Many prominent figures of South Africa turned up for the reception dinner for the world’s women boxing champion Laila Ali. It was last week on Saturday at Emperor’s Palace near Oliver Tambo International Airport. The guest list ranged from political heavy weights, musicians, business tycoons to celebrities.
The occasion was spiced up by four bouts and the main one pitted a South African against a local pugilist, Kgotla Baeti. Many people did not really concentrate on the first three because all their attention was on Mohammed Ali’s daughter who is taking the world by storm. But when the Master of Ceremonies announced that an incredible record-holding boxer from neighbouring Botswana is about to get into the ring, the crowd went quiet.
“Ladies and gentleman welcome to the stage a man who has not lost a single fight in his eleven bouts. This man from Botswana won 10 of his fights by technical knock outs,” the master of ceremony said. After his announcement, the crowd was curious to see who exactly was being given such praise.
By the time the referee waved play on, the crowd could not believe it because a slightly built pugilist from Ga Modubu village in the Kweneng district used only three punches inside of a minute and 18 seconds to finish off his opponent. Through that act, Baeti earned himself a standing ovation and rapturous applause.
“This boxer is going to be like Mike Tyson. How can he finish off a well built boxer like that in a matter of a minute, this is incredible,” commented one of the attendants.
His trainer, Colin Nathan, then replied. “Tyson is not even a match to this guy; he is going to be even better than. Give him a few more years and he will be on top of the world. Mike Tyson did not start his career like Baeti. 12 wins in 12 fights and for that matter winning 11 on technical knock out is something unique, incredible and it says something about him,” he said.
Nevertheless, Baeti might be excelling in South Africa and making a name for himself but there is something that bothers him each day he wakes up. In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Standard, he said he was losing lucrative sponsorships because he is not a South African. It is now only a matter of time before he changes his nationality to South African so that he can put enough food on the table for his family.
“If I were a South African, I could be very far. Sponsors always queue for me but once they realise that I am not a South African they just go away. Just last week I was about to sign a multi thousands Rand sponsorship with one of the country’s big companies, but they pulled out because I am not a South African. South African companies like to be associated with South African boxers,” he said.
Baeti, who is known as ‘Bang Bang’ in boxing circles, said changing his citizenship is one of the difficult decisions of his life. But he says he has no choice because professional boxing in Botswana is still facing many teething problems and if it was not for that he would not even bother to change.
On whether his decision is influenced by willing sponsors or his management team, Baeti was quick to quash it. He said nobody was pressuring him, but only himself. Baeti, 25, also stressed that when he changes, it would not be meaning that he would leave Botswana for good. He said he would always be there for local boxing. He also said his decision would somehow be a blessing in disguise because he is going to plant something back into the country.
“Generally, sports in Botswana are still in amateur ranks while here in South Africa it is advanced. Once I stay in South Africa, I would learn some things that I would take back to Botswana so that in future we are more or less the same as South Africa or even better,” he said.
Baeti has been staying in South Africa for the past six years and is an honours holder in graphics. He said after finishing his studies, he chose boxing because there is money in there and graphic design is just for security.
When he was still a student at Design Centre in Johannesburg, he used to train with Hot Box club on a part time basis. He obtained a professional boxing license in 2004 after impressing several promoters in the country. He was later signed by Golden Gloves Promotions, which is one of the leading brands of boxing in the world.
On why he is always winning his fights in short periods, Baeti said hard work pays. He said he has been a boxer since his secondary school days.
“Naturally I am a hard worker. That’s why I have good academic qualifications and a good boxing record. There is nothing special I do before fights, but I just use each and every chance I have to work hard and I think that is one thing lacking from many boxers. If you work hard, nothing can get in your way. The other fortunate thing about me is that when I came to South Africa, my current management team gave me a chance to prove my self,” Baeti said.
Baeti once played amateur boxing for Sir Seretse Khama Barracks and fought only five fights which he says he won. Unfortunately for him, he has never been given a chance to box for the national team. He was around at a time when the national team had strong guys, like Thuso Khubamang, Gilbert Khunwane and Lechedzani Luza.