Having endured personal struggles and even considered quitting boxing altogether, Joshua Studdard is back and ready to stamp his authority on the bantamweight division.
On Monday, he takes a critical step in that journey when he headlines the “Christmas Cracker” tournament at Emperors Palace against the man they call “Tsetse Fly”, Lemogang Mapitsi.
Studdard (8-1) was hit hard by his father Rocky’s death in late 2015. By his own admission, the guilt of pursuing boxing while his father was ailing almost forced him to hang up his gloves. Torn between following his passion and mourning his father, he was conflicted and, predictably, the turmoil led to his first career loss (against Ayanda Nkosi).
“I just wasn’t there mentally and emotionally,” he said on Tuesday. “People kept asking about my dad and it was hurtful at times. He had been in hospital and said, ‘I don’t want to see you, I want to see you in the gym’. But I felt that boxing took me away from him. I wanted to leave boxing, I wanted to quit, it was too painful.”
Fortunately, he had a great support system, not least a caring sponsor (Thebemed medical aid scheme), who arranged for him to visit a sports psychologist. Prominent boxing writer Bongani Magasela also urged him not to quit, arguing that he still had plenty to offer.
“It was a struggle, but I came to realise that I couldn’t go back and change things. I have good memories of my father and I cherish those.”
After his lone career defeat, he rebounded six months ago to stop Ronnie Chiloane.
Now, he fights to honour his late father, a former amateur boxer. The hunger is back and he’s looking forward to boxing at Emperors for the first time in 18 months.
“I’m excited about this fight. Some people believe ‘Tsetse Fly’ can beat me . . . he’s bigger, taller, more experienced, like the guy I lost to. It’s a test for me, but I’m focused. This is my time to shine.
“I’ve matured mentally. I’ll prove it by bringing my A-game. I’m leaving nothing to chance.”
Studdard is happy, too, that his flirtation with the junior-featherweight division is a thing of the past, promoters Rodney Berman and Jeff Ellis and former world champion Brian Mitchell having urged him to stay at bantamweight. “They were right,” he says wistfully, “I should have listened.”
With a big fan base and an attractive fighting style, Studdard will be heartily welcomed on Monday. He’s been to hell and back, but the boxing ring will seem like welcome refuge.
If he’s anything like he was in his early years, we’ll all be applauding his return.