SOUTH AFRICA’S Courage Tshabalala surged to a 19-0 (16) pro record in the mid-1990s, looking to many like a future world champion. Yet despite being blessed with speed, power and spite, Tshabalala lost to Brian Scott in 1996, his unbeaten record was ruined.
Shortly afterwards, the slugger known as “No Limit” was stopped again, by Darroll Wilson and then by Oleg Maskaev and soon he disappeared from view. His final ledger read 26-4 (22). Yet now, having toiled in the background for a number of years while gaining knowledge, the Californian-based Tshabalala is emerging as a respected boxing trainer.
Q: You had quite a career as a fighter in your own right, Courage, and now you are an up-and-coming trainer. Let me ask you about your amateur career – you had a record of 72-1, with all 72 wins coming by KO?
Courage Tshabalala: “Yes, but in South Africa, as an amateur, I was often matched with the same fighter over and over again! But it was an exciting time for me, a young kid who was powerful. I won all my fights by KO on the way to the South African championships. I enjoyed it all, the experience.”
Q: And then, after your fifth pro fight, you came to America and based yourself there – quickly becoming a name who many expected would become a champion.
C.T: “Yeah, they were good times! It was totally different, the boxing in America compared to in South Africa; the culture and the way it is more advanced in the US. But I love boxing and I always have and back then, when I got with Duva Boxing, who were really big at the time, I picked up so much knowledge; as a fighter and then, later, as a trainer.”
Q: You sparred with countless big names from the sport at that time?
C.T: “Oh, yes, you name it – Ray Mercer, Henry Akinwande, Derek Williams, Larry Donald, Hasim Rahman, David Tua. As soon as you were in the Duva circle, you got to spar with everybody no matter who you were. I sparred both Klitschko brothers in 1996. They had just won their Olympic titles (Wladimir only winning gold at the Atlanta Games, Vitali not having made the team) and were still amateurs at the time, and they were still getting into their zone. They were established in Europe but they had yet to make their name in the US. I sparred them both and though we were not hugely aware of them at the time, I could tell they were both very strong and determined. I travelled all over [the US] at that time, going to many different training camps. I also worked with Evander Holyfield.”
Q: In your pro career, you never achieved what was widely expected of you. What went wrong?
C.T: “Well, with the Brian Scott fight (a second-round loss, Tshabalala’s first defeat), I had busted my eardrum 10 days before the fight and I shouldn’t have taken that fight. But it was on HBO and my management at the time suggested I take the fight anyway. That cost me my [unbeaten] record. The loss to Oleg Maskaev, I gave it all I had that night but he was the better man. I have no regrets there, I learned a lot in those nine rounds. You know, back then in boxing, I was young and I was never too smart about anything on the business side. My contracts, I never even read, because I trusted my people to look after my interests. And that’s the message I send out now to youngsters I work with in the gym: to have knowledgeable people around you. Myself, l I learned so much in the gym back then [with Duva]. I was picking things up all the time, things that have allowed me to become a trainer myself. I started off working under Tommy Brooks, who had big names at the time; Evander [Holyfield] and Sweet Pea [Pernell Whitaker]. I worked with his youngsters, who are now name pros and they remember me. I was well in the background when I worked with guys such as James Kirkland and Ishe Smith, and I paid my dues. When fighters find out about you, and look at your background, they know you are legit. Now, working at Sheer Sports, at The Iron Gym in Santa Monica, I look for talent, I nurture it and I love meeting new kids every single day. We’ve been going now at Sheer for around three years and they put their trust in me. They believed in my eye for finding fighters and gave me a chance. I want to get to know each kid I work with and build their trust also.”
Q: Who are some of the fighters you are currently working with?
C.T: “We have a number of amateurs – and everyone, from all walks of life is welcome in our gym – and we have a number of pros. People know I have something cooking! With regards to getting America a heavyweight champion – as they have had a dry spell for some time now – I have two fighters: Jonnie Rice and Scott Alexander. I can’t say for sure I will find the next heavyweight champion, but I can’t say for sure I won’t. But I’m always searching. It is America’s dream to get the next heavyweight champion, and I’m working on it. I have things cooking! We also have great prospects such as Edwin Sandoval, Ronald Ellis and Chad Gaynor, who is one of the hardest punchers I’ve seen. And I worked with Johnny Quigley, who has so much talent.”
Q: Are you not with Quigley now?
C.T: “No, unfortunately we couldn’t come to an agreement about the business side of things. He has gone back home. But we all love him here at Sheer and he is always welcome. We had different views on how his career should have gone. But with any new kid I meet and get the opportunity to work with, I’m always excited about the possibilities and I love each and every day I spend in the gym. I’m a better trainer than I was a fighter!”
Photo credit: Peter Politanoff