Renowned trainer Harold Volbrecht talks like he boxed – non-stop and always in the thick of it. Here, he lays it all on the line with typically searing honesty.
We must talk about Tommy Oosthuizen – what is the nature of your relationship and will his indiscipline ever be sorted out?
“It’s tough to say what’s gonna happen. We’re working hard and he’s even seeing a forensic psychologist and attends church-run rehabilitation, which kids with problems attend.
I’m trying to save the kid. If he doesn’t come right he’ll be on the street corner holding a cardboard sign begging for money. That’s the reality.
I know he messed up and has made me grey, but Tommy’s only human. He’s a funny guy. If he doesn’t perform on the night, he’s out on the road working the very next day, even if it’s Christmas. But then I weigh him for a fight and he’s 91kg. Yet tomorrow he’s 97kg!
How do you even do that? That’s the equivalent of putting on the weight of two babies overnight. I can’t sleep with him in the bed. If I want to look for Tommy I go straight for the fridge. When the nerves are working, he’s eating. He’s had issues with substances too – I don’t want one vice replacing the other.”
Tell us a little bit about your coaching philosophy and how you apply it.
“The truth is the current scene breaks my heart. When I boxed I used to get up at 4am for roadwork. I was a sales rep, so I’d then get in my car, drive to Ellisras and Thabazimbi and return to Benoni. I did that most days. If it rained and I missed my roadwork, I would sweat about it and be disappointed. I hated missing it.
Guys take time off today because they’re tired. Can you believe that? It’s almost like the whole boxing fraternity is a head case, so my ethic of working hard doesn’t mean much.
There’s not much talent out there. Some days I feel like pulling out. I try my best, but if the connection isn’t there between the trainer, boxer and promoter, it doesn’t work. Too often the boxer lets the other people down. This is the reality of South African boxing.”
Middleweight Dowayne Combrink is preparing for a big fight, going in for a third time against Giovanni Bushby later this month. Have you been satisfied with his progress?
“Yes and no. Where guys like Dowayne come from they’re told to leave their weight until the last week. This upsets me. The last week before a fight there’s no sparring in case a boxer gets cut, but the only way to lose the weight is with warm clothes and sparring, to make you sweat.
The weight is my only issue with him. He’s got a big heart, but he doesn’t control his weight. I’ve told him this is his big opportunity – will he only ever be a prelim fighter or a champion? It’s up to him. I saw him spar with Martin Murray. We’d fight him tomorrow.”
There was controversy in Johnny Muller’s recent fight against Mateusz Masternak. You saw it differently, though?
“No. You must realise I’m sitting in the corner concentrating on Johnny’s mistakes. He got out and I told him, ‘you’re lucky to win’. But I went home and watched it three times. I think Johnny edged it.
The first knockdown wasn’t a knockdown. If Johnny had one more round, Masternak was finished. I wish Johnny had fought as well as he sparred Thabiso Mchunu. We’d gladly grab a rematch . . . Masternak deserves it.”
Heavyweight Flo Simba is still bouncing around the gym, working hard. What are the plans for him?
“I have a fight for him at the end of the month. There are issues around his diabetes, and Golden Gloves is right to be concerned, but he says ‘it’s my life, I do what I want’. I don’t want this kid to get hurt, but that’s why I’m in his corner. He loves boxing, but I will recognise the instant he’s in trouble. I will do what I must do.”
You have worked for a couple of months with Roman Zhailauov, the Kazakh prospect. What are your thoughts on his future?
“He has a great future. The nice thing is he has age on his side, having turned 21 when he was training for his recent fight here. Before he’s 25 he will fight for the world title. If you’re going to make it in boxing, you must make a move before you’re 25. I did so with Tommy, Corrie Sanders and Phillip Holiday. That way you can have a very good career until you’re 30-32.
But Roman is in the wrong division. He’s too small to be a welterweight. I love that he’s easy to work with, he understands the game.”
Given that the amateur game is not in great shape, where and how do you find new talent?
“It’s a problem – our amateur training is pathetic. Next Tuesday the SA championships start. The boxers drive down on Monday and will be tired. Despite being selected weeks ago, the team will be doing a two-hour fitness test on Sunday. Imagine that! It should have happened a month ago. The trainers aren’t qualified. I must go scout for talent, but there isn’t much out there. The amateur game used to be so strong in the 1970s with 60 to 70 kids in the gym at a time. It’s getting harder and harder to find fresh blood.”
Who, pound-for-pound, is SA’s best boxer?
Without any doubt, Tommy Oosthuizen. On pure talent alone, he’s in another class. He has the world in his hands . . . but crap in the head.”