Motherwell’s knockout boxer, Thembani Okolo

Motherwell boxer Thembani ‘Pretty Master’ Okolo, 24, is reaching for the stars
Motherwell boxer Thembani ‘Pretty Master’ Okolo, 24, is reaching for the stars

Africa’s finest strawweight boxer is a true Port Elizabeth home-grown hero, who hones his craft out of a dark and tiny garage in Motherwell, which he calls his gym. 

It’s a far cry from the glimmering lights of Las Vegas for 24-year-old Motherwell resident Thembani ‘Pretty Master’ Okolo, who earlier in October stopped Ndikho Magadaza with a technical knockout in the seventh round of their title fight in Port Alfred, to become the new WBF All Africa Champion.

Thembani may get his nickname from his good looks but there’s nothing pretty about this young man when he steps inside the ropes.

He prides himself on his fitness and discipline and his hand speed.

Thembani can clearly handle adversity too, having entered the fight under massive pressure after losing his three previous bouts, only to deliver in the most emphatic fashion when his entire boxing career was basically on the line.

Thembani is the first to admit he had started to question his future as a boxer.

However, now that he had a rather impressive All Africa title belt in his possession, the hunger had returned and with it the determination to add more titles to his collection, he said.

The Herald, in association with SPAR Eastern Cape, is proud to honour our new All Africa boxing champion Thembani Okolo as the home-grown hero for the month for October.

Herald: Thembani, congratulations. You look very happy wearing that belt.

Thembani Okolo: I sure am. I took a proper cut to the face for my troubles during that fight but I still was able to dominate my opponent and the win was most certainly the biggest of my 11-fight professional career.

Herald: And you fought as an amateur before turning pro?

Thembani Okolo: I most certainly did. I grew up in a boxing family and started boxing when I was only 11 years old.

It’s something that I’ve fallen in love with and these days it’s not only a sport it’s also a lifestyle.

Herald: Is that because you live and breathe boxing?

Thembani Okolo: Pretty much, I guess.

I’m here at the gym working with my trainer Thando Twenani jnr twice a day and closer to a big fight we might even do three sessions a day.

But I thrive on the discipline and the training.  

Herald: Would it be fair to say that training out of this humble garage at 13 Ndlovu Street in Motherwell speaks volumes of your determination to succeed?

Thembani Okolo: Well, I have the gloves and the punch bags and my trainer and no air conditioning, so I’m guaranteed to build up a good sweat.

I also train with a lot of other young fighters here at Eyethu Young Champs Boxing Club and we are always pushing each other.  

If anything, the challenge is the lack of sponsorship and access to sports nutrition so I make sure that I at least eat very healthy.

Herald: The strawweight division is the lightest division in boxing at 47.65kg and clearly a division that works for you?

Thembani Okolo: I often hear people say that I should move up a division or two but you have to be very careful in doing that.

I’m a powerful puncher in the strawweight division and its difficult to say if I would be as effective if I moved up in weight.

I’m very comfortable in this category and don’t struggle to make the weight, come the pre-fight weigh-in.

If I was battling to make the weight, then it would be a consideration, but for me, strawweight is where I’m best suited.

I can take a punch, which you have to be able to do to survive in this game, but I can also dish it out.

I am a simple, orthodox fighter but I do see myself as a bit of a knockout artist.

One of my early losses came to countryman DJ Kriel who is now the WBC Champion.

I lost to him by one point but he doesn’t want to fight me again because he knows I’ve grown as a boxer and would really give him a run for his money if we climbed into the ring again.

I’m growing as a boxer, and for me that’s the most important thing.   

Herald: So when is the next fight Thembani?

Thembani Okolo: Well, I’ve got at least six months before I’d have to make a mandatory defence but now we’re looking at going for the vacant ABU strawweight title.

That could happen as early as January 2020, and possibly overseas in Saudi Arabia.

Fighting for a vacant title is also ideal as there’s no pressure really because you’re not putting your existing title on the line.

It’s exciting times and I want to keep the momentum going now, keep fighting and winning titles and making the people about me proud.