WBO Bantamweight boss Zolani Tete – who makes a mandatory defence against veteran Argentine two-weight World Champ Omar Narvaez in Belfast before BoxNation cameras on Saturday - might just be the most complete all-round technician currently operating from these shores.
Glynn Evans examines why Britain has fallen for the ‘Scouse African’.
1. MUMMY’S LITTLE SOLDIER
Some slug for titles and glory, others for fiscal security but ‘Last Born’s’ primary motivation for fighting is simply to extend the life of his sick mother, Nomande.
Latterly, Tete’s ring purses have been consumed by providing a prosthetic leg for his wheel-chair bound ma, paying for her dialysis and supplements, plus settling her hospital fees back in Eastern Cape. ‘It breaks my heart when I’m away from her, preparing for fights. I just want her to live out her last days in comfort and dignity,’ he says.
Life hasn’t always been ‘cushty’ for Tete either on a professional or personal level but he has shown remarkable resilience. Born and brought up in the drug riddled, crime-infested Mdantsane township (where Nelson Mandela was also raised), he took up boxing, aged eight to fend off neighbourhood ‘heavies’.
In September 2010, minus a trainer and devoid of any sparring, he was shamefully cast into a premature IBF Flyweight challenge to his far older, far more seasoned compatriot Moruti Mthalane and was predictably stopped in round five. Subsequently, he lost a brace of dubious decisions in IBF 115lb eliminators in Sinola, Mexico (Juan Alberto Rosas) and Cordoba, Argentina (Roberto Domingo Sosa) before rebounding to claim that IBF title by schooling Teiru Kinoshita in Japan.
Though effectively forced to surrender that belt after a derisory winning purse bid to meet mandatory challenger McJoe Arroyo in 2015, he captured his WBO Bantam belt last year after being thrown a life line by Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren. A plus for perseverance!
The South African’s willowy 5ft 9in frame disguises the fact that he owns one of the most combustible sets of fists in the business. 21 of the 26 victims on his 29 fight slate have fallen early with a remarkable 13 extinguished inside the opening frame.
And Tete carries his ‘Mogadon’ in both gloves. An uppercut wiped out Ellesmere Port's ex IBF Bantam boss Paul Butler in March 2015, while a right hook levelled Jose Santos Gonzales to secure BoxNation’s Punch of the Month 12 months later. In his last gig, a scything lead right hook removed countryman Siboniso Gonya from consciousness in just 11 seconds, a record for a world championship contest.
4. ALL COURT GAME
But there’s far more to Tete than just chilling punch power. Despite operating against quality competition, you’d be hard pressed to identify a single round that he has conceded in five gigs on UK soil.
His technical tools were honed in an amateur career that extended beyond 400 contests, with just three losses – including one to his elder brother Mahazole! His natural southpaw awkwardness is complemented by a rapier jab, balletic feet and the ring intelligence that he maintains is his biggest asset. And given that he preps by running and chopping trees 6000 ft above sea level in Johannesburg, he’s unlikely to be exposed for stamina any time soon!
5. WORLD CHAMP IN THE VERY LITERAL SENSE
The man from ‘The Rainbow Nation’ has certainly been racking up the air miles en route to his brace of World Titles, despite being fleeced in Mexico and Argentina early in his career.
In November 2013, he eliminated any requirement for the judges’ arithmetic when returning to Mexico to ice ex-IBF king Juan Carlos Sanchez in the 10th of an eliminator in Sinola. His IBF 115lb coronation took place in Kobe, Japan and he opened his defence against Butler in Liverpool, where the ‘Scouse’ African has since assumed cult status. Saturday represents his sixth start on UK soil.
6. HUMILITY PERSONIFIED…
When he isn’t smashing noses, the South African displays a serene and sunny disposition which endears him to all he encounters. Son of a pastor, he still attends Sunday service every week and enlists his favourite pastime as singing in his brother’s gospel choir.
Among the Merseyside fight community, he is revered for his pre-fight parties in the changing room and for bouncing to ringside to a rhythmic Xhosa beat whilst sporting Flame 96 emblems on each shoulder of his ring gown in honour of the Hillsborough campaign.
7. ...BUT FEARFUL OF NO MAN!
Tete won’t just fight anywhere, he claims he’ll fight anyone. Throughout his two reigns on world championship thrones, he has been voluble in his pursuit of all the pound-for-pounder leaders between 115-122lbs, including Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Latterly, he is hellbent on pursuing unification blockbusters with British based counterparts Ryan Burnett and Jamie McDonnell, who both claim portions of the WBA pie.
‘To be the best, you have to fight the best, no shortcuts,’ he says. ‘I intend to be remembered as one of the greatest African boxers of all time.’
Buy BoxNation to watch Zolani Tete v Omar Narvaez, chief support to Carl Frampton v Nonito Donaire.