News May 2019

Makambi “The Lion King” talks career and B-Hop the one that got away


By Michael J Jones

Mpush Makambi

In the late 90’s an unknown South African contender named Mpush Makambi ventured to the UK to face former amateur star and top rated pro Adrian Dodson for the IBO middleweight title.

While little was known about Makambi before the fight, by the time the strong visitor had broken Dodson’s heart in eleven bruising rounds, the secret was out that the former SA champion was a force to be reckoned with in the 160lb division.

Further inside victories on these shores over Dodson (again), Ensley Bingham and Steve Foster showed the African southpaw’s improving talent as he appeared to gain in strength with each subsequent win.

By the year 2000, the “Lion King” was even being mooted for a possible world title chance against Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins as Makambi’s career threatened to take off at the highest level.

While talk of that match remained just that, the heavy-handed Mpush would lose his IBO belt to Dutchman Raymond Joval on a controversial majority decision in the Netherland’s. That result was repeated ten months later and, although Makambi would later regain the SA title, he retired after a series of defeats in 2007.

Mpush would walk away with a fine 30-11-3 (20) record but was unbeaten during his prime between 97’ and 00’.

Something very few people know is Makambi actually based himself in the US early in his career after being seriously wounded during military conflict in SA. While still recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg, the young South African learned his craft in some of the toughest gyms in America.

Now 46-years-old Mpush still lives in the Eastern Cape and took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his boxing career with Livefight.

LF) After being injured after your first few fights you would resume your boxing career in the USA. One of your early bouts was a draw with future top contender Andrew Council. What do you recall about that four-rounder?

MM) I had just joined the Sugar Ray Leonard boxing talent in Palmer Park (Maryland). I was working with one of their prospects in Michael Ward when he quit in sparring saying he could not see me. A couple days afterwards, a fight against Council was offered to me and, as always, I took the fight. Andrew was good but I thought we staged a good fight, and I think I should have won but yeah it’s one of those things.

I was at first (announced) as the winner. A few minutes after, I was alarmed (to be brought) back to the ring and it was declared a draw. I thought Andrew had the talent to make it to the top.

LF) You returned to your home of SA in late 91’ and fought with mixed results over the next couple of years?

MM) Well I returned home and I collected a bunch of wins and losses. I fought some formidable opponents. First capturing the Provincial title and then straight into the championship fight (against experienced Gregory Clark) and lost on points. I was frustrated by his tactics of grabbing and holding as tall as he was. He got away with a majority decision.

I then lost to a very ordinary fighter in Andrew Mathiya. In all honesty I should have won that fight but that did not break my spirit. I thought the best way in boxing was you have to knock them out in order to win. I then made my first defence of the Provincial title scoring a knockout in the seventh round against Chris Jewel.

LF) Your career seemed to pick up with winning the SA light-middleweight title in 94’. After a good win over (future Paul “Silky” Jones conqueror) Johnson Tshuma your good form was halted by Giovanni Pretorius in November 96’.

You came back with two more SA title victories before getting the call to face Dodson at late notice for the IBO belt. What do you recall about receiving that opportunity?

MM) After making six defences of my belt my prayers were answered when I received a four-days-notice battle against Adrian. At first I refused to take the fight as I thought I was not in shape. After four calls of me refusing to take the fight, I agreed after a short prayer with a friend who was with me at the time.

I soon jumped into my sweat suit and ran about 5km. I got to spar four rounds. That was on a Thursday. I got up on a Friday morning and went for an 8km run. I did some eight- round workout with four different guys late that day. Saturday morning I went for a 10km run. I did not eat but washed my mouth every now and then with water. I was first told the fight would take place on the Saturday of the following week, so I thought I would at least have the whole week to run in London. When we were at the airport my trainer told me that he is sorry that he lied to me. He told me the fight is on Tuesday!

LF) You learned on the Saturday you were boxing on the Tuesday?

MM) At that point I did not care as something in my spirit said that this is it! From the time I agreed to the fight I started to meditate. I kept on saying "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I said (to my trainer) “Emanuel the way to England", I said that till I had no saliva in my mouth. I was dehydrated but I somehow believed it was my turn.

I had no idea how he looks or his record. I was told he had twelve fights (Dodson was actually 20-1 and had only lost to Winky Wright), and he was a rising star from the Olympics. I formed a picture of an aggressive, huge, impatient fighter before me.

In my sleep whilst flying across the continent of Africa I would see myself counter-punching. I saw (Dodson) getting tired in my dream just around the seventh round. Well a dream is a dream but I woke up and down the isle or passage looking for my trainer to tell him of what I saw in a dream. We got to London and, on arrival at the hotel, I put on my sweat-suit and went for a jog. Monday morning (I did) the same thing and we went to work on the pads a few rounds. Later that day was the weigh in and “boom” I made the weight! I thought “round one in the bag”.

