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Rodney Berman: The Greatest Hits

Berman (right) with former junior featherweight titleholder Vuyani Bungu. Photo courtesy of Rodney Berman
08
Jul

Golden Gloves is the most successful African promotional company of all time.

As an attorney, Rodney Berman was introduced to boxing when he was instructed to sue Morris Toweel of Springbok Boxing Enterprises. It was during this time that Berman caught the boxing bug and the two became unlikely friends. Berman eventually took over the promotional company, changed its name to Golden Gloves, and he employed Toweel as his matchmaker.

Golden Gloves’ first tournament took place in August 1977 and it has since gone on to promote virtually every leading fighter in the country and all the major fights that have taken place in South Africa ever since.

“We have promoted a who’s who of South African talent since the inception of Golden Gloves,” Berman told The Ring. “We have also been privileged to be involved with some of the greats of world boxing.”

“Not many people know but we had a small interest in Riddick Bowe when he was world champion, which arose from him beating the then-WBA heavyweight mandatory contender Pierre Coetzer. We also co-promoted Shane Mosley with the late Cedric Kushner, and another great whom we have promoted is Gennady Golovkin.”

The Johannesburg resident isn’t one to dwell on past glories and has high hopes for his current Golden Gloves stars.

“We have some very promising fighters in the Golden Gloves stable,” said the veteran promoter. “I am working closely with a dear, trusted friend Lou DiBella to showcase them in America as soon as possible under the current circumstances.

“It’s incredible for me that we have managed to maintain a worldwide reputation, despite being so far off the beaten track.”

Berman enjoyed looking back and reminiscing on some of the biggest moments in his company’s rich history:

Welcome Ncita. Photo from The Ring archive

Fabrice Benichou vs. Welcome Ncita
Date/ Venue: March 10, 1990/ Hilton Hotel, Tel Aviv, Israel
Titles: IBF junior featherweight

“Realizing Ncita’s great potential, nothing was spared to ensure that when his big moment arrived he would not falter. He prepared for the fight at the famous Kronk Gym under the guidance of Luther Burgess.

“To this day, the Benichou-Ncita fight is the only world title fight ever to have taken place in Israel, the reason being that Benichou, a Moroccan Jew, wanted to defend in front of his people.

“Golden Gloves has a number of Jewish partners, one of the exceptions being Gary Pretorius. There we were in Israel, hoping our little fighter from the nondescript township of Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, knocks the shit out of the Jewish fighter. (laughs).

“The local custom for a Jew visiting the Wailing Wall is to make a wish on paper and insert it in the wall. Gary was watching us and asks, ‘What are you guys doing?’ We explain the tradition to him and he says, ‘I need a skull cap and a pen and paper.’ He then proceeds to write his note and inserts it in the wall.

“The next night Welcome Ncita duly obliges and a jubilant Gary shouts, ‘That wall is something unbelievable, it really, really works.’ (laughs). His wish was that Welcome should win the world title, so he put it in the Wailing Wall.”

Result: Ncita UD 12

Brian Mitchell. Photo from The Ring archive

Tony Lopez vs. Brian Mitchell 2
Date/ Venue: September 13, 1991/ Arco Arena, Sacramento, California
Titles: IBF junior lightweight

“Although the first fight was fairly close, we were all confident Mitchell had won. At the final bell I jumped into the ring and Cedric Kushner turned to me and said, ‘Don’t get too excited, you’re being robbed. They’ve given a draw.’ By the time I reached Brian, I realized we’d get a rematch, so it was a double whammy. Mitchell was naturally ecstatic in his corner, he was certain he had won. I said, ‘Brian, not so fast you’ve been robbed.’ He started yelling, so I said, ‘You’re going to get a rematch!’ He immediately realized the ramifications of a second fight, and this is the sharpness of Brian Mitchell.

“[For the first fight] there must have been 8,000 to 10,000 fans in the Arco Arena booing and screaming abuse when he made his ring walk. But by the time of the second fight he was well-respected, the local fans recognizing his brilliance.

“Before the second fight Mitchell had vacated the WBA title as he would have had to make a mandatory defense. That would have forfeited the opportunity of fighting Lopez, which, besides being much more lucrative, there was also a debt to settle.

“We knew that Lopez was having weight problems, so at the weigh-in we crowded the scale. Although he was a bit overweight, we all started clapping vigorously, and Lopez got off the scale immediately and, in the pandemonium, that was that. With the benefit of hindsight, we didn’t realize that if we’d beaten him, we’d still be declared the champion, our worry was the fight might not have happened.

“Mitchell comprehensively outboxed him in the second fight and won a lopsided decision. It goes down as one of the greatest victories in South African boxing.”

Result: Mitchell UD 12

Sugar Boy Malinga

Nigel Benn vs. Sugar Boy Malinga 2
Date/ Venue: March 2, 1996/ Telewest Arena, Newcastle, England
Titles: WBC super middleweight

“Although Malinga was the mandatory challenger for Benn’s title, he was perceived as a ‘no hoper’ and the bookmaker’s odds reflected this.

