PHOTO ESSAY: ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES
Rising stars aim to punch above their weight for women’s pro boxing in SA
A swollen face, aching body and possible numerous visits to a medical facility are all in a day’s work for professional female fighters Simamkele Tusheni of Cape Town and Cherice Smith of Ficksburg.
The two women faced each other at Galeshewe recreation hall in Kimberley, hosted by Moroke Boxing Promotions, on 27 August. Theirs was the main event after 12 men from Free State, Northern Cape and Western Cape competed earlier in six bouts.
Slightly shorter than her opponent, Simamkele Tusheni weighed in at 57.1kg and won the fight after Cherice Smith, at 59.2kg, collapsed twice on the mat, blood spewing from her nose which resulted in referee Teboho Poone ending the fight in the third round.
The junior lightweight contenders had faced each other before on 25 June at the Flamingo Casino with Fights Arts promotion, with Tusheni clinching victory against Smith for the first time.
These pugilists are no strangers to contact sports as both fighters were drawn to the sport of boxing from their respective backgrounds — each with hopes and passion to rise in the ranks as champions.
Smith — a 26-year-old gym owner and instructor — revealed she’s a sport-driven individual and chooses to be hard on herself.
Smith and her fiancé spent two years in Vietnam, where they were introduced to Muay Thai and quickly fell in love with the combat sport. After a year and a half of training and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they returned to South Africa. Smith was then introduced to boxing by her current coach.
The double loss to Tusheni hasn’t dampened Smith’s spirits but has added to her experience. She believes she will get better and better and is dedicating everything she has to it.
Tusheni said that during her primary school years, boys would often bully her but with guidance from her uncle she learned to fight back and stand her ground.
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“Boxing helped me to fix that anger when I was bullied back then,” said the 22-year-old, who also plays wing for the Busy Bees women’s rugby club in Langa, Cape Town.
Originally from Ngqeleni, Eastern Cape, Tusheni said her mother initially didn’t want her to have anything to do with sport. “She eventually accepted that I love doing this,” said Tusheni.
Tusheni shared a training video of her running the length of a court and also punching a hoisted punching bag with the song Unstoppable by Sia in the background. Tusheni replaced Sia’s lyrics with her own, reciting: “I am Unstoppable, I am a Porsche with no brakes, I’m invincible, Yeah, I win every single game, I’m so powerful, I don’t need batteries to play, I’m so confident, I am Unstoppable today.”
Expecting Smith to win the grudge return fight, Zaliel Mohammed of Fights Arts Promotion said Tusheni didn’t waste her shots.
“Cherise who showed improvement was active on her feet, moving and evading fast and eager for a win. Her guard was unfortunately high which gave Simakele the gap to capitalise on her exposing her mid-section.
“Boxers must preserve their fuel and not waste their punches, follow their game plan and [have] their ears tuned in on their coaches’ instructions despite a noisy crowd,” said Mohammed.”
Women’s boxing is growing in popularity in South Africa, according to the secretary of Frances Baard Boxing Organisation, Archie Jack.
“Our district doesn’t have women boxers so that is why we want to start [training] at school level and once they’re exposed to these tournaments it will generate interest.”
“We just want to show [women] as much as they can play soccer, rugby, and cricket, they can also do boxing,” said Jack.
Former boxer, trainer and current CEO of Fighting Arts Promotions, Russle Bindeman says when it comes to women’s boxing there’s a lot of hype and progress in South Africa.
“Cherise with a sports science background — there is no doubt that she is going to grow because she has that passion,” said Bindeman.
“Tusheni has that eye and that accuracy. They are debutants and women’s boxing needs them either way. DM