When I think kickboxing, I think Jean Claude Van Damme in a dodgy diaper and a little Asian guy dropping coconuts from a tree in the jungle. And before you think I am a little strange ? that scene was immortalised by Van Damme in the Hollywood ?hit? ?Kickboxer?.
But then that movie also had me believing fighters tend to dip their fists into a nasty combo of molasses and broken glass, so it was somewhat re-assuring to chat to the real deal, South African middleweight champion Vuyisile Colossa, to get some perspective on a sport most people only know from an assortment of movies starring B-Grade stars and ex-fighters trying their hand at acting.
Vuyisile, 24, has been fighting since he was 16, after being introduced to the sport while at school in the Free State. Before then he had been active in just about every sport you could think of, but once he tried his hand at kickboxing, there was no going back.
?I played rugby, I played soccer? all the sports, you can think of, I played them all,? says Vuyisile.
?But then I started watching all these movies like ?Kickboxer?, and I wondered how I could get involved in that. I started Karate, but it was not full contact, I did a bit of boxing, but I wanted to kick as well.
?Luckily when I was at school in Welkom (HTS) they announced that they did kickboxing every Tuesday. I remember that day I waited the entire day ? I had to train in my school uniform ? but after that I never stopped!?
And Vuyisile seldom stops training either. The life of a professional fighter is not only about fighting, but non-stop training and a regulated lifestyle as well.
?As a professional fighter, it (fighting) is part of your lifestyle,? says Vuyisile.
?It has to be everything, I train twice a day ? once in the morning and once in the evening.?
It is an exhausting routine, but Vuyisile admits that it is one that he has had to fine-tune along the way. In the beginning he focussed more on the physical aspect of the sport, and while he was ?superfit?, his technique was not as strong as he may have hoped.
He soon learnt the error of his ways ? in the ring.
?I used to over-train,? admits Vuyisile.
?But after watching professional fighters I began to focus on the fighting.
?In 2003 I fought for the World Title (WAKO Pro-title) against Neil Woods from England. He was the K-1Max Champion, but I knew nothing about him. But it was world title shot and I had to take it!? laughs Vuyisile.
?I was good, but it was totally different and I did not know what to expect. When I was there I was walking around the mall, I picked up a magazine and I saw this guy! And I thought ?whoa, who am I fighting here!? But I just went ?ah, I?ll break him???
?But he stopped me in the third round! Afterwards I thought, if I can stand up to this guy, then I can do it against anybody. When I got back I fought for the SA title and I won it.?
Considering his background and relatively short career, it is remarkable how well Vuyisile has done in the sport. To date he has earned both his Free State and Springbok colours, he is the two-time South African champion and he currently holds the professional middleweight title as well, as well as the 2002 Free State Premier Youth Award for Sport, Arts & Culture and technology.
But despite the success, he is still forced to hold down a day-job in addition to managing his fighting and training. He is every bit a professional? only he seems to be fighting in a decidedly amateur arena.
?It is very different in South Africa when compared to abroad. The guys overseas have their coaches, but there is not as much money or structure down here,? reveals Vuyisile.
?Overseas when you fight you are surrounded by the press, with cameras flashing and people showing a lot of interest, and you fight in front of a lot more fans.?
?One of the reasons we are struggling as fighter in this country is because everybody wants to be on top. I have met a lot of promoters, a lot of managers who make a lot of promises, but never deliver. They say they will take you to the K-1Max, but when you look into them, you find out they have never been there themselves.?
It has to be difficult to return from places like Japan and Korea, where the interest shown in the fighters is the same as South Africans show to sports like rugby and soccer, but Vuyisile seems to take it in his stride.
?You have to accept it,? he says.
?Mike (Bernado) is a legend in the K-1GP, that guy when he gets off the plane (overseas) he is surrounded by fans. But here? who knows him?
?It does frustrate you ? big time ? but at the end of the day you have to accept it. We just have to try and build it up here.?
It is understandable that the sport is bigger in Asia with the continent steeped in the tradition of martial arts, but the fact that kickboxing ?, and a number of other smaller sports ? is in such a sorry state in SA, has a lot to do with the lack of structure and organisation shown by the governing body, the Professional Kickboxing Council (PKC).
According to Vuyisile the sport is in disarray. The inability of promoters to work together does not help, but from the sound of things, the PKC does not take an active part in organising tournaments at all.
?They (the PKC) do not actually organise any contests,? says Vuyisile.
?They wait for somebody else to organise it and then tell them they need to pay the PKC to hold it under the organisation.?
It all sounds suitably chaotic, but none more so than the recent invite for the top South African middleweight fighters to square off in a knock-out tournament. Vuyisile ? being the number one fighter in the country ? would obviously crack the nod. Wrong. The fight went ahead, but apparently nobody thought it was necessary to let Vuyisile know about it!
It doesn?t stop there either. Unlike bigger sports, sponsorship is close to impossible to secure. Fighters generally need to lobby for it themselves and the companies are not exactly forthcoming. Vuyisile has spent a huge amount of his time in banks and local businesses in an attempt to get some sort of deal together.
But in the end he is generally left to his own devices.
At 24 he still has his whole career ahead of him and one can only hope that the sport becomes more organised? and soon. Vuyisile, for one, is optimistic that it will.
But for the moment his focus on his upcoming fight ? a shot at the World Title on October 14. If he wins it means it's a step entry into the K-1WORLD Max, the sports most prestigious event.
Karate, Kickboxing, Tae kwon do, Boxing, Muay Thai and Kung fu are among the martial arts upon which the K-1 tournament is founded. Throughout the year, the world's best fighters from all disciplines face-off in K-1 qualifying events on five continents for the honour of competing in the K-1 World Max, held in June in Japan.
If Vuyisile wins in October it means he will gain a step entry into the K-1 Max and from there he has the chance of ultimate glory. For now the short term goal is winning his next fight, but the ultimate goal is more obvious.
?I want to be the K-1 World Max Champ,? says Vuyisile.
And just for the record, he also remembers a certain Belgian ballerina turned martial arts hero.