By Malibongwe Tokwe
“IT IS EASIER TO BUILD A STRONG BOY THAN TO REPAIR BROKEN MAN”
On the 26th February 1967 in Duncan Village, near East London, a mother gave birth to a child, a boy who will contribute to the sport of boxing and become the universal recognized champion of the world, Vuyani “The Beast” Bhungu. The upbringing of the relatively shy and quiet boy was strenuous and burdensome, his father was diagnosed with asthma, hence his mother Lilian had to provide for the whole family, working as a domestic worker and only seeing her family (Vuyani, his father and his 5 siblings) once a month.
Life was tough for the Bhungu family, they stayed in a two-bedroom house without any water and electricity. Listening to the champ telling his story is tormenting, “At times I went to school with a stone inside my lunch bag, and during lunch time, I would turn my back to my friends and pretend to be feasting on brown bread” he recalls… Going back home after school was exciting, however the cries from his empty stomach and the thoughts of the unoccupied bin of food at home made him feel awful and weak.
All along, Vuyani had a plan and that was concluded when he won his world title. It was Friday morning when Vuyani went to his mother’s employer and thanked him for providing a job, hence supporting his family, he humbly advised the employer that his mother was exhausted and getting older, and finally told him she was not coming back to work the following day, as he was going to look after her.
Any Boy Can (ABC); Unbelievable, Vuyani lived in those harsh conditions for years, without any criminal acts/offences to his name, attending school at Nyameko High School, where he dropped out at grade nine to pursue his boxing career. At the time he left school, he was well known in amateur boxing of Mdantsane. His win against Magcina Klaas, a colourful armature champion, was the biggest achievement at the time.
Vuyani’s boxing style was not the most charismatic, he relied in outworking his opponents by throwing multiple jabs and barrages of punches from all the angles, forces them to quit between the rounds because of frustration and exhaustion. With the record of 108 amateur fights with only 20 losses, Vuyani made his pro debut, two months after his 20th birthday, on the 26th April 1987 at Mdantsane Stadium. Vuyani stopped his opponent Xolela Makhuluma, winning his pro debut fight by the technical knockout.
The next big challenge for the Beast came when he challenged the champion, Saxon Ngqayimbana for the regional championship bout, Cape Province Jnr Featherweight title on the 5th June 1988. The main man in the corner of Vuyani Bhungu was the great boxing trainer/manager of the Eastern Cape, Mzimasi Mnguni, AKA Bro Mzi. Vuyani Bhungu was the underdog in this fight, many believed he was going to be floored-flat in 5 rounds by Saxon who had a vicious right hand built from chopping woods in training camps, the boxer who was also known as uKrebe (Shark).
The boy whom the least was expected from, did it again, he upset the champion in a one-sided fight that ended as the unanimous decision win, Vuyani Bhungu was crowned as the new champion.
In 1989 on the 28th August, the champ had a bigger fish to fry, challenging the South African Champion Fransie Badenhorst who was defending his jnr featherweight title in Good Hope Centre, Cape Town. The worthy attempt was not enough for Vuyani to be the winner that night, he lost over 12 rounds and the champion went away with his title.
A moment short lived by the champion Fransie Badenhorst, just nine months later, on the 13th May 1990 he was against the very same challenger, the Beast, this time in the challenger’s home town, Orient Theatre in East London. That night, Vuyani turned to be in Beast mode, he drilled the champion with the combinations of punches and his stiff jab could not miss the temple of Fransie Badenhorst, and after 12 rounds, Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu added another title to his resume, becoming the new South African Jnr Featherweight Champion.
“ONLY IN THE DARKNESS YOU CAN SEE THE STARS”
During the summer Olympics of 1988, a young fighter made a name for himself, Kennedy “King” Mckinney. Other than the superb boxing skills he possessed and the deadly radar straight right hand punch he landed to his opponents, Kennedy McKinney won the bantamweight gold medal, and was nominated as a fighter of the tournament.
Three years later, on the 2nd Dec 1992 in Italy, the former South African World champion, Welcome “Hawk” Ncita, whom was the stable mate of Vuyani Bhungu lost his title to the grown and more polished challenger, Kennedy McKinney. Vuyani Bhungu had to be boosted to be the next man in the line as Kennedy once again, beat up Welcome Ncita in their return fight in USA on the 16th April 1994.
