Brian Mitchell on Hekkie, Hall of Fame and helping out

Getting the lowdown from Brian Mitchell. Pic: Nick Lourens

Hi Brian. Thanks for your time. It’s great to sit down and talk boxing with one of SA’s best . . .

What were your impressions of Hekkie Budler’s big win in Japan recently?
I’ve always been a Hekkie Budler fan; he’s my favourite fighter in South Africa. What he achieved is phenomenal. I was disappointed when he lost [against Byron Rojas] at Emperors, a fight he could have won. I was in Monte Carlo for several of his fights and he showed tremendous heart getting off the canvas to beat Chaozhong Xiong. He has such guts and determination. Beating Ryoichi Taguchi for two major belts was a big win, maybe even bigger than me beating Tony Lopez in Sacramento. It might even be the best ever win by a South African boxer.

What did you make of Kevin Lerena’s performance the other night?
Kevin was phenomenal against a difficult, strong opponent. I was really impressed and I’m happy for him, especially as he’s a big part of the Golden Gloves family.

Exciting Azinga Fuzile.

Looking around, which young local talent impresses you?
There are a couple. I like the look of Roarke Knapp, who fought on Lionel Hunter’s show recently. Azinga Fuzile too; he’s helluva exciting. I’m optimistic – I saw plenty of talent at the pro licensing in January.

You’re the only South African boxer in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Who else deserves to be enshrined?
Vuyani Bungu deserves a look-in, perhaps even Vic Toweel, our first world champion. I’d have Hekkie there too, after he retires. People might be surprised, but I wouldn’t have Gerrie Coetzee. Even though he was our first heavyweight champion, he never successfully defended the title. The Hall of Fame should also acknowledge Rodney Berman. It blows my mind that he isn’t there – he’s been the biggest name in African boxing for the past 40 years, producing multiple world champions.

Hekkie Budler. Pic: N-SQUARED

What are your thoughts on Keaton Gomes, the heavyweight prospect whom Rodney Berman is high on?
I don’t know much, but I hear he’ll start at cruiserweight. I’ve spoken to [trainer] Peter Smith and he says the kid is talented. I look forward to watching him later this year.

You’re well entrenched as a commentator with SuperSport. What’s it like on that side of the ring?
I love it! I’m not scared of the mic, I’ve done my one-man stage show, I talk at golf days and I give motivational speeches. I get disappointed when people say I’m one-sided. The truth is, I used to commentate on fighters whom I used to manage and, if anything, I’d give the 50-50 rounds to their opponent. I’m not perfect, but my experience as a fighter is what I bring to my analysis.

You do plenty of charity work too. What’s that like?
Last week I hosted four golf days; this week I have another two. I don’t charge; I pay myself through a percentage of memorabilia that is auctioned. Over the years I’ve helped raise millions for many charities. It’s something I really enjoy.

‘The Hall of Fame should also acknowledge Rodney Berman. It blows my mind that he isn’t there’

What do you make of Tommy Oosthuizen’s provisional comeback in a few weeks? Can he still make it?
It’s almost a lost opportunity. Tommy is 30 now and can still make it, but he must give his all with none of the nonsense he’s been associated with. His lapses will make it hard to put it all together, but when he does he’s an A-grade fighter good enough to claim a WBA or WBC title.

You’re not a youngster , but you still workout, don’t you?
Yes, I visit the Booysens amateur gym twice a week and train with Nicky Ness. The knees aren’t so good, especially as I’m almost 57. It gets harder. I don’t mess around. I hit the bag properly, I go hard on the hand pads.

Tell me something that people don’t know about you.
Behind the boxing front, I’m quite a shy guy. Boxing gave me a lot of confidence, but I’m not windgat. It was fantastic to achieve great heights as a boxer, but at heart I’m still the shy guy from Malvern.

Here’s a fun question. You can invite three people, alive or dead, to dinner, who would you choose?
The two Sugar Rays – Robinson and Leonard. And Nelson Mandela. But I’d also want a fourth guest and that would be my dad.

Thanks Brian, great chatting.