It’s no secret that today’s top fighters don’t fight as often as they once did.
A major star, or top fighter in a division might appear once or twice a year on premium cable and spend the remainder of the year deciding who he will choose to fight next. That approach is profitable for fighters, but at the same time, frustrating to the elite athlete who wants to compete — not to mention the fans who want to see them apply their craft as often as possible.
As disappointing a situation as it may be in North America for its stars and their supporters, consider the plight of THE RING’s No. 1 strawweight, Nkosinathi Joyi, in his native South Africa.
Joyi (21-0, 15 knockouts), the best fighter in his division, hasn’t fought since January of 2011, in a bout declared a no-contest against Katsunari Takayama (24-4, 10 KOs), whom he will rematch on Friday night at the Orient Theatre in East London, his hometown.
In fact, he has fought just once in each of the past three years–not for lack of trying—and had to live off of one annual paycheck. Recognizing this, a local sponsor hopped on board to help him out.
“For every professional sportsman and sports woman it’s hard without income for one year,” Joyi, 29, told RingTV.com. “However, I’m very happy now that my promoter and our sponsor Eastern Cape Gambling Board have come with (the) decision to reward me with a very substantial bonus for this fight.”
Joyi’s promoter Branco Milenkovic won the purse bid for the Takayama rematch for the equivalent of $26,000, of which his fighter would have received roughly $19,000. While that certainly doesn’t make the IBF beltholder poor in South Africa if it were to be all he earned this year, it also doesn’t make him rich, particularly as one of the country’s top athletes. According to a recent survey, he would be in the same tax bracket as a high school teacher or a bank teller. Except a teacher and a banker would receive a salary throughout the year, not one lump sum to divvy up and cover twelve months of expenses.
On top of his struggles to make a wage, though, the speedy southpaw has also been short changed in terms of exposure. Up until this past week, the South African Broadcast Corporation had decided not to air boxing events live across the country, having not done so for more than a year. As a result, fighters not of the calibre of Joyi could not even gain sponsors to keep them afloat, as the respective companies knew they would not get any return without televised bouts.
“Look, South Africans are very passionate about (sports), and not only because of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. There was national outcry in the past year about the boxing blackout. It was so much complaining from the general public, that the Minister of Sport and Parliament got involved,” said Milenkovic.
Last week, the SABC succumbed to the pressure and broadcast the bout between junior featherweights Jeffrey Mathebula and Takalani Ndlovu live, and will do the same on Friday for Joyi-Takayama.
“It is very unfortunate. As the national broadcaster they should let people in our country see their heroes. Not only in boxing but all other sports,” said Joyi. “I was very happy when Branco told me my fight will be broadcasted by SABC.”
The television kerfuffle was the most complicated of several issues that have kept one of the sport’s most talented fighters inactive. There’s of course the issue of being in the smallest weight class, which naturally brings with it some of the tiniest purses, and a shallower talent pool.
But according to Joyi, the reason is very simple.
“I understand dynamics of the industry. It is much easier for boxer from Mexico or USA to be appreciated than somebody from Africa. However, this perception has to change,” insists Joyi. “The problem is not one of the other champions is keen to fight me, while I’m prepared to defend my title against anybody.”
Milenkovic is faced with the stern test of making Joyi’s wishes come true, trying to organize a unification bout in the minimumweight division. However, it’s not easy to convince Akira Yaegashi and Kazuto Ioka—both from a boxing hotbed in Japan—or Moises Fuentes—from fight-crazy Mexico—to face a slick and dangerous South African.
Sadly, there have been more profitable options, and less formidable opponents for them to choose.
“We are prepared to travel anywhere looking for unification, but so far our attempts to unify the title haven’t been successful,” said Milenkovic. “I would like to use this opportunity and once again call on WBC, WBO and WBA Champions to come forward and make unification possible. In the event of any of them been reluctant to come to South Africa, we will travel (to) that side!”
Joyi might just add to his burden by appearing too dangerous, as he has conclusive plans for his second encounter with Takayama, who he was handily leading before an accidental clash of heads caused the first meeting to be stopped.
“Without a doubt, I think this time Takayama will be more defensive as he did feel my power, but (a knockout) is unavoidable,” said Joyi.
Thankfully for South African fans, they’ll actually be able to see it, but — for better or worse — the other titleholders he wants in the ring will be able to as well.