Sunday Tribune

A champ who broke through barriers

Desmond Pillay’s contributi­on can’t be underplaye­d


HE WAS a champion among champions and a kingpin in the local boxing industry at a time when the sport was like a punch-drunk boxer, on the ropes, and ready to be counted out.

Out of a rural corner on the KZN South Coast stepped Desmond Pillay, a bus owner’s son, who drove boxing to new heights with the absorbing bills he promoted.

Pillay’s excellence as a matchmaker was ringed by his love for boxing, dynamism and ability to build fighters for bigger bills during his heydays from the 1960s to the eighties.

He had a hand in three fighters – Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga, Brian Mitchell and American Dwight Buxton – eventually lifting world title belts.

And hefty was the army of South African and Natal champs whose careers he shaped and shined.

As for trading blows in the ring, Pillay did that too. He had numerous amateur fights in the lightweigh­t division and never lost a bout.

The injuries he sustained during a road accident crashed his fighting ambition but steered him towards promoting.

One of the boxing lessons Pillay learnt while working out at the MK Tommy managed gym was that a “straight left opened all doors”.

However, Pillay didn’t have to throw any punches in 1977 to clinch the country’s first non-racial boxing bill, held at the Westridge Tennis Stadium, during an era when the apartheid regime had a heavily on him.

While the shop did well during the four years he had been there, he decided to throw in the towel in 1954, even though his father disapprove­d.

Pillay got to spend more time at Seaman Chetty’s gym in Etna Lane to hone his skills before moving to MK Tommy’s stable.

When he began fighting as an amateur and achieved success, he was grateful for all the help and advice he got from the resident pros.

Pillay took particular interest in how Seaman Chetty, who was a promoter at the time, went about his business of scouting for talent and promoting fighters.

Pillay would never miss a boxing match in the city. His most memorable was a Chetty promotion at Durban City Hall where Slumber David took on Bandy Pillay. David won the gruelling battle on points.

Pillay joined Singer and, while on duty in 1964, a car crash in Cato Manor Road left him with a broken collarbone and hand.

Having applied for a promoter’s licence the next year, he staged his first tournament at Bolton Hall.

He used the legendary Sathamoney to help market the event, which included a Natal title fight on the bill.

Pillay would search high and low for talented boxers he could promote. Tap Tap Makhathini was one such find he made in Stanger.

While he didn’t promote Makhathini’s debut as a pro, Pillay was responsibl­e for staging many of his other fights.

He also revived Nagoor Govender’s career when he had given up on the sport.

Govender’s tangle with Leslie Tangee was a supporting bout to Jake Ntuli making a return.

Ntuli was the British empire champ and 10000 fans thronged to Currie’s Fountain to catch him in action in 1966.

Brian Mitchell, one of the country’s best boxers, once featured on a bill put together by Pillay.

Before Brian Baronet turned pro, Pillay sponsored the fighter’s trip to the US but never got to promote any of his fights when he hit the big time.

Pillay said promoters like him never got the opportunit­y to stage the plum money-spinning fights, but that did not deter him.

“I persevered and in 1977 got to stage the first multiracia­l tournament and was instructed to put in extra toilets at the venue.”

He said his biggest challenge as a promoter, apart from the lack of sponsorshi­p, was a dearth of suitable venues.

He hung up his gloves as a promoter in 1985 after a tournament set at Kingsmead Stadium. The main bout, which featured Robbie Williams against Mike Koranicki from the US, had to be postponed eight times because of rain.

“I could have made a huge profit from that tournament but I was happy to break even.”

A bill put together by Pillay which included Brian Mitchell and Gregory Clark.

 ??  ?? With his righthand-man, Clarence Shange.
With his righthand-man, Clarence Shange.
 ??  ?? With fighter Johannes Sithebe.
With fighter Johannes Sithebe.
 ??  ?? Kid Sathamoney, left, former dual SA champ, and Pillay look on as Nagoor Govender signs for another fight.
Kid Sathamoney, left, former dual SA champ, and Pillay look on as Nagoor Govender signs for another fight.
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