I usually meditate for a fight so much that buy the time the fight comes I am emotionless. I am usually get cool and cooler that you would not see a winner in my eyes. I usually crank my engine by listening to Bob Marley, Toots Herberts and Winston Rodney.

In round one I got to understand what I had to do; counter-punch and shoot short punches. I saw that he could not settle well with them short uppercuts. Well I could not let loose my punches as I was not confident about my gas tank as I was not in shape for a world championship battle.

In round eleven my gas tank was getting low. I just thought to myself; “what if I let go my punches just to see what will happen?” I thought I've got nothing to lose if I let go of single shots until he collapsed from what I thought was dehydration.

LF) Just three months later you faced Dodson again for the rematch in Scotland?

MM) Well for the rematch my goodness! I killed myself in training as I had no idea why we had to do it again. However I had to be wary of complacency. I had to be disciplined in my approach.

In the rematch I just wanted to hurt him with every single shot. I trained to break him down methodically with body shots and inside uppercuts. I stuck to my game-plan (winning early in the eighth).

LF) You followed up two great wins over Dodson with stoppages over Ensley Bingham and Steve Foster. You must have felt pretty unbeatable around that time?

Tough southpaw Makambi

MM) Preparing for Bingham I watched a few of his knockouts and I quickly detected he was good with the left hook (Bingham’s pet punch). I made myself an awkward target in the fight as, in my experience, one-handed punchers usually have no jaw.

I worked on firing through his guard to reach his chin and it worked (Makambi slaughtered Bingham in just two rounds). I found myself feeling bad afterwards he had to go out so early as I liked him. I always liked all my opponents I don’t know why I guess by virtue of us fighters soldiering on trying to give our lives meaning and purpose.

Note: Bingham was the reigning British light-middleweight champion going in and hadn’t been stopped for seven years.

With Foster, by this time I was getting arrogant as the champion and started to tell my trainer what round I was going to stop my opponent. Foster didn’t go as early as I wanted as I aimed to stop him in two rounds (“The Viking” lasted four).

With these guys I had Winky Wright in mind as I felt if I won all of my fights by knockout it may send alarm bells to him to tell him there was an African middleweight with potential to mix it with the so-called ‘big guns’ of the division.

LF) Around the time you were beating the UK’s leading fighters, a world title fight was often mooted against world number one Bernard Hopkins. If the fight had of come off how would you have faced him in terms of tactics?

MM) Look, I would be being unrealistic to say what could have happened as Bernard is a great fighter but I would have drawn him closer for short punches. I would have made myself a small target and moved him ant-clockwise every now and then. Bernard is as smart as he is but he has a tendency of lunging in on his opponents. I would have drilled myself in training to fire a short straight on his chin and support that with a heavy shot on his rib cage.

I would have also fired a rising jab and shift anti-clockwise coming back with the left hand on top of his right ear.

They also talked of me fighting Howard Eastman and that’s another fight I wanted as he had a good record and I thought beating him would elevate my status to be able to fight for bigger money.

Also Winky Wright was a guy I wanted to fight though it would have been a boring fight with both of us being counter-punchers (and southpaws).

Note: Makambi fought Andrew Council who would fight Hopkins while Dodson, Bingham and Foster had all faced Winky Wright before Mpush stopped them.

LF) Your hopes of such a fight were scuppered with two controversial losses to Raymond Joval. Did you believe you had won both of those contests?

MM) With regards to Joval, I had one weeks notice for the first fight. That would be hard to believe but I refused the fight but then I received threats of stripping me the IBO belt, I took the fight and I lost. I was not happy but that’s the boxing business. I redeemed myself against Anthony Van Niekerk (back home) before I went to Holland again (for the Joval rematch).Well I suffered the same result. A journalist by the name of Loop advised that I lodge a complaint against the IBO as he felt I should have won.

Joval is a great athlete, the way he took my shots was unbelievable. Again you wonder in certain countries why drug testing is not being conducted, for instance in Denmark etc. Well that’s water under the bridge now.

LF) You still scored some good wins afterwards in SA but lost a few towards the end?

MM) I lost my WBA Pan African super-middleweight title in New Zealand by TKO…after that I lost all motivation and started taking fights for the dollar.

LF) What have you been up to during your retirement are you still involved in boxing?

MM) Mike, firstly I am not involved with boxing anymore; I am just a boxing fan now. I tried (finding success) in businesses involving fuel and lubricants but due to insufficient resources I pulled out. I tried a few other things but am on a rebound now as it were.

I don’t know what is ahead for me; my life is in God’s hands now.

LF) Thanks for sharing your story champ.

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