He was stabbed just millimetres from his heart, but tough guy Vusi Mtolo didn’t go to a hospital. Instead, he hit the gym as part of his recovery. Now he is using his skills to hone boxing champions at the Hot Box Gym in Glenhazel, Johannesburg.
His charges include recently crowned flyweight champion Moruti “Babyface” Mthalane, junior flyweight champion Hekkie “Hexecutioner” Budler and the International Boxing Organisation minimum weight champion Simphiwe Khonco.
Training partner Colin “Nomakanjani” Nathan and trainer Bernie Pailman helped Mthalane wrestle the International Boxing Federation flyweight title from Pakistani Muhammad Wassem in Malaysia two weeks ago.
The fight featured on the same bill with Manny Pacquiao’s World Boxing Association welterweight title bout against Lucas Matthysse.
“I was so happy for Moruti to win,” said Mtolo in a modest tone that doesn’t say much about the role he played in Mthalane’s win.
He said it was a tough process to condition Mthalane.
Vusi Mtolo and trianer Colin Nathan. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Like any other boxer who has been trained by the same person, Mthalane had to adjust to the new tactics that the Hot Box Gym had to offer.
“I was shouting at him to bend his knees because he kept on reverting to the style he was using at the [late Nick] Durandt’s gym,” said Mtolo, talking about the Wassem fight.
Mtolo was the one who wooed Mthalane to the gym after Durandt died in a motorbike accident last year.
Mtolo started by navigating the mean streets of Clermont in KwaZulu-Natal to become one of the best in the tough sport of boxing.
Despite his soft character, it is clear he doesn’t take nonsense. He is usually seen ushering boxers to the ring, chest up, carrying a bucket with a focused and stern face.
He randomly sneaks in to whisper some instructions to the boxers between rounds, while refreshing them with water to recharge them for the next round.
His well-toned, muscular body is testimony to the many hours he puts into his work in the gym every day.
While growing up, Mtolo dreamt of turning professional and becoming a champion like any other boxing-mad township youngster.
On the eve of his final test to qualify to lead a team to the Commonwealth Games, Mtolo’s dreams to represent the country were shattered when he was stabbed during a violent brawl.
“I was saved by my big chest muscles and the knife ended just a few centimetres from my heart,” Mtolo said, lifting his shirt to expose the scar on the upper left side of his chest.
“I struggled to breathe for a whole year, but I did not go to hospital. Instead, I used training to heal myself.”
The stabbing did not deter him and he kept working hard. He used his pain to get back into the ring – this time to help others to become champions.
He is no ordinary assistant coach, and knows all the tricks in and outside the ring.
“This gym is the number one knockout specialist,” Mtolo said. “Most boxers become champions the minute they join us.
“I don’t read books to train people, I am a natural trainer.”
Mtolo and Nathan make a winning team.
“It’s been an incredible journey and a dream of ours to produce champions,” said Nathan about his relationship with Mtolo. “He is a very soft person but he can turn on the heat when coaching.”