Boxing boss opens up

Every inch of the office occupied by Rodney Berman is covered in some form of memorabilia. It’s to be expected after a career spanning four decades.

Newspaper clippings, photos and signed gloves in their well presented glass cases offer an insight into the trials and tribulations of the man at the helm of Golden Gloves.

And yet it was never part of Berman’s plan to get involved in the fistic arts until fate decided to intervene.

“I was in my early thirties, an attorney, and candidly struggling and I was commissioned, only because nobody else would do it to sue Maurice Toweel,” Berman told Saturday Citizen as he offered insight into his early dealings in the boxing world.

“The only reason I had the guts was because I was so down and out that I had nothing to lose. The end result was that Maurice Toweel and I became dear friends,” Berman, who grew up in Emmarentia in Johannesburg and completed a law degree at Wits University said.

But it was only when Berman started dealing with boxer Charlie Weir that he became a fully fledged promoter.

“I had a fighter Charlie Weir, at that stage I didn’t know anything about boxing. I knew he was good because there was a lot of newspaper articles about him.

“Through mates of mine we raised money and I thought I’d be in it for three or six months just for fun and that was some 40 years ago,” said Berman who also recalled that first tournament he staged at the Wembley Ice Rink in August 1977 when Weir met Bushy Bester in the ring.

“I couldn’t believe it on the night of the fight we arrived at Wembley and I just saw people packing into that stadium. I couldn’t believe that I could put on a promotion and all of these people would come.

In fact, Berman revealed that he never had ambitions of staying in the game too long, but again fat intervened.

“I was always going to finish after Charlie but what happened then the next thing was that Pierre Coetzer came along and he came with a  great amateur record and he was a heavyweight so I stayed on,” the 72-year-old, who has a soft spot for Manchester United and an interest in horseracing, said.

“It’s been an unbelievable ride.’

A particular highlight was the night that Welcome Ncita claimed the IBF junior-featherweight world title with a unanimous decision against Fabrice Benichou in Tel-Aviv to become the first in what was to be a long list of world champions promoted by Golden Gloves.

“We’d been taking fighters overseas for 12 years and never got a world champion. Welcome was the first and it was against all odds.

“Here we were, a group of predominantly Jewish guys, going to Israel and hoping the black kid from Mdantanse would beat the Israeli. He was magnificent that night,” said Berman.

But it hasn’t always been easy as Berman revealed and, as one would expect over the course of 40 years there were losses, controversies and fall-outs.

“Our greatest asset was perseverance. I think others would have thrown in the towel. As I said it was 12 years of just getting knocked on the head. One of the tenets of success is perseverance. You’ve got to keep going when all the odds are against you.”

“Boxing is controversial.You are sitting trading on peoples lives in effect. It’s very hard but I’m always very aware of it. We very often scrounged for money but you’ve got to keep going when the odds are against you,” Berman, who attributed the night Hasim Rachman stopped Lennox Lewis at Carnival City in 2001 as one of the biggest fights he’s been involved in, said.

The fight was so big that Hollywood actor Will Smith, who had been in town filming the famed Ali biopic, was given a single ringside seat and had to personally approach Berman for a spare ticket for his father.

“For every day of my life I’ve always been very thankful. I never take it for granted. I’ve had the most incredible life, travelled, met people – salt of the earth people – and it’s been a fantastic ride,” he said.

At his age most men would be enjoying their retirement and taking life at a more leisurely pace but Berman admits he hasn’t got plans to give it up just yet.

“The other thing for me, I mean I’m not young anymore, but it’s an incredible thing it’s more for the enjoyment of it. But also to climb mountains. It’s just the thrill of doing the deal.”

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