South Africa’s top female boxer started her sporting career out as a long-distance athlete, but it was a movie that made her realise boxing is what she wanted to do. The Hollywood film, Million Dollar Baby is what sparked Simangele Hadebe’s interest in the sport and that’s when she decided to put on a pair of boxing gloves at the age of 21.
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Oscar-winning movie, it stars Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald, who wanted to train as a boxer, but was rejected by Frankie the trainer, because of her age and because she is a women. He then changes his mind and helps Maggie rise up the ranks and she finally lands a WBA fight.
Tragedy strikes when Maggie’s opponent knocks her out with an illegal sucker punch from behind, after the bell rings to end the round. Maggie falls onto a stool and suffers a spinal cord injury, which sees her become a quadriplegic dependent on a ventilator.
By this short synopsis, you can see that the movie is filled with ups and downs, but it ignited something in Hadebe that has got her to where she is now. ‘Smash’ – as she is affectionately known – says that once she saw the movie, it woke up something in her and she just wanted to give boxing a try.
“You wouldn’t see me as a fighting person, so I just took a chance after I saw the movie (Million Dollar Baby) because I liked the film. After I got into boxing, I just loved it and all the passion. I am now a champion, I met (manager) Colleen (McAusland) in 2018, and it was the best advice I got joining the best stable.”
“I never knew I had this type of talent. You also have to know what you want when you start something and also nurture that and keep working on it. To be perfect in something you just need to keep on doing it daily, to keep improving. So that is what I did and this is where it led me. I am not where I want to be skill-wise in boxing, but I am slowly progressing.”
Hadebe was celebrated at the recent gsport Annual List of Newsmakers ceremony, for her stellar year after she was finally crowned the Female Boxer of the Year at the Boxing SA Awards, and is currently the South African flyweight champion, as well as the African Union Boxing (ABU) champion.
To many, 2023 will look like it was a successful year for Hadebe and while she is enjoying her wins, the boxer feels there is something that can improve.
“It has been a good year but not at the same time, because I should be active (fighting). Fights have been postponed/cancelled. I am aiming to collect another title very soon. I am not getting younger, I’m only going to do this for a short time, and I am turning 30 years old.”
“At my level, I should be fighting more, and also being able to see my progress. When you are not fighting, you don’t see where you are in your boxing, and now I am at the level where I need to step up my game and I need to see my mistakes before my opponents. We are always preparing for each other as opponents. I need a very big step and I can’t rely on slow progress on this level that I am currently at.”
Hadebe’s manager Colleen McAusland has been working hard to ensure her fighter will be back in the boxing ring soon.
A new Boxing South Africa Board was announced this week as the sport’s mother body looks to improve things on all fronts. The seven members are Sifiso Shongwe (who was also appointed as Chairperson of the Board), Princess Mangoma, Nande Mheshe, Sakhiwe Sodo, Luxolo September, Romy Titus, and Dr Mary-Gene Manthata-Setati.
Shongwe is well-known in boxing circles and is one of the top promoters. Hadebe is glad to finally see women on the board and feels that Shongwe’s appointment will be fruitful for boxing in the country.
“I’m very happy we’ve got Sifiso (Shongwe) on the board, he is a fair man with integrity. I know there will be a better chance for the boxers, ESPN brought boxing alive every month,” says Hadebe. “Sifiso has the experience to grow boxing and bring in sponsors. I don’t know the women appointed, but time will tell. We have been disappointed many times, but we are happy to see women on the board.”
Boxing is something Hadebe loves and she is also hoping to use it as a tool to help those who are affected by abuse. She was a victim of abuse between the ages of 7 and 9, and feels she wasn’t able to speak about it. She now says that boxing has given her a stage to bring awareness to the issue, and show people that they can talk about whatever they have gone through.
“I aim to have a voice because there are children who are going through it. I always wear a badge with a child abuse hotline number on my shorts. All I want them to do is to talk to someone and tell someone about it because there is someone ready to listen,” says Hadebe. “If someone talks to you about their abuse, try to do something about it.”
With the heart that Hadebe has she is sure to be a success in the ring as well as out of it in 2024.
Photos caption: South Africa’s top female boxer started her sporting career out as a long-distance athlete but it was a movie that made her realise boxing is what she wanted to do. The Hollywood movie, Million Dollar Baby is what got Simangele Hadebe interested in the sport, and that’s when she decided to put on boxing gloves, at the age of 21. All photos: Supplied