Simpiwe Vetyeka may be long in the tooth at 36, but what many don’t realise is that there aren’t many miles on his clock.
Sadly, like so many other local fighters, he’s been cursed by inactivity – he’s fought just 32 times in 15 years, which is scandalous for a fighter of his ability.
But such is life in SA boxing where even world champions struggle for action against the rising tide of a poor economy and limited fight cards.
For all the disappointments that have buttressed his career, he sees the impending WBC Super Four tournament at Emperors Palace as an opportunity to kick-start his career. He’s not entirely comfortable assuming the tag of favourite, but accepts that his status as a former world champion – his defeat of unbeaten WBA champion Chris John in 2013 ranks among the all-time great SA performances – gives him that honour.
“The youngsters are very good,” he says of the competition, which includes first round opponent Lerato Dlamini, a 10-bout novice, and Azinga Fuzile, who’s fought just eight pro bouts, but looked good every time.
Vetyeka shrugs at the inevitable questions about his inactivity, yet he is adamant that he still has the spark that saw him knock over some big names four and more years ago.
He’s been further boosted by having Sean Smith in his corner. Smith hasn’t sought to alter his fundamentals, but is reminding him of what he offers as an elite boxer. “I’m rediscovering some of the things I forgot,” he says of his workouts under Smith. “Sean is an excellent trainer.”
Vetyeka is East London-based, but lives in Fourways during fight camps, ensuring total dedication to the boxing business. Irishman Gary Hyde manages him and he’s hopeful that the Super Four will rekindle his world title aspirations.
The WBC link means that the winner will be looked upon favourably, but first things first, in this instance Dlamini, whom he fights next weekend.
“I don’t know him at all,” Vetyeka confesses. “I’ve never seen him, but he’s the IBF Youth champion. I must be careful, I must be sharp.”