I am based in Ladysmith and I am also involved in Alexandra and Katlehong‚” he says.

‘‘I also have classes in Diepsloot. I teach fitness so that children stay healthy.

‘‘I run with them‚ do all kinds of exercises. I take those that are interested in boxing to my Sugar Boy Boxing Academy and that is where we pay attention to pure boxing.

"I also teach them about clean living because I‚ personally‚ lived clean my entire boxing career. Even today I don't smoke or drink alcohol.”

Malinga says former world champions Lehlohonolo "Hands of Stone" Ledwaba and Welcome "The Hawk" Ncita are pursuing the same route and they are committed to producing future world champions.

"We want to build champions of tomorrow because talent is galore here at home. It just needs to be honed properly.

‘‘We will have a tournament in East London where our boys will be in action on March 2‚" he said.

‘‘The bigger picture is to produce boxers that will represent our country in the Olympics. We never got the opportunity to go to the Olympics; it is there for our youth.

"It is also very important that boxers spend time in the amateur ranks before they can turn pro. But what you see today is just a joke. Amateur boxers with less than five fights are turned professional and they cannot stand the test of time.”

Malinga says he spent 10 years in the amateur ranks and he fought in 255 fights.

‘‘I was a champion in the junior middleweight‚ middleweight and light heavyweights before I turned professional in 1981‚” he says.

‘‘That long stay in the amateurs prepared me for what I ended up becoming‚” said Malinga‚ who fought against the likes of Graciano Rocchigiani‚ Lindell Holmes‚ Chris Eubank‚ Roy Jones Junior‚ Robin Reid and Richie Woodhall.

‘‘I never cared about who was put in front me because I had gone through the proper channels as an amateur.

"If I were to be allowed to make a comeback‚ I tell you now none of the current boxers would stand in front of me‚" said the man who popularised the shoulder roll which turned American mega star Floyd Mayweather Junior into a very elusive boxer.

‘‘We were taught not to take punches because the more punches land on you head‚ it damage the brains."

He says today's boxing is like mixed martial arts where it is all about beating each other to the pulp.

‘‘If God helps me I will end up being a promoter looking after all these youngsters that we train‚" said Malinga.

‘‘Although in our time we did not earn as much as these boxers of today‚ I doubt there is a boxer who pulled hard like me but I never gave up. I am a firm believer that God has plans for all of us‚" he concluded.