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Night of pleasure and pain as boxing awards attract country's best fighters

19 May 2019 - 00:04 By DAVID ISAACSON

Triumphant Melissa Miller was in agony at the SA Boxing Awards on Friday night.
The mother of one, who was named Female Boxer of the Year for 2018, had spent most of the five-hour function at the Sandton Convention Centre barefoot beneath her full-length dress.
But she put on her high heels when she went on stage to collect her trophy, and that's when her trouble started.
"My feet are killing me," she remarked as she hobbled downstairs from the banquet hall to a quieter spot for media interviews. "Normally I wear takkies. And takkies."
The bespectacled SA female bantamweight champion doesn't enjoy the same prominence as male boxer victor Tulani Mbenge, the IBO welterweight champion who arrived in a jovial mood.
He draped a serviette over his arm, picked up a bottle of wine and offered to fill the glasses at a media table.
But as the evening progressed - stretched out by a four-bout tournament - the tension grew. At one point Mbenge patted his chest and admitted: "I'm getting nervous now."
The same as before a fight? "Yes, because I'm nominated with big names. I admire their work."
The male boxer nominees failed to include - somewhat controversially - the only three SA fighters to have held bona fide world titles during the year under review,
Organisers rectified this by handing special achievement awards to them - WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete, IBF flyweight king Moruti Mthalane and former IBF, WBA and The Ring magazine junior-flyweight titleholder Hekkie Budler.
Tete won the male boxer award for 2017, but Mthalane and Budler have yet to lay their hands on this prestigious prize.
"Last Born" Tete was still the biggest winner on the night, also picking up the knockout award for his 11-second demolition job of countryman Siboniso Gonya in Belfast.
And his Last Born Promotions got to the podium with Xolani Mampunye, the outfit's frontman, being named Most Promising Promoter.
Tete intends returning for another male boxer trophy. "They must enjoy it this year because I'll be back next year," he quipped.
He wasn't the only one promising to "be back". Arnold Schwarzenegger - in town for his annual Arnold Sport Festival, which incorporated Friday's boxing tournament - delivered his catchphrase from The Terminator during a brief appearance.
One of the trophies he presented, in a bizarre twist, was female prospect to Simangele Hadebe, who boasts a 2017 win over Miller.
"Mentally I wasn't in the fight," recalled Miller, who has given up her hair salon business in Eldorado Park to box fulltime.
At the time of the defeat to Hadebe she had just won female prospect. "The pressure of winning [that] got to me," added the 33-year-old, saying her new manager would ensure she didn't repeat that mistake again.But there was no question she was a worthy winner. Trainer of the Year Colin Nathan congratulated her, saying: "I'm a big fan of yours. You're never in a boring fight."Colleen McAusland, a newcomer to the sport who took best manager, said women boxers earned 15%-20% less than men.Among the guests at the Gauteng government-sponsored ceremony was mayor Herman Mashaba and his wife Connie who, for much of the evening, were left to their own devices at an empty table.So they chatted to each other like they were on a date night. "It's giving us a chance to catch up," said Mashaba, whose Black Like Me company was a major sponsor of boxing tournaments about three decades ago.Still, their isolation seemed rather awkward, much like Miller in her high heels.isaacsond@sundaytimes.co.za..

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