News February 2013

Jorge “El Salvaje” Sendra tells his incredible story


By Michael J Jones

Talented; Sendra had it all

Ahead of his farewell fight this summer, I caught up with former middleweight contender Jorge Sendra. Sendra was born in Spain before reallocating to South Africa at an early age where he learned to box and also later turned professional. After a brutal mugging where he was seriously injured, Sendra returned to Spain to resume his boxing career.

Despite going an impressive 29-4-2 (22) in his career and winning various titles, Jorge’s career is a case of ‘what ifs’. A talented and skilful fighter, the Spaniard only got his big chances late in his career losing decisions to Morrade Hakkar and Felix Sturm in successive title fights.

The fighter nicknamed “El Salvaje”, (meaning ‘the wild’), was a colourful character in the ring and had the talent to go all the way. He also had the flashiness and charisma to be a real star on the world stage but several problems both inside and outside of the ring meant he never got the chance to shine at the highest level.

Now 40-years-old and training young fighters in two gyms in Cornella and Sant Boi, Barcelona, Jorge had a dramatic story to tell about his tough life as a fighter. Here is what “El Salvaje” had to say...

LF) Let's start by asking how you came to live your early years in SA and how you first became interested in boxing?

JS) My father is what I can call a true and realistic democrat ...of a few that remains in this world. He was against the regime in Spain of (long-time Spanish Dictator) Francisco Franco. I still believe that if he had stayed in Spain I would have been fatherless now. He had the courage and determination to look for the best place for his family to reside and he picked South Africa 10,000km away.

I lived wonderful years there, really falling in love with everything South African, having arrived there at a mere 18-months-old. Strangely, the first language that I spoke was neither Spanish nor English but rather Afrikaans as my friends next door were two Afrikaan girls.

At school I was always picked on because of my curly hair and bigger lips and was always said to resemble a black person; not a kind thing to say in the times of Apartheid. This caused me to be involved in numerous school fights. In 1987 I was in the same class as Phillip Holiday (who later went on to become IBF lightweight world champion).

I was the ''breker'' in the class and, urged on by other classmates, told Phillip that I would beat him in a boxing fight. I was overweight and used to weigh 88kgs in those days. He said that I would NEVER beat him so I started training for this fight and thus started to lose weight. Philip and I were ''enemies'' and that fight would have been a class sell-out but it never took place and he and I became best friends. Thus I continued with the boxing at the same boxing club as him.

Another point that has just come up in my head was my first boxing nickname was '' The Flying Spaniard''. This came about in 1988 when I escaped from the hospital (my parents were furious afterwards when they found out what I had done), with yellow jaundice to fight the provincial championship against George Smith, son of Kosie Smith (who fought for the WBA light-heavyweight title in 76’).

As usual, I was the ''uitlander'' (foreigner) always have been, even in my country of birth. They allowed him to do whatever he wanted; at one stage he took me by my neck and threw me out of the ring (the Spaniard flies out the ring thus “The Flying Spaniard”) ,something he could do as he weighed 15 kilos heavier (88 kilos to my 73).
In the first round I broke my metacarpal but carried on battling with the HULK two rounds more. I have that fight on video, when my ex finally gives all my stuff back we will be able to see it again.

LF) You had your first handful of fights out there before taking on more experienced Soon Botes for the SA title. Tell me about your time as a pro in SA?

JS) Well I have always been discriminated against for my way of being. Stan Christodoulou, the president of the SA boxing board, hated me and the reason why I wear my beard the way I do is because of him. I used to always wear a 'bokkie' beard which is moustache and beard but just around the mouth. Twenty minutes before one of my fights, he tells me that he will not allow me to fight with that beard. So what I did was, with already bandaged hands, I shaved a bit and instead of a beard made it a moustache with a strip under my mouth and boxed that night under the hateful eyes of Christodoulou. I also used to have “wild thing” printed on my head in fluorescent pink. One time after a fight he told me that with the printing in my hair I looked “like a clown”, I replied ''at least I have hair'' something that was not taken kindly by a bald man!

My loss against Botes was also made possible by the inclination of the referee with everything against me condoned.

LF) You moved back to Spain after the loss to Botes, why did you return there at that time?

JS) The reason I left SA was because of the aforementioned discrimination and the violence in SA was getting out of control with myself being a victim of a hijacking in 1992 while visiting my parents. I was shot in the face with a .44 calibre revolver. I should never have survived and spent two weeks in ICU amongst hospital strikers behaving violently around my hospital room.

LF) You re-emerged in Spain for a draw with 8-0 Mukadi Mana before fighting for the WBC Mundo Hispanic middleweight title. You actually remained undefeated for several years defending that belt, were there big fights which were close to being made around that time as you were in top form?

JS) About guys who were too chicken too face me in the ring even though I was their number one and European mandatory challenger, two names come up; Cristian Sanavia and Howard Eastman. Their promoters with cash gave me the run around, the Sanavia fight being postponed three times then he lost the title and Eastman two thirds of the same. If only I had had a promoter with bucks (laughs) but there’s no use crying over spilt milk.

LF) In summer 02' you boxed for the Spanish middleweight title versus Xavier Moya, stopping him in eight rounds, you then had a rematch a short while later for the vacant EBU belt. Talk me through those two fights?

JS) Moya in Cataluña boxing was the cherry on the top, the boxing idol (and a good sporting example I must add). We had been trying to organise the first fight for ages and when it finally came through I was the clear underdog but, as I told him in the pre-fight interview, there was no way he was going to beat me, he was way too ugly (I was always on the lookout for a sore point to put my finger in although never did I use a swear-word, I believe that lowers your cultural standards).

