The Sunday News
HE was hailed as the African Mike Tyson but Tony “Bollo” Benson failed to rise to it when Zimbabwe professional boxing was expecting a new hero.
Heavyweight boxing has always been the real deal in the sport. In few instances have we had other weight divisions hogging the limelight like Oscar Dela Hoya, Ray Sugar Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones.
After Kilimanjaro several boxers Destroyer Bonyongo, Kid Power and Anderson Size had tried to fill in the void.
When the late Jeff Dube of Rampage Ring heard about this athletic basketballer who was feared by some of the “baddest” guys and bouncers in Bulawayo, he invited him to Tshaka Youth Centre.
Benson had up to that time had a brief stint at Highlanders Boxing Club. He had had some fights as an amateur boxer winning two fights in the process.
“I loved boxing from when I was young, watching guys like Sugar Ray on television in the early 1980s. I started boxing at Highlanders Boxing Club, walking from nearby North End. I won two fights and lost as many.
“I was frustrated from the amateur ranks because I did not have a heavyweight sparring partner in 1993,” said Benson.
Five years later Jeff Dube of Rampage Ring Promotions in need of a character who could give a new feel to the sport, invited the brawler to Phillip Striker’s club at Makokoba. A new star was born and in no time Bollo was wreaking havoc in the heavyweight division knocking out boxers like Mlungisi Moyo and Gardner Ndingwa who would later knock-out the boxer cum basketballer to end a four-year winning streak.
“I fought guys like Gardner who was taller and bigger. In our first fight in Plumtree I beat him and would win about seven other fights before he would return to knock me out at New Windermere Hotel.
I had risen to number two in the rankings of the heavyweight division and I was now ripe to fight either Arigoma Chiponda or Anderson Size for the title. At Tshaka Youth Centre I was lucky to spar with guys like hard punching Sipho Moyo and Mlungisi Moyo,” said Benson.
He says Jeff Dube used to reward boxers handsomely. That, he said, was an incentive for boxing to get back to its feet.
“OJeff did a wonderful thing for the sport. Boxers got good purses and for a change Bulawayo came abuzz with tournaments and new stars being born,” he said.
Benson said getting the right size boxing boot was a challenge for him throughout his career and it would often frustrate him when he had to settle for a basketball tackie to box.
He believes boxers of the past fought for the love of the sport more than money.
“I have a regret for letting down my fans. It was tight losing my last fight where I was bruised at warm up in borrowed small shoes and I decided to quit and return to basketball where I enjoyed a lot of success,” said Benson.
In basketball he played for Peking Stars, probably the best Matabeleland club ever that even won national championships edging Arcadia Bucs and formidable opponents like Cavaliers.
“I was a dedicated sportsperson and I started playing basketball at school motivated by my deputy headboy Derbyton Williams who was a star in the sport. He was a great inspiration as he also played club basketball. The best at school we achieved was reaching semi-finals of a national tournament losing in the semi-finals to Prince Edward,” said Benson.
Benson recalls the fierce rivalry between Memphis, Peking Stars, Hellenics and Highlanders in the sport.
“Those were the days of great basketball. I played with guys like Ernie Noble, John Buys, Keith Milner, Herbert Benson, Brian Staal, Archieford Murombedzi, Vincent Chimombe, Philani Ncube and Justin Mpofu.
“We were a well-oiled machine and won the Kodak national championships, did well in the inter-provincial championships as we had a good understanding of the best achievements in my sporting life,” said the man who provided the muscle when it came to both defensive and offensive duels below the hoops.
He used his body to good effect to allow smaller players to sneak in between the lines to score on quick breaks or hassle and bustle to create confusion and then in a snap Fanuel Phiri, Mpofu or Ernie Noble would weigh in with a long range three pointer to send fans at Bulawayo Club of the Disabled Courts into a delirium.
Benson(47) is retired now and working at a foundry factory in Springs outside Johannesburg in South Africa.
He believes standards have fallen and that there is a need to work on juniors from school and to create a vibrant club network.