Sivenathi ‘The Special One’ Nontshinga is currently Africa’s only reigning world belt holder. Ahead of his first defence on Saturday in Monte Carlo, the inspirational light-flyweight spoke to Boxing News about family, the vision he had as a child, and his thrilling win against Hector Flores, including the famous instructions he received from trainer Colin Nathan late in the fight.

Interview: Shaun Brown

BN: Is your upcoming fight against Adrian Curiel the final hurdle before you take on the likes of Ken Shiro?

SN: Yes. First and foremost, get in the ring and defend the title. Come November 4 I’ll be fit mentally, physically, and spiritually, and I’ll give a good clean match that the world won’t forget. And yes, the aim is to unify the division because it’s no longer about me anymore now… it’s about the African continent as a whole. I’m the only current world champion here so as young as I am I want to be a positive, great role model for the young kids who are growing up, who want to achieve greatness in the sport of boxing. I want to set an example. So, yes, the aim is to unify the division and become the first [African] undisputed world champion.

BN: How has life been since winning the belt against Hector Flores? Has much changed or is life still the same?

SN: A lot has changed – starting with myself. The way I think, the way I carry myself, the way I talk to people. I’m such a humble boy because it’s been a long time coming. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted since I was a little kid. I’ve been in boxing for 12 years of my life. So, simplifying [it] means I’ve chose a great path and now it’s paying off. Back home I can see the family, do the things I wanted to do for my family and what I want to provide for my mum and dad. I’m glad and grateful. Indeed, I’m the special one.

BN: How much does your family mean to you?

SN: My dad, my mum, each and everybody they are playing such a big role in motivating me, being there for me, making sure that I’ve eaten and that I’m in great shape. They’re protecting me, making sure nothing disturbs me; nothing disturbs my peace. They’re there for me. Even when we have good and bad times, they’re there with me so they mean a lot. I have to do it for them. Unfortunately, when you’re a young kid you can’t repay your mum and dad for raising you. The only thing to show is gratitude and show the world that you’ve been raised in a disciplined way.

BN: Why did you get involved in boxing?

SN: I come from Duncan Village; it’s such an infamous settlement. I was a quiet young kid who loved to be himself and by himself reading books, magazines, watching movies. When I started to go out and hang with other kids, they would bully me because I was young and I was tiny back then. I don’t want to take that [and] coming from an infamous settlement there’s a high possibility of being [a] gangster, using substances. I was like, okay, cool, let me just discipline myself. My mum back then was working, so during the day I was all alone coming home from school. I met a friend of mine, and he showed me a boxing gym. I then fell in love with it. Ever since then I’ve never looked back.

BN: Who inspired you in boxing when you were growing up?

SN: Starting with the former champion Zolani Tete, the late Gabula Vabaza, a lot of boxers. Internationally I used to watch a lot of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, all those big fights back then. I was just a young kid who loved boxing. When I get inside that ring I always feel like a king. This is the only thing that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I say I must do it. I wake up and do it perfect. I’ve felt the greatness in the sport of boxing and boxing never turned its back on me, which is why I decided to choose it to be my friend. And finally it paid off because look at where I am today. I’m a world champion at the age of 24 years old doing the second defence. That is such a big achievement for where I come from because nobody’s ever done that.

BN: If you hadn’t become a professional boxer, where do you think your life would have taken you?

SN: My parents wanted me to go to school but I kept on having this dream; this vision seeing myself as a world champion; seeing myself inspiring other young kids that look up to me and it’s here now. Originally, I wanted to be a chartered accountant or commercial lawyer. My parents wanted me to go to school and I said, “No, can you please let me take a gap year in 2017 and see what is going to come.” Then I must give credit to Rumble Africa Promotions because they made me the person I am today. Ever since then everything started to flow. I’m a person who’s disciplined, who respects the sport, respects other people, and who’s down to earth. I took each and every opportunity with both hands. I get inside the square circle and deliver and do the job.

BN: Before you won your world title last year were you happy with how everything was going?

SN: Yes, I was happy, but there were times when we got struck by Covid, so I was inactive for a period of 18 months before I got the title against Hector Flores. Credit to him, he’s one hell of a fighter, and I wish him nothing but the best. After I won the eliminator, Covid came, so I was inactive for 18 months. Fortunately, Felix Alvarado decided to vacate the title and then I was number one contender, Flores was number two, and then we had to fight, and I went straight to his backyard and got the title. Having people such as Colin Nathan who were there for me, stood by my side since day one, it’s such a blessing. I was 15 years old, and I sent a message to him on Facebook and asked, “Do you only deal with professional boxers or amateur boxers?” Because I always wanted to join him. It was my vision because I knew where I wanted to be to become the person that I am today. I want to say this to my peers: You have to exchange energy with the universe, and you will meet some great people along the way, and I want to make sure you are good and you’re reaching to the sky and setting bigger goals and achieve all those things.

BN: Going back to that tremendous fight against Hector Flores, what are your immediate memories of the night?

SN: When the referee raised my hand, and I was crowned world champion. When you’re a young kid at the age of seven years old, the one thing you want is to get a fight and win that fight; to get a medal so you can show your parents I am really a boxer, this thing is real. Then to take that thing and turn professional. Oh, and when you are an amateur to fight for your country, for your continent. I’m not under pressure now [but] I love challenges because I believe they make us at the end of the day, and you become a better person. The only memory that is always stuck in my mind is when the commentator said: “South Africa now has a world champion.” It was a classic fight, and I got the award for Fight of the Year by the IBF.

BN: In round nine against Flores your trainer Colin Nathan said to you, “You’ve got nine minutes to turn your life around. Let your hands go. If you want it, go and get it.” When you heard those words did, they lift you?

SN: Yes, because I was in dark places, I was in [the] trenches. I was starting to panic. The atmosphere was hostile, it was hot, it was something else. So, when he said those things, I just saw myself as what I always wanted to be. It took me back to my roots and then I had to go there and let my hands do the talking. Each and every day now when I’m training, and I feel tired and exhausted, I always think of those words and suddenly I’ll become refreshed and push myself. It played such a huge part; a positive one. It has changed my life and I’m glad for having him in my corner.