In the fight he used all kinds of rough tactics on me, tolerated by the ref, but at no time did he hurt me and at the end of the 7th in the fight he retired on his corner stool.

The second fight was in Cataluña, he said that he had had weight problems the first time out but this time with the weight in order and the backing of his fans (the first fight was in Leon faraway from his hometown), and the EU title would be his. Again I told him that he had not undergone plastic surgery and that he was still too ugly to beat a handsome guy like me, these comments infuriated his fans and they came out with political banners basically saying ''Yankee go home''.

Although I am from Cataluña, I guess as my father always told me, he is from no set place, his home is the world.

Well the fighting commenced and once again it was more of the same, dirty tactics even more allowed by the ref’ and finally his KO in the 7th round came as no surprise to me. I repeated to him again while we were fighting, in the clinches, how ugly he was.

The good thing is that nowadays we have the ultimate respect for each other and are both seen as the greats of Catalonian boxing (although I am still handsome and he is just as ugly although a little older).

LF) When you were at your peak did you ever spar with top-level fighters?

JS) Believe it or not, you probably won't, but asking around you will find it out, I used to be (former world heavyweight champion) Corrie Sanders’ main sparring partner for many of his fights. In his first loss I knew something was going to happen against Nate Tubbs as he could not even hold up five rounds with myself, a middleweight, he spent more time on the golf course than in the gym (direct quote from the best trainer in South Africa Harold Volbrecht).

I sparred everyday as well in the Nick Durandt gym with (former super-middleweight champion) Thulane “Sugarboy” Malinga who was a very awkward fighter.

Loss; Sendra is out-boxed by a young Sturm

LF) You got your big tests later on in your career against two men who were coming off huge fights. Morrade Hakkar was two fights removed from a world title loss to Bernard Hopkins and Sturm had just been robbed vs De La Hoya. Did you firmly believe you had won the Hakkar fight and do you feel the Sturm fight, just three months later, come a little too soon after?

JS) The Hakkar fight came at totally the wrong time for me, I was in good shape but two weeks before the fight I got a terrible flu and chest infection and thus we tried to move the fight to a later date but to no avail (being a Spaniard with no financial backing).

I firmly believe that even though I was really sick for that fight I clearly won that fight, getting a split decision, one of the best judges in Europe (John Coyle) gave me the fight on French territory being a Spaniard shows that the victory was totally mine.
Hakkar went on to make a lot of money which he blew in no time, begging my manager for a rematch last year for a measly two grand.

The fight against Sturm I lost on points and he proved to be far superior than me technically speaking, (the German fans) thought that I would go down in three-or-four rounds and I really surprised them going twelve and their boy totally out of breath at the end. “El Salvaje” never gives up, as I always tell my son; never ever give up.

I still remember sometimes with a little smirk in my mouth how when I was a youngster, overweight (88 kilos) and unsought for, I would never have dreamed of women giving me their panties, phoning and emailing me to have something on the side with them, things I used to see in the movies but it used to happen to me when I was a hotshot in boxing circles (laughs) although I was too in love with my son's mother and never thought of even giving it a go.

LF) So after the Hakkar and Sturm fights you had a draw and a loss you didn't fight again for over five years. What were you up to in that period?

JS) After those fights, in the workplace with the (economic) crisis, the section of the company where I was employed closed and I was left on the dole, I fell into a deep depression, of the consequences was the break-up of the relationship with the mother of my child. I really went through a hard time and on many occasions felt like just giving everything up. What saved me were a four great people in my life; my parents, my son and my friend who is now my sentimental partner. I used my father's experience in 1984 when he also went through the economic crisis in South Africa, he lost everything he owned and at the same time lost his very beloved mother.
I used this milestone as my support to make it through the really dreadful time I went through.

LF) You came back with a win in 2011 what made you return to the ring at that point?

JS) Going into the fight with (Juan Carlos) Muntane, hitting the bag everyday with tears flowing out of my eyes as I had lost the woman that I truly loved and every punch that I threw was filled with anger, fear and heartache. I basically did that fight to prove to myself and my son that his ''daddy'' (a name which he calls me in English) can overcome anything he puts his mind to and, on top of that, dedicate it all to him.
When I took him in my arms after the fight (an eight round points victory), the heavens could have fallen down, at that moment I was in another universe.

LF) Tell me about your planned farwell fight set for this year?

JS) My farewell fight that we plan to do in June or July in my hometown of Castelldefels would be a demonstration of my appreciation for the support of the people (not the governing body who never supported me although I was a really well-known sportsman there). It would also show my son that all those fight posters that I used to hang up myself (other boxers wouldn't be seen dead doing that), all the sponsors I used to speak to for possible sponsorships were never done to no avail, they were done to accomplish a goal I had set myself.

Shosholoza, a song associated to everything South African, will play for last time when ''El Salvaje'' enters the ring, although I see it as end of one (career) and the start of a coaching career trip which I have already embarked on.

LF) I can tell your family is very special to you?

JS) Yes, my son Nicolás, is the greatest son a man could ever hope for, my parents...what can I say? They are my idols, I have a sentimental partner that, apart from having been a good friend and there for me in the hardest times, when I separated from my ex, she is a woman as simple and humble as me in my social life (I must admit I am quite egotistical and loud mouthed in my professional career). So basically I am blessed.

Trainer; Jorge now teaches young fighters

LF) When you say ‘sentimental partner’....?

JS) Sentimental partner does seem a bit gay (laughs) but no she is a woman, 29-years-old, named Cecilia Hardmeier although she is Spanish ....she does sound South African.

LF) Thanks for your time Jorge.

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