Vuyani Bhungu handlers and the rest of the boxing world had doubts in Bhungu’s game to beat the formidable McKinney, as his fellow stable mate Welcome Ncita was seen as the only man who could challenge the champion, problem was, he already lost twice against Kennedy McKinney. The fight of McKinney and Bhungu took place on the 20th Aug 1994 in Carousel Casino in Hammanskraal.
The American trainer Terry “Bubba” Stotts was brought in to work with Bhungu to prepare for the McKinney fight. His experience and knowledge of the sport paid off. His strategy was simple, McKinney had a deadly right hand, but he always needed to be in-range to let it go.
Terry “Bubba” Stotts advised Bhungu to jab, move closer, underneath his deadly right hand and work the body. Even though the game plan sounded suicidal rather than crafty, Bhungu had so much trust to his management team and executed perfectly and finally the fight was won.
The time of the fight was at the turning point of the South African politics, for the very first time South Africa had a Black President, the great Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, released from the Robin Island prison to be the President of the country. Later that night of the fight, South Africa had the very first world champion in the New Republic of South Africa, Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu. Vuyani Bhungu became the top-class athlete that night, he was patient but urgent when opportunities showed up. He fought a perfect fight, controlling McKinney with his rapid jabs and often landing the right cross on the left side of McKinney’s head. Kennedy McKinney would challenge Vuyani Bhungu once again 3 years later in 1997, trying to get back his title, but fell short as Bhungu won their second encounter by points.
Once a boy who had to control his appetite because of poverty was a champion, a good one indeed, defending his IBF jnr featherweight title, 13 times against the top-class challengers from all over the world, the only South African to ever do it “GOAT”.
“IT IS HARD TO FIGHT WHEN THE FIGHT AINT FAIR”
Naseem “Naz” Hamed, the former fighting pride of Sheffield, Yorkshire in United Kingdoms was a flamboyant fighter who had power to KO his opponents from both hands. Arguably the best puncher in featherweight division in the last three decades. This giant of the sport was next in line for Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu the challenger in a fight that was scheduled to take place at featherweight division for Naseem Hamed WBO title. This fight was supposed to be the biggest fight for Vuyani Bhungu, however it only became a lopsided fight in favor for Naseem Hamed. as he stopped Vuyani Bhungu in round 4 of their contest that took place in Olympia, Kensington, United Kingdom on the 11th Mar 2000.
Going to this fight a lot of irregularities happened in Vuyani Bhungu’s camp,
- Vuyani Bhungu was preparing to fight Paul Ingle, and news came in the middle of the camp that Paul Ingle was not the opponent anymore, Naseem Hamed was the man to face.
- The American trainer Terry “Bubba” Stotts who was key to Vuyani’s success as a fighter, him who Bhungu refers to as the motivator was pulled off the camp that was preparing for the fight with Naseem Hamed.
- The accommodation arrangements in UK were absurd, Vuyani Bhungu the IBF jnr featherweight champion of the world was staying in a small apartment that was not good for the fight preparations and relaxation, while his opponent Naseem Hamed was staying in a comfortable 5-star hotel with training equipment.
- The sudden deal of Naseem Hamed implied Vuyani Bhungu to relinquish his IBF jnr featherweight title. Meaning, he had to vacate his title he defended 13 times.
- The fighting trunks and kit for that fight was only delivered in the last moments before the fight and were too tight and uncomfortable to fight in.
- The promoter Joe Manyathi (RIP), worked with Hamed team and made arrangements with Vuyani Bhungu’s camp mates, licking out the information with Naseem Hamed stable via telephone on the fight strategy Bhungu was working on.
- Jacky “Pressure Cooker” Gunguluza who was training with Bhungu was pulled out of the camp and travelled to UK to help Naseem Hamed as a sparring partner (Bhungu spoke to Jacky when he came back from UK, before the fight happened and acknowledged the act as a reasonable business opportunity for Jacky Gunguluza).
