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Legendary trainer pulls no punches

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If national colours were awarded for international travel, then local boxing trainer and manager Colin Nathan would be a Springbok many times over. As this was being written, Nathan is somewhere in North Africa, and although he was home last week, the week before that he was in the United States.
by LUKE ALFRED | Feb 13, 2020

His guess is that he caught 60 flights in 2019, a necessary evil that keeps him away from his wife, Lara, and their kids, Daniel (14), Jamie (5), and Kyla (3) for weeks at a time.

Nathan is reluctant to discuss the reason behind this week’s trip north, but he is prepared to talk about why he visited the US recently. In September, one of his most promising fighters, Azinga Fuzile, fought against a highly-regarded Russian named Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov at the Orient Theatre in East London.

Officially Rakhimov won the fight on a technical knockout, but there were irregularities surrounding the win including vials and ampules found in the Russian’s dressing-room afterwards.

“Do I think the Russians cheated,” asked Nathan. “Yes, I do.”

“Do I think they are honourable people?” “No, I don’t.”

As a result of his suspicions, Nathan lodged an appeal with the International Boxing Federation (IBF) in New York. So convinced was he that irregularities had occurred in East London, he bypassed local authorities and flew to the Big Apple to argue the case himself. While there, he says, he got the distinct impression that he surprised a couple of people who would ordinarily have outsourced the work to a slick, well-paid lawyer.

News of the IBF’s decision was expected this week.

Nathan’s willingness to get on a plane to go and argue Fuzile’s case is indicative of his love of the sport. If the result of the Rakhimov fight is upheld, it sets the talented Fuzile back months if not years, but in a wider sense, Nathan’s chutzpah speaks to how boxing flows through his veins.

“Boxing has been my saviour,” he says unabashedly. “I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t there. It was the only thing – really – that I was ever good at perhaps besides judo. I was in my first boxing gym at the age of seven.”

Stanley, Colin’s dad, used to take him to the Good Hope Arena in Cape Town to watch boxing when Colin was in his teens. He was immediately captivated, finding that boxing held a pure, visceral appeal he had never experienced the likes of before. “Boxing is beautifully honest,” says Nathan. “My father introduced me to the most beautiful sport in the world.”

“Even at that age, at a very young age, I realised that boxing was profound because you are judged on your skill, not your bank balance or the colour of your skin. I used to love watching Nika ‘The Sting’ Khumalo and the boxers who came into the ring to the sound of pumping reggae! I just loved the fact that this is a sport that’s so honest, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Nathan’s trip to New York to plead his and Fuzile’s case is also indicative of the fact that South African boxers are at a singular financial and geographical disadvantage. The rand is weak, and the country is a long way away from the North American, European, and Asian centres of power and influence.

Indeed, his work as a trainer has increasingly resulted in him moving towards playing more of a manager-type role because it’s the only way to ensure that his boxers get exposure and a semblance of a fair deal. In short, Nathan believes it’s time for a local changing of the guard.

“A lot of South African fighters just don’t have opportunities,” he says passionately. “They don’t have opportunities here, and they don’t have the kinds of opportunities they need overseas. In my own way, I’m trying to change that, that’s why I’m on the road so often.”

Nathan has been assisted in this regard because a year ago, he became a member of MTK Global, a management company with world-wide reach. MTK has more than 300 boxers on its books including Tyson Fury, the English heavyweight named after Mike Tyson; Carl Frampton; and Michael Conlan, and the organisation will help Nathan and his boxers step into the international shop window.

In this regard, he recently met the legendary Bob Arum at Sol Kerzner’s house in Hout Bay. Nathan is reluctant to give away too many details, Kerzner is wheelchair-bound and not a well man, but of his interaction with Arum, arguably the greatest promoter the boxing game has ever seen, he was only positive. As he should be. Nathan is taking the fight to the international boxing establishment with both hands. So often the man shouting words of encouragement to his boxers in the ring, Nathan is now figuratively in the ring himself. It’s the most beautiful place to be.

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