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The Biggest Losers In Boxing

Glax0r's Photo Glax0r 04 Oct 2012

The biggest losers in boxing

Oct 4, 2012 | David Isaacson, Sowetan

WHEN it came to boxing skills Corrie Sanders was a rare South African gem. But on money issues, the former world heavyweight champion was just another boxer.

BURNED: Jacob 'Baby Jake' Matlala: "I blew it. You can't expect a 22-year-old with R500,000 in his bank account to listen to financial advice."

For all his wealth of talent, which took him decades to hone, his bank account dropped from millions to zero within a matter of years.

It's the oldest story in ring history; poor kid makes it big and then loses it all.

It's such a cliché that Sylvester Stallone adopted it for his "Rocky" movie series. At least that aspect of the script added much-needed pugilistic reality to the horrendously choreographed fight scenes.

For as long as the Queensberry Rules have been in existence, so too have the sorry tales of blown career earnings. Boxing doesn't seem to entertain too many happy endings.

Johnny du Plooy, who was knocked out in one round by Sanders for the vacant SA title in 1991, was the country's biggest drawcard in the 1980s.

Crowds paid money to watch his lightning speed, knockout power and his trademark entrance to the strains of Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode. He earned a couple of million rands. In an interview nearly a decade ago, Du Plooy told me he had snorted his way through some R750000 of cocaine.

"I blew it. You can't expect a 22-year-old with R500000 in his bank account to listen to financial advice.

"Winning the Lotto is the only way I'm going to become a millionaire again."

Du Plooy, Sanders and Pierre Coetzer had professional careers that overlapped for about four years.

There's a story that all three heavyweights were training in the US, staying at the same hotel.

Volbrecht and Sanders left to go for a morning run on the beach, and they came across Coetzer doing his "roadwork" in a sandpit under the watchful eye of his trainer, Alan Toweel.

On the beach they came across Du Plooy and his trainer, Willie Lock. Du Plooy was flying a kite and his second was running to fetch it whenever it crashed to the ground.

"I only have one regret - not training," Du Plooy told me.

He had come to terms with his financial losses and, clean from the drugs, had picked up the pieces of his life with a committed wife and an adequate business.

"We boxers have too many friends and no financial advisers," says Jan Bergman, a former junior welterweight and welterweight contender who fought the best.

"The moment the money runs out they are out of the window. They give you bad business advice. They lead you into business with them and you lose," says Bergman, who ploughed a small fortune into a nightclub a few years ago. The venture failed miserably.

Bergman now helps his wife in her low-key embroidery business, and works at a friend's boxing gym in Primrose, Germiston, on the eastern edges of Johannesburg.

The list of losers is longer than people would care to admit. Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Sugarboy Malinga and even Baby Jake Matlala have taken knocks over the years, long after they had hung up their gloves.

The likes of Simon "Tsipa" Skosana and Happyboy Mgxaji died with almost nothing to their names.

Even Brian Mitchell admits to being burnt, although his fortune was large enough to withstand the hiccup. His name probably belongs on the list of boxers - considerably shorter - who have done well. They include Sebastiaan Rothmann, Earl Morais and Naas Scheepers, all former SA champions.

Mzukisi Sikali, once a stablemate of Sanders, Rothmann and Bergman, had just R30 in his bank account when he was stabbed to death by two muggers on a dusty road in KwaNobuhle township in Uitenhage in 2005, six months after a failed world title challenge.

He never earned millions, but had acquired enough at one stage to buy a small house in New Brighton and later a flat in Port Elizabeth.

His only assets at the time he died were a second-hand BMW, lying wrecked in a junkyard, and a minibus taxi. Sikali knew he was bad with money, which is why, after one of his fights, he asked me and trainer Volbrecht to be counter-signatories on his savings account so he wouldn't blow his cash.

He never asked me to counter-sign, and requested Volbrecht to sign only once, for R10000.

But it was his money and his account and within months he had depleted the six-figure sum.

Boxing SA tried helping boxers by deducting their tax from their purses, but then failed to pass the money on to SARS, who went hunting the boxers for that cash. Apparently this aberration was sorted out. There will always be woeful tales of boxers losing their hard-earned money, unless someone dream up a way of convincing young, well-paid men to act more responsibly.