Rushda Mallick: “My partner tried to kill me twice. I literally had to run on the day I decided to leave.”
When I decided to focus primarily on women’s boxing a few years ago I was in all honesty scratching about for fighters to interview. But in a sign of changing times, I can’t now fit them all in. The list is growing, my workload is increasing, and as my fingers ache a little more with each passing day, everything is pointing to a side of the sport that will continue to flourish.
It is in truth difficult to keep up with every fighter, the ranks are thankfully expanding seemingly the day, my interview list is never blank, some names on the bottom of that list never seem to move up. I get frequent suggestions, sadly not all of them I can do due to time constraints, but one suggestion before Christmas was of real interest. Rushda Mallick a South African was recommended to me, messages were exchanged and very quickly we were on Zoom.
Mallick has seen many things in her young life. A ready-made film script if ever there was one. She is lucky to be alive, several times it could have all been over for her. A life taken before it had begun. But there is a real and impressive will and resilience about her that Mallick has had to draw on many times. 2020 was difficult for her, like many she struggled, life without boxing was hard she told me:
“I got fat. I was struggling with my weight during the lockdown. I think we were in lockdown for 5 or 6 months. I went up to around 91kg so I was about twice the size I am now.”
But Covid was hardly the beginning, just the latest little twist. Mallick had already been 4 years removed from boxing, a near-fatal car crash left Mallick counting her blessings that she was still alive. But with survival, came long-lasting physical problems that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life:
“I was driving down a very busy road and this lady came across me, there was an island she wanted to cross over. She put the brakes on in the middle of the road because she was confused I guess. She had a 4 x 4 and I had a small Toyota and she hit me full head-on. If I wasn’t wearing my seat belt I would be dead. My seat belt saved my life. The car was a complete write-off. I held tight on the steering wheel but my knees came up and hit the dashboard and my arms locked when that happened. The pressure of the impact hit the joints in my shoulders and elbows. So I have had all this time out to strengthen my rotator cuff. For years when I tried to punch, I would dislocate my shoulder. I am southpaw so when I would throw my straight left my elbow would just loosen.
“I didn’t feel any pain straight after the accident. I got out of the car and walked but I could feel my knees collapse, My knees sort of buckled and I just fell. Since then I have had knee issues so I have been for constant rehab and physio. Being in fight camps and doing conditioning has been difficult. If I go to the cinema when I get up my knees are completely locked. Boxers are prone to knee injuries anyway, so I just have to be extra careful in the gym. While I am training I don’t really feel it is after that I feel my knees.”
Boxing has many similar stories, life in the ghetto often breeds fighters. It has to. Mallick is another to be added to the list. Fighting for personal supremacy with her siblings, a small part of her tough upbringing. Mallick was drawn to fighting from an early age, it seemed inevitable that it would form at least some part of her life. A protective parent only delayed it:
“I used to be a kickboxer, I was a Muay Thai fighter. Growing up I was a bit of a tomboy. I have three brothers and we grew up watching kung fu movies and fighting outside with my brothers. I live in Johannesburg but I live in Cape Town now, we grew up in a council house. I grew up in the ghetto and you learn how to fight. I always wanted to learn how to fight. I wanted to get into karate, but my mum said this is not for girls you will end up getting hurt. I nagged and nagged her but she said no. But finally, when I was 18 she said I could go and fight, but if you get hurt don’t come to me you deal with your own shit.
“I found a female trainer in Johannesburg and I asked her if she would train me to be a fighter. She said no, I don’t think you can fight. I was 56kg when I was 18 and I couldn’t even do a push-up I was completely hopeless. She showed me a few punches and then asked me to shadowbox. I told her I had never thrown a punch in my life, she thought I was lying. Two weeks after my first class I had my first kickboxing fight and won by knockout. I had 16 kickboxing fights and won them all by knockout. But I hated kicking and I hated getting kicked.”
Kickboxing was a martial art of some reluctance, her entry into boxing even more so. A boxing gym has many characters, many from another age or drawn from the scripts from the cinema. A Mickey Goldmill type figure sent Mallick in a direction she initally tried to resist:
“One day when I was shadowboxing a boxing trainer walked in. He was something out of Rocky, you know wearing a flat cap. He told me to come here and said I should box. I said I don’t like boxing but he told me I was coming to his gym tomorrow. I took a train, then a taxi because it was so far away. And then I walked the rest of the way because the gym was like in a forest area. I literally had to walk through a load of baboons to get to the gym. I hit the bag, hit some pads and then he said throw your left hand, and he told me that left hand will win you a world title.”