Following all the challenges above, Vuyani Bhungu became the shell of a great fighter he was, he looked frozen, nervous and off the timing.
It took Naseem Hamed only 4 rounds to be victorious. The ending was a jab; counter-clockwise-step-in followed by the straight left on top of Vuyani’s head, and Joe Cortez halted the fight.
Naseem Hamed was the winner and Vuyani Bhungu was a multiple loser… he had lost the fight that would have rewarded him the WBO featherweight title, of cause he lost his IBF jnr featherweight title and finally lost the attraction and desire to compete at that level of fighting magnitude.
Vuyani Bhungu’s career seemed to drift down as his next bout was a loss against local former IBF featherweight champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, fighting in Carnival City, Brakpan on the 27th July 2002. Following that fight he won the vacant IBO featherweight title when he squared against Takalani Ndlovu on the 7th Feb 2004 in Carnival City, Brakpan and Thomas Mashaba dethroned him on the 25th of June 2005 in Absa Stadium, East London. Ending his career with the total of 44 fights, 39 wins and only 5 losses.
AT THE END OF THE DAY I AM GRATEFUL THAT MY BLESSINGS ARE BIGGER THAN MY PROBLEMS
Truth be told, Vuyani Bhungu has contributed more than enough in SA & World Boxing.
- He is the former cape province jnr featherweight champion
- He is the former SA jnr featherweight champion
- He is the former IBF jnr featherweight champion of the world
- He is the former IBO featherweight champion of the world
- Vuyani Bhungu has won more King Kong and World Boxing Awards than any other fighter in South Africa “GOAT”.
- He has been voted as the as the boxer of the year in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998.
- In 1995 he received the special award from the organization of Boxing South Africa for his contribution in world of boxing.
- In 1996 his fight that took place in Carousel Casino, Hammanskraal against Jesus Salud, on the 20th Aug was named the fight of the year.
- In year 1997, the 2nd fight against Kennedy McKinney was named the fight of the year.
- He defended his jnr featherweight IBF title 13 times (1994 to 1999)
One must bear in mind that Vuyani’s career was at the time where there was best competition locally and international in his division weight class. The level of opposition he dealt with inside the square circle was the toughest. For that, there is absolutely no reason why he should not be in the Hall of Fame, because he did it all with success against the best men in the game.
I must say, the behavior of the Beast from the time he was a boy who was running on empty stomach, until this day and age has not changed. He is such a gentleman that is respectful and polite when engaging with people. A true role model who loves to laugh and a very soft man deep in the heart. I have seen Vuyani Bhungu more than once, he is the man who has so much care for underprivileged people. I suppose the unconditional care is due to his hard life experience. He is indeed one guy I know of, that has walked the walk…
It is saddening to see only articles about the financial challenges of this Great Man, as if he was a financial intellect that stole money from us. Vuyani Bhungu was a great champion we should be proud of as South Africans. Exploited or not, we should find ways to make men like him relevant to boxing so that we can learn about the good and the bad of this noble sport we dearly love the most. We need to support our heroes and cherish them for all the great work they did. Ladies and gentlemen boxing is a tough sport, the commercial deals and processes can just be as tough especially for the fighters. Promoters and Managers of our former champions always have their stories to tell about the fighters themselves. Once I read that “in war there are no unwounded soldiers”.
WHEN YOU CEASE TO MAKE CONTRIBUTION,YOU BEGIN TO DIE
Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu is not the kind of man that will fold his arms and hope for the best for the poor South Africans. He is now the active motivation speaker who is trying to help the youth to focus in the right things for their well beings. He speaks mostly in schools where he shares his story, encouraging the pupils to stay focus and always look beyond their childhood challenges. He gives them hope, courage and practical examples that no matter what your situation is, when you set your goals and dare to overcome them anything is possible.
The Champ is also busy starting his new foundation “Vuyani Bhungu Foundation” with his kids, trying to help all those that are in need in the Eastern Cape.
A boy has grown to a champion that conquered the world, the champion who turned to be the excellent father, the father who seeks to improve the lives of the others; Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu.
Enjoy part 1 of the interview with a good friend of mine Vuyani “Beast” Bhungu, brought to you by Maliboxing.