Craig Salmon talks to South African boxer Michael Ramabeletsa, who lives in Preston and is the current super-bantamweight English champion
For a boy brought up on the tough inner city streets of Johannesburg, Michael Ramabeletsa understands all about how hard life can be.
With Poverty rife and gangsters controlling the streets and neighbourhoods, just staying safe and out of trouble was a daily connundrum .
Luckily for Ramabeletsa, he fell in love with the sport of boxing from an early age and dreamed of becoming a future world champion one day.
It is that ambition which ultimately enabled him to escape to a better life.
A two-time South African super-bantamweight amateur champion, he decided in 2012 to seek his fortune as a boxer by moving to England.
Initially based in Bristol, Ramabeletsa headed north to link up with former world kickboxing champion Johnney Roye at his Preston gym.
The South African superbantamweight loved the area so much that he made it his home – going on to meet his future wife, Kate, and having three children – Michael junior (7), Chanel (2) and Louis (10 months).
Now aged 36-years-old, Ramabeletsa is still waiting to achieve what he believes is his boxing destiny.
A record of 17 professional defeats – with only one stoppage – on his resume is an illustration he believes of just how difficult it is to get the decision in this country as an ‘away’ fighter.
He does have 17 wins to his name – including his last fight which saw him win the coveted English title by beating Ryan Walker at York Hall, in Bethnal Green, at the end of last year.
Now receiving the exposure and respect that he feels he has long deserved, Ramabeletsa is set to defend his belt against Jack Bateson at the Leeds Arena on October 10.
It is testament to his motivation and determination that even though he may be heading towards an age where many boxers hang up their gloves, he believes his best years are still ahead of him. Perhaps his spirit is ingrained in him from his fomative years growing up in South Africa.
“Growing up in Johannesburg was tough,” said Ramabeletsa.
“It was rough, it was tough to be on the streets.
“There would be so many people hustling on the streets – trying to make a living by any means.
“There would be trouble in terms of the gangsters who would control the streets.
“I remember once walking through the street in town and I was on my phone.
“I saw a group looking at me and I just knew what was going to happen.
“So I just ran and ran.”
Running away is certainly not in Ramabeletsa’s psyche in terms of his boxing career and he is eager to have the biggest fights on the biggest stages.
“Winning the English title has been a long-time coming,” he said.
“I’ve got my first defence on a big stage, finally.
“It’s all about me now.
“I want to try to inspire the kids coming up that you should never give up.
“Never let anything stop you from trying to achieve your dreams in life.
“I want to make history and I am confident that I will win this fight live on television.
“I want to be world champion – the sky is the limit.
“After this fight, I can look to fight for a British title or Commonwealth title.”
With a record like his where he has lost as many fights as he has won, some people may pour scorn over his claim that he can be a future world champion.
But he believes he has been a victim of politics of the sport.
He said: “I never lost a fight where I was punished by mu opponent. I have only lost one fight via stoppage.
“I was getting robbed with the decisions.
“But I am working with people who are looking after me where as before, I was working with people who did not really care about my career.
“Most of the fights, because they were not on TV, I was always going to struggle to get the decision.
“Out of all the fights that I have lost, I think there was maybe two that I definitely lost.
“The other fights I was not going to get the decision unless I stopped my opponent because I was the away fighter.”
Ramabeletsa’s route to the English title – like the rest of his career and life – was not a smooth and seamless one.
He lost his first attempt at becoming national champion when he was beaten via a split decision by Josh Kennedy in March 2017.
In his next fight, he also lost on points to Ashley Lane when he fought for the Commonwealth title in Swindon.
He finally got his hands on the title when he knocked out the highly-rated Walker in the opening round.
“I punished Josh Kennedy, but I was from Preston fighting in London which was his home town and they gave him the split decision,” Ramabeletsa said.
“ But it was amazing to finally win it and as I say, I will never give up until I get to the top.
“After winning that fight, it felt like I had won the world title after what I have been through. That’s how happy I was.
“Winning this title will open doors for me.”