Lovemore Ndou: “I believe that one failure prepares me for success in the future.”
By Chris Akers
Having lost to Miguel Cotto in 2004, Lovemore won six of his seven fights, his one blemish in that sequence a loss against Junior Witter, on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins vs Howard Eastman in 2005. He then fought for and won the vacant IBF light-welterweight title against Naoufel Ben Rabah, a title vacant after Ricky Hatton was stripped for choosing to fight Juan Luis Castillo instead of Ndou.
After all he had been through, Ndou has reached the apex of his sport. Yet as he explains, he has always had challenges in life but has always being determined to overcome them.
“I always believe that there’s always going to be hurdles in life, and you have to overcome them and don’t give up. Some people have one loss and they’ll give up. They have the opportunity to fight for the world title. They get beat and they will give up. I’m different from them. I believe that one failure prepares me for success in the future.
“Look, I’m always looking for something more. Just because I don’t succeed, I don’t give up. I kept pushing and pushing. I believed I had the ability to win the world title. When it eventually happened I wasn’t shocked, but I was happy that the dream I had from day one when I started boxing eventually came true. So it was a blessing. I was so happy.”
Ndou chooses a couple of his earlier fights against the best in his division to illustrate this point.
“I fought Sharma Mitchell for the IBF interim title. It was a fight I took on one week’s notice. A lot of people who saw the fight will tell you that I won the fight. But because of the politics in boxing, it was taken away from me. Then a few weeks later, I got another opportunity to fight Miguel Cotto.
“Again, that was on a week’s notice. Cotto was recently interviewed and was asked who was the toughest fighter he has faced and he picked me. To me that’s an honour, considering all the people he fought. He fought some of the great fighters in the world, like Canelo and Mayweather, but then he chose me as the guy that gave him his toughest fight.”
Ndou would lose the IBF crown in his first defence against Paulie Malignaggi. Their rematch a year later can be best described as having bizarre goings that occurred during the fight. Before that fight was discussed in detail, Ndou told me that following his first fight with Malignaggi, he stayed in America and became Floyd Mayweather’s main sparring partner for his fight versus Hatton. How the link-up happened was through Al Haymon, who managed both fighters at the time.
“They asked me if I could come and assist him in sparring,” explains Ndou. ”When I got there I didn’t want to spar as I was still jet-lagged. I was wanted to watch and give my body time to recover. So I watched him spar some of the boys and he kept calling them names, this and that, and I didn’t appreciate that. The thing with Mayweather is that he’s a great boxer, but sometimes we all know he mouths off. Sometimes some of the comments he makes are very insulting.
“I called Al and said, ‘Al, I’m happy to assist with sparring, but I’m not going to put up with name calling, because that’s not want I came here for.’ Al said to me’ Oh don’t worry. We’ll take care of that.’ I knew that Floyd being Floyd, he doesn’t listen to anybody and I knew he would wonder why he should listen to a sparring partner.”
Ndou decided that if Mayweather said something to him during their sparring sessions that he was going to try some reverse psychology. That became the case, as Mayweather began spitting insults like a market trader’s pattern during the spars.
“I recall that when we first sparred, he didn’t say nothing. Someone in the crowd said something and he told him to shut up. I think it was the third time we were sparring, he started referring to me as Jumanji. ‘Come on Jumanji, come on Jumanji!’ I said to him ‘You got that wrong. Jumanji’s not from Africa. We have Shaka Zulu and we beat up little girls like you.’
“Everybody laughed. No one expected someone to come back like that. The next time we sparred, he started calling me the b-word. This all happened when I landed a right hand and it caught him on the nose and he started bleeding. I looked around in the crowd and I said ‘Any of you ladies here have a spare tampon, cos this little girl just got her period?!’ I knew that I had to apply some reverse psychology.”
Mayweather may have directed insults at him during sparring, but Ndou also witnessed the good side of ‘Money,’ a side which is not discussed too often.