Rushda was in her words forced to fight because she hated boxing, didn’t know boxing. But the old-time trainer didn’t give up and eventually, Rushda had her first amateur fight. An experienced opponent, 20 odd fights, the Provincial champion. Rushda won inside the first 17 seconds.
“I had a few amateur fights after that. Then the CEO of South African professional boxing was at one of the events, and I won that fight by knockout again. He gave me my professional license more or less on the spot. I fought at lightweight, I lost my first professional fight. I fought a girl in her hometown, it was a very close fight but they gave the fight to her. I won my next fight by knockout and my third fight on points and then I was in the car accident.
With the injuries from the near-fatal car accident preventing her from boxing, Rusha moved to Johannesburg to undergo physio to begin 8-months of therapy on her underlying injuries and to start teaching women and children boxing. But Rushda couldn’t get fights or a trainer.
“I started to gain a lot of weight because I wasn’t boxing no more and I was in a very abusive relationship. When you are in that kind of relationship the person makes you believe you can’t do something. When lockdown hit if I wasn’t getting beat up I was eating, I went from lightweight and 61kg to 91kg.”
There have been many problems in her native country, domestic abuse is one such problem. A quick Google search highlighted a report published in 2016, the first ever-ever such report, showing that over 40% of young people have experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Laws are finally changing or being amended, a country finally accepting the need for change. The need for justice for the victims. Mallick ran for her life to avoid being another sad statistic. It could have ended very differently:
“In 2020 when I started my weight loss journey I left him. My partner tried to kill me twice. I literally had to run on the day I decided to leave. The percentage of abuse in relationships in South Africa is the highest in the world, about 1 in 4, most of them end up dying. I think what woke me up was the year before another top South African boxer Baby Lee was shot and killed by her partner, so that kind of made me think that will happen to me.”
When thoughts turned to resuming her boxing career, Mallick had a pretty low base as her starting point. Damien Durandt trainer to the WBC cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu took some convincing on many things before he agreed to take Mallick under his wing:
“I had started training before lockdown, but after 6 months when we came out of lockdown I was 91kg. My trainer said I was overweight, you haven’t boxed in 4 years, you have bad knees, bad shoulders, I am old, because I was 31, and he said he didn’t train women. And I said I am going to be a world champion and I am going to change your mind about women’s boxing. He gave me two weeks to prove I could box or I had to get the f..k out of his gym. That’s what he told me.”
Mallick passed the two-week trial, but was still training in relative solitude. The coach still watched from a distance, Mallick was told to lose a further 10kg before any thoughts of fighting. When the call came to fight, Mallick was told to lose a further 6kgs because the fight was at 75kgs. A planned fight in April fell by the wayside because her scheduled opponent contracted Covid, and then soon after, Mallick also tested positive:
“Right after that, I got Covid and nearly died. My Covid was really bad and my parents really thought I was going to die. For much of July, I was just stuck in my apartment, I couldn’t walk much, for 3 weeks I was walking like a baby I could only take small steps. It completely destroyed my legs, I had brain fog, I had headaches, my jaw ached. I got depression and when I drove I couldn’t tell the difference between left and right. So my post-Covid symptoms kept me in the house, the Dr told me I couldn’t drive because I would cause a car accident. Then my coach rang me to ask how I was feeling and told me I was fighting against the 5th ranked fighter in the world.”
A short 4-5 week training camp followed, the opponent was the more well-known and far more experienced Rita Mrwebi, another fighter who knows a thing or two about survival. Mallick believes she was robbed and in her own words: “I beat that bitch 5 rounds of 6, but they didn’t want to give me the win so they made it a draw.”
Despite not getting the win Mallick felt she deserved, the fight got her noticed and got her a ranking on Boxrec at super-welterweight, and is currently ranked 4th by the IBO. Mallick will eventually drop to welterweight, maybe even lower.
2022 promises to be the year Mallick breaks out of the boxing wilderness. Fight plans are being drawn up, as are plans to leave South Africa and base herself somewhere in the North of England. Mallick also wants to shine a light on female African fighters. She wants to raise awareness in many ways.
The champions are being targeted, and despite only having an unimposing 2-1-1 record, at least on paper, after what she has been through in her life, you wouldn’t bet against Mallick reaching her goal.