Roarke Knapp is just 22 years of age, but the talented young IBO Youth junior middleweight champion learnt at an early age how to pick himself up off the canvas.
Now a picture of self-confidence, a maturity well beyond his years and armed with heaps of natural fistic ability, the 13-fight professional has his sights set on becoming a world champion before he’s 25 and adding more championship belts to his collection.
That he has the package to eventually achieve his dream is crystal clear, but as always, in life and in any sport, it depends largely on the people you surround yourself with.
Knapp (11-1-1 – nine knockouts) was taken under the wing of manager Marco Luis, a long-time friend, and trains under the watchful eyes of head trainer Vusi Mtolo and his team at the Hotbox Gym in Johannesburg.
He has also passed through the hands of Mimo Spirito, who guided him undefeated through his early professional career – he joined the pro’ ranks at the age of 17 after only four amateur fights – and while staying with his mother in England as a teenager, had a stint with Sean Krool at the well-known Fight Factory sweat box in Manchester.
It was never plain-sailing for the football-mad fighter they call “Razor”, a nickname which surprisingly has nothing to do with his razor-sharp reflexes or fighting instinct.
The alias originated from his training as a barber while trying to make ends meet back in 2016 following his return to the country. Luis, in fact, was one of his first paying clients and that launched what is now a manager-boxer relationship.
Looking back, Knapp was the shy, quiet kid at primary school, which made him an easy target for bullies, who he recalled, “stole my books and school shoes, threw stones at me and physically beat me at times”.
Determined to nip it in the bud and limit the emotional scarring, his step-father took him to the local Booysens Boxing Club in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg at the age of nine, to learn how to defend himself, build self-confidence and bring him out of his shell.
He began to show traces of his natural ability between the ropes, but his love for the sport was only re-ignited once he returned to his country of birth.
Just 14 months ago, however, he thought his whole world had collapsed again when he suffered a seventh-round knockout defeat to Brandon Thysse in the Golden Gloves 4@War junior middleweight semi-final at Emperor’s Palace.
“I was really emotional. I remember leaving the ring and trying my best to keep myself together because I knew the repercussions of losing that fight in terms of my career going forward. Boxing is a very fickle sport and your value as a commodity shrinks when you lose,” he said.
Just like he had taught himself to counter the threat of bullying as a kid, once the haze had cleared, and after some deep introspection, he bounced back in style with back-to-back short route victories over Tristan Truter and much-vaunted national champion Simon Dladla, to earn the IBO Youth strap.
That Thysse defeat, admitted Knapp, had been a massive wake-up call and helped him realise that one couldn’t get by in the fight game on pure talent.
“I kept telling myself if I carried on that way, I was going to get found out and I am actually grateful it went down the way it did. I wouldn’t have made the changes I needed to make and I started understanding how seriously I needed to take this sport.
“I knew if I got another chance, I couldn’t mess around. We made the changes I needed in both my personal and boxing life, I got my head down and started grafting.”
As he puts it, he wants to be “the generation that changes the financial situation of his family, enriching their lives and giving his kids a fantastic life.”
Knapp’s favourite colours are black and white but there is certainly nothing dull about his boxing career and big things are expected of him in the next few years.