“People often talk about Mayweather as a bad boy, but they don’t talk about the good stuff he does for the community. He gives a lot to the community. The media is only focused on the bad side. I was able to see what he does. I saw him driving around handing money and food to the homeless. But people never talk about that. Apart from that, that’s just how the guy behave during sparring, but that’s how he even behaves when fighting. But as a person, he showed me respect. I can also judge people based on how they show themselves to me. He respected me and I respected him and I respect him for that.
“I’ve seen the stuff he does for young children, for schools and people don’t talk about it. The guy showed be given credit instead of just painting a bad picture about the guy.”
So onto the second fight with Malignaggi in Manchester, as the chief support of Ricky Hatton’s fight with Juan Lazcano. Ndou had issues with the first fight between the pair and was convinced that unless he was going to stop Malignaggi, then he would not have his hand raised at the end of the fight.
“The first fight when I lost my world title, I couldn’t fight my fight. I was pretty much fighting Malignaggi and the referee Eddie Cotton, God rest his soul. I felt the referee did me no favours. Malignaggi’s a boxer, so I had to brawl with him to win. So as much as got in to try and fight, Eddie would just jump in and stop it. So I couldn’t fight my fight.
“The second fight was in Manchester, on the undercard of Ricky Hatton. But the thing is again it comes down to politics and boxing as I believe I beat him that second fight, the only way I was going to walk away with the title was if I knocked him out because before that fight, he and Ricky Hatton had already signed a contract to fight each other and they were set to make millions of dollars. There was no way there were just going to let me walk away with the title.”
The bizarre incident as alluded to earlier involved Malignaggi sporting hair extensions. Unfortunately for him, the band keeping the extensions in place broke and his head resembled Medusa’s snakes gone out of control, until his trainer Buddy McGirt cut them off in between the eighth and ninth round.
“I think he had some cornrows or braids and I think it kept going into his eyes. I knew when I first saw it, I decided to keep punching him in the head as well and mess up his hairstyle. The cornrows started going into his eyes, so there had to give him a haircut in the middle of the fight.”
Ndou fought on after he lost to Malignaggi, suffering decisions losses to the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Kell Brook. Boxing helped him in many ways, yet he has also seen the business side of it and is well qualified to have offer forthright opinions on the light and the dark of the sport.
“Boxing is great but I have to be honest. It is a brutal sport. Every time you step into the ring, you are putting your life at risk. If I was born in Australia, where everyone has all these opportunities, I don’t think I would have taken up boxing. The reason I took up boxing is that it was my only opportunity to make a living. I wouldn’t encourage my children to fight, but if they decided to fight I would support them. But I’d always remind them that there is life after boxing, so you need to prepare for life after boxing, which is what I did with myself.”
Currently, he is looking after a fighter called Daniel Stuart, who at the time of this interview, was due to have his first professional fight the following month.
“He lives with me in my house and I treat him like my own son. One of the things I’ve discussed with him is that he’s going to pursue his studies, as he’s going to have a life after boxing. He’s got a lot of talent and I believe he will win a world title. But he needs to have something to fall back on. We see it all the time, all these fighters making these unnecessary comebacks and end up getting hurt because they have nothing else to fall back on.
“As a business, there’s a lot of money to be made in boxing. But wherever there’s a lot of money to be made, there are always sharks. I look at some of the managers and promoters. They’re just sharks. They’re just there to make a dollar. We see a lot of fighters finishing their careers with nothing. But the managers and the promoters and the trainers continue to live this lavish lifestyle. You have to question what’s going on.”
Ndou’s life is now in autobiographical form. Titled Tough Love, inspiring others was the main motivation for Ndou to have his life story published.
“I wanted to share my story with other people. I believed that my story would someday inspire another kid. Motivate someone out there. Make people realise that no matter what you’ve been through in life, you can still make your dream come true. Life is full of hurdles. You have to overcome and continue pushing for a dream.
