DeeJay Kriel is never in a dull fight, so it’s not surprising he keeps getting asked to come back to Emperors Palace.
Saturday will mark his 12th successive outing at the casino venue where he has built both a following and a formidable record that now puts him on the cusp of international renown.
He fights fellow South African Thembelani Okolo on the undercard of the “Four go to War” tournament. Kriel admits he knows next to nothing about Okolo, noting only that he’s awkward and moves a lot. Trainer Colin Nathan has seen him, so the fight plan is his business.
Kriel is at the stage of his career where he will fight anyone, just so long as he’s active. He went in deep against unbeaten Dexter Alimento earlier this year and survived that rigorous test, putting him in line for major international competition.
“I expected a tough fight,” he said of that assignment. “I’m glad how it worked out. I did all I had to do and outboxed him from round one. He hit hard, but I adapted.”
Training for the Okolo bout has gone off without a hitch. Staying in shape has never been a hardship for Kriel, a veritable gym rat, who thrives in the hothouse where his fellow boxers give their all. Not even a change in opponent threw him off track, although he was disappointed not to get a crack at former world champion Nkosinathi Joyi. That would have been a decent name to have etched on his record.
Defeat at this stage of Kriel’s journey would be catastrophic, so he must get the business done against Okolo, preferably in style.
Sharing a gym with Hekkie Budler and Simpiwe Konkco reflects the sort of standards required from the division’s elite. To get there, Kriel knows he must match their fight management and control.
“I must keep winning,” he said on Monday. “I wanna fight the tough guys and beat them all. I want a title soon.”
At 22, he has time on his side. But it means little if he doesn’t produce the goods.