Sport / Boxing

Trevor Cramer
Senior sports sub-editor
3 minute read
2 Oct 2021
8:30 am

FEATURE: Boxing champ Hadebe ‘smashing’ barriers on every front

Trevor Cramer

The Academy Award-winning film Million Dollar Baby inspired Limpopo-born Hadebe to take up the sport of boxing.

"Smash" Hadebe (left), seen here in action against Thema Zwane, is breaking down barriers ion women's boxing. Picture: Steven Makwakwa

Recently crowned South African women’s flyweight boxing champion Simangele Hadebe, also known as ‘Smash’, has had to smash down all the barriers which she has encountered in her life.

The 27-year-old Walkerville resident gained a unanimous 10-round points decision over Thema Zwane to capture the national flyweight belt a fortnight ago, chalking up the 10th victory of her 15-fight professional career and hopes to take the international route once global Covid-19 travel restrictions have eased.

The uplifting fictional story of an unskilled waitress, Maggie Fitzgerald, who became a top prize fighter in the Academy Award-winning film Million Dollar Baby, inspired Limpopo-born Hadebe to take up the sport of boxing during a gap year after matriculating.

After excelling in cross-country as a teenager and trying her hand at karate, table tennis and the less physical pursuit of chess, she knew once she saw the brilliant sports drama with a boxing theme starring Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank, she wanted to try boxing.

One automatically assumes that her nickname “Smash” also originated from her exploits between the ropes, but not so.

‘I babysat, cooked, did household chores’

“I actually got it at school. It is short for my full name (Simangele),” she explained with an impish giggle. “I just took it to boxing as well, the nickname just stuck with me.”

The oldest of six children and raised by a supportive single mother on a government grant, one could hear the tinge of emotion in her voice as she recalled some days where it was uncertain where the family’s next meal would come from.

“While my mom was job-hunting for a few years, as the oldest child, I babysat, cooked, did household chores, I had to learn many skills. It was really tough, but it made me who I am today,” she said.

Having taken up boxing in 2014, she soon realised how shallow the bantamweight pool was in amateur boxing and turned professional two years later under the tutorship of her late coach Themba Zulu, where she was the only woman in the gym.

‘Stop women and child abuse’

Under the management of Colleen McAusland and trained by the late Lionel Hunter at Unleashed Combat Sports, she eventually made a seamless transition to flyweight and scooped the Female Prospect-of-the-Year awards in both 2017 and 2018.

A cause that is particularly close to her heart is that of woman and child abuse. “As a woman in boxing, I am not only fighting for myself, but also for all those abused women and children who can’t fight for themselves,” said Hadebe, who has the ‘Stop women and child abuse’ message embroidered on her boxing clothes.

Although reluctant to talk about it until recently, Hadebe divulged that she had been a victim of sexual abuse at a young age. “Boxing helped me ease the pain. I stand up for the cause because I personally have a story to tell.”

The common thread among the top South African women’s boxers is that there are not enough opportunities and Hadebe has fought multiple opponents more than once while the global Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t made things any easier.

“Female fights are scarce and my manager tries everything to keep me busy. It is not easy to convince promoters and matchmakers to put women’s fights on their bills. Every boxer wants to grow and win as many titles as they can.”

Hadebe has been knocked down in so many areas of her life and stood up. “The same applies in boxing – you have to know how to stand up for yourself and pick yourself up when you are down.”

“Boxing has become my life and my joy but having good people in your corner makes it even more beautiful and worth it all.”