“I started school at nine years of age, but that didn’t stop me. Look at me today. I hold seven university degrees. I’m a lawyer. I own my law firm. I’m probably the most educated boxer that’s ever lived and that’s not without bragging. So if you want something, keep pushing. I come from a very poor family. I was exposed to and witnessed a lot of atrocities committed against my family and my friends. But that didn’t stop me from establishing my dreams.”
This leads onto his strong views on the current state of his homeland, over two decades since apartheid ended.
“I really get upset when people in South Africa always try and blame their failures on apartheid,” says Ndou, the passion in his voice abundantly clear as he reels off the current issues of the place of his birth.
“Yes, apartheid was wrong. But it has been more than 26 years now. If you want to change your life, you can change your life. Don’t keep blaming everything on apartheid. Often I hear people talk about apartheid been a past problem, a former problem of South Africa. I disagree because as far as I’m concerned, I believe apartheid is a problem of the whole world. Just because it’s not legislated does not mean it doesn’t exist. If you stop someone excelling because of their skin colour, their sexual preference, their gender, that’s a form of apartheid. This is happening everywhere in the world every day. We can keep blaming everything on apartheid, but we need to get up and recover.
“If you look at South Africa now, it’s been 26 years since the country became a democratic state. But you look at it today, we still have people living in shacks. We still have children going to bed on an empty stomach. What’s that got to do with apartheid? If there’s anyone to blame, then it’s the current government, as that is what’s failing the people.
“Mandela once said that if the ANC does to you what the former racist regime does to you, do to it what you did to the racist regime. I believe it’s time people stand up against the ANC because it’s failing its people. Corruption has gone up the people. Those in people are so corrupt and so open about it. There a law upon themselves. They don’t answer to anyone.
“It saddens me. People often just know Lovemore the boxer. But people don’t know what I’ve been through to get to where I am today. People don’t know how I got there to become a lawyer.
“The only reason I wrote the book was that I wanted people to realise how important education is. I believe that if I didn’t educate myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There’s an old saying that the power is in the pen. I wanted to send the message out there that knowledge is power and education is the best thig you can send in life. Through education, today I’m fighting for justice. I do pro bono work for indigenous people in Australia. For me, it’s a way of giving back to the community.”
As for the present, Ndou is studying for a PhD at Sydney University. Yet his passion to aid in the mending of South Africa and his clear determination to do this is clear. This is something that is part of his plans.
“I aspire to someday become a politician. I want to go back to South Africa and get into politics and fight for the people and bring some changes.
“People often tell me that it’s going to be risky and that I’m putting my life on the line. I know the risks involved. I know I could go there and they could try and get rid of me, try and kill me. But if I die fighting the good fight I’ll rest in peace.
“People often ask me how I’m going to bring change. I believe the first thing is to listen to the people because nobody is currently listening to South Africans. When I say South Africans, I’m not just talking about black South Africans. I’m talking about South Africans in general. The current leaders are not listening to them.
“It’s a problem everywhere. Even here in Australia, I feel the leaders are not listening to indigenous people. So the first thing I would do is listen to their problems and I’d find a way to resolve them. One of the things I would do is make sure that everybody is educated because once people are educated, they’ll be able to see what’s right and not right.
“Once people are educated, they can create jobs and once you create jobs, it reduces crime. The crime rate currently in South Africa is so bad. Domestic violence is so sad. It saddens me to see that even in a pandemic, the current leaders are still stealing from people. Recently we had stories about some Covid 19 tenders that were given out and there was some corruption involved. It saddens me that all the good work that Mandela did is going down the drain.
“I wanted to show that athletes can be academics if they chose to and that’s one of the reasons I educate myself and I’m sure I’m inspiring a lot of athletes out there.”
Whether it is because of his skin colour, his performance in the ring or his performance in court, Lovemore Ndou has been used to being judged for the majority of his life. Despite the physical beatings he has had and the mental anguish he has suffered, he had still managed to follow his principles and fight for what he feels is right. As he tells me at the end of our interview:
“Someone has to fight the good fight and that’s what I want to do.”