“Shortly before leaving for England, Malinga, a lay-preacher, requested a meeting at my office. He told me that God had spoken to him the and was not happy with the purse that Malinga was getting, and that he (Malinga) should come and see me in this regard. Knowing that he could not win the fight my suggestion was an extra R50,000 (approximately $5,000 USD at that time) should he win. He requested to pray again, got the nod from the powers that be, and the rest is history. Needless to say, he got his R50,000.

“He also informed me that God told him he would knock Benn out in the fifth round. Ironically, however, it was Malinga who hit the canvas in the opening seconds of that session, but while that prophecy didn’t come to pass, he did score the highly unlikely victory.”

Result: Malinga SD 12

Mosley and De La Hoya let it all hang out during the final round. Photo / Al Bello-Getty Images

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley
Date/ Venue: June 17, 2000/ Staples Center, Los Angeles
Titles: WBC welterweight

“We had [IBF lightweight titleholder] Philip Holiday and Cedric [Kushner] approach us for an opportunity for Mosley. The problem I had was if we didn’t agree to that fight, Mosley was certainly going to become the mandatory, which would give me much weaker bargaining power. The one condition we made was to retain options on Mosley if he won. As it happens, he won and we co-promoted him with Cedric for many fights.

“While the De La Hoya fight wasn’t a Golden Gloves promotion, it was a major event. The buildup to the fight was incredible and the fight itself never disappointed, being 12-rounds of toe-to-toe boxing.

“Mosley is one of the most accomplished fighters I’ve been associated with. He probably has to be at the top if I’m giving him his due. Unfortunately, towards the end, Mosley and Cedric had a major fall out which meant we lost our interest in him but I’ve stayed in contact with him. He’s a real gentleman. I really enjoyed working with him. It must rank as pound-for-pound the biggest fight we’ve been involved in.”

Result: Mosley SD 12

Hasim Rahman stunned Lennox Lewis in South Africa.

Lennox Lewis vs. Hasim Rahman
Date/ Venue: April 22, 2001/ Carnival City, Brakpan, South Africa
Titles: IBF and WBC heavyweight

“When the prospect of having a fight of that magnitude was mooted for South Africa, there were insurmountable obstacles, not least of which was our weak currency. The timing of the fight and the uncertainty of South Africans paying what we would have to charge, and the attendance at 4:00 a.m. in the morning in the winter.

“Our prices were previously unheralded in South Africa, R5,000 (nearly $750) for a ringside seat. Our necks were on the line if the public wouldn’t pay these prices or attend an event at 4 o’clock in the morning.

“The only reason, in reality, that South Africa finished up with this mega fight is because overseas the fight was perceived as a non-event. I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams ever gave Hasim Rahman a snowball’s chance of beating Lewis.

“My relationship with the late [Nelson] ‘Madiba’ Mandela, resulting from boxing, is one of the greatest events of my life. John Berks was a leading radio jock in South Africa who often made prank calls, so on the Saturday afternoon of the fight – and I knew that Mandela was in Maputo – my son Tony called me to the phone. ‘Dad, President Mandela is on the phone, he wants to talk to you.’ I knew it could only be John Berks, so I said, ‘Just tell him I’m busy, I’ll call him back another time.’ He said, ‘Dad, I’m begging you, this is President Mandela.’ I said, ‘Tony, it’s John Berks.’ he said, ‘Dad he’s hanging on the phone, take the bloody phone.’ Anyway, I took the phone and was ready for this prank. As it happens, it was President Mandela [laughs.] He had phoned me from Maputo and we talked for an hour or so. The gist of the conversation was just for him to tell me how proud he was of the event we were able to put together and perceive South Africa in such a positive light. In my boxing career, that is probably one of the highlights that stands out.

“Lewis arrived 12 days before the fight. I had a bad relationship with him while he was in South Africa. He was busy doing Ocean’s Eleven, and he was treating the Rahman fight as if it were a forgone conclusion. I went on record as saying, ‘If Lewis carries on like that, he’s going to lose the fight.’ He took offense to it. I think the altitude [5,200 feet above sea level] got to him, and the lack of training.”

Result: Rahman KO 5

Corrie Sanders

Vladimir Klitschko vs. Corrie Sanders
Date/ Venue: March 8, 2003/ Preussag Arena, Hannover, Germany
Titles: WBO heavyweight

“I was holidaying in Cape Town when I got a call for Sanders to fight Klitschko. He was a perfect opponent, having credibility but with no chance of defeating Klitschko.

“Corrie was 37 years old at the time, he had only fought once in the last 12 months, and this was to be his last swansong. The purse was abysmal, but just to ensure that he could retire gracefully, Golden Gloves supplemented his purse – that’s how bad it was.

“Sanders ability as a fighter was greatly underestimated and his win was no fluke. For a heavyweight, his handspeed, footwork and power were phenomenal, but he lacked dedication and, in truth, he hated boxing. His passion was golf and his ambition was to play on the senior circuit when he turned 50.

“He was noticeably smaller than Klitschko, but Corrie knew what he had to do. He had explored all the flaws in Klitschko.

“It is interesting that Golden Gloves has been responsible for two of the greatest upsets in heavyweight boxing history; Rahman and Corrie.”

Result: Sanders TKO 2

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

 

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