Nick ‘Mthakathi’ Durandt died in a motorcycle accident on Friday: Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips/Independent Media

JOHANNESBURG - De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. Of the dead, nothing unless good. No wonder the obituary pages give the impression graveyards are teeming with great people.

After all, we should never speak ill of the dead, should we? But what if that perceived “ill” is actually the truth about the dearly departed? Do we merely paper over it and focus on just the good? Most obits definitely do.

The death, due to a motorcycle accident, of renowned boxing trainer Nick Durandt on Friday has, naturally, been met with shock and outpouring of grief.

Those clichéd “gone too soon” and “a big loss” refrains littered almost every remark about the flamboyant, blond, pony-tailed trainer.

Durandt had already quit the sport having retired last year after many glorious years of producing world champions. No gym in the country could boast holding as many world titles as Durandt’s. Mention a boxer to have had his hand lifted up high by the referee after a fight and you can bet he had Durandt in his corner.

Sugarboy Malinga, Phillip Ndou, Cassius Baloyi, Isaac Hlatshwayo, Hawk Makepula, Malcolm Klassen, Zolani Tete and many more. They all got their world championship belts thanks to the tutelage of Durandt.

Once at the Big Top Arena at Carnival City, Durandt got all his champions riding in on motorcycles with their belts held aloft. He was such a show-off. But could you blame him? In a sport renowned, especially in America, for its proponents’ trash-talking each other prior to fights - Durandt brought that aspect of the fight game to the dreary local environment.

The problem, though, was that Durandt couldn’t take it as he gave it. Once when one of his boxers fought against one trained by Harry Ramogoadi, Durandt refused to be in the same studio as his adversary who had challenged him to say the nasty things he’d been saying about him to his face. Incredibly, though, Ramogoadi was among the first to pay tribute to Durandt on Facebook: “RIP Mr Nick Durandt, gone too soon. Personally, I thought you still had a lot to offer South African Boxing. You have set the bar extremely high Nick and you will be missed! Despite our altercation(s), deep down inside, I admired you and your work.”

Such was Durandt’s impact in boxing. So accustomed to winning, he was a pain in defeat. Whenever his boxers won, we (media) were given freedom of the dressing room and long access to his boxers. Not so one late Saturday night in Mmabatho when Cassius Baloyi lost to Malcolm Klassen, who had interestingly just joined Durandt but had Colin Nathan in his corner for the fight.

Durandt pulled Baloyi away as I was speaking to him and I made it known to the trainer that I was still interviewing the boxer. Typically, he spat venom and to his shock I retorted by not only reminding him of how he’d always availed Cassius in times of victory and he had to do the same now in defeat but also letting him know I don’t take kindly to being sworn at. He cowered.

All that notwithstanding, there can be no denying that Durandt played a pivotal role in putting South African boxing on the world map.

Sunday Independent

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