Hekkie Budler: Credits Naoya Inoue for Japanese boxing breakthrough ahead of Kenshiro Teraji clash in Tokyo

With an ever changing hair tone throughout his career, Hekkie Budler has maintained his position among the elite at minimumweight and light flyweight in his 16 year professional career becoming a two weight world champion.

Budler heads to the Mecca of boxing’s lower weight classes when he takes on Kenshiro Teraji for the WBA and WBC light flyweight world championship belts at the Ariake Arena, Tokyo, Japan on September 18.

“I had a good win over [Elwin] Soto that put me in the number 1 spot in the rankings, I beat him, I was number 1 anyway but it solidified me as next in line to challenge.” Budler said in an exclusive interview for ProBox TV. “We were supposed to fight earlier in the year. The fight didn’t happen because they paid me a step aside fee. Teraji was meant to fight Jonathan Gonzalez, the WBO champion, for a unification but Gonzalez got injured so the fight never happened. Teraji ended up fighting Anthony Olascuaga, but now I’m fighting him. I did have a fight before this one. It was a bit too easy for me, I wanted to go some rounds. At least this fight is happening and I get the chance to fight the best in the world.”

Fighting “the best in the world” is certainly nothing new for the 35 year old South African. He heads to Japan for the second time in his storied career, having defeated national icon Ryoichi Taguchi for the IBF and WBA 108 pound world titles in 2018.

“I’m the underdog again, the same as last time.” Budler explained. “I have to say though I am fighting Kenshiro in his prime. I fought Taguchi near the end of his career, he had one more fight after me, then he stopped. I will be a massive underdog again which I quite like. What I really loved when I fought there is that the judging is fair, the refereeing is fair and the people absolutely love boxing. It is going to be great, I enjoy fighting there. It is such a nice place, a very beautiful country, just amazing.”

Japan has seen Naoya Inoue captivate boxing fans around the world. The Japanese superstar has started a cascading effect that has seen ESPN pick up a healthy portion of world title fights from The Land of the Rising Sun.

“Inoue started in my weight class.” Budler said with a pinch of pride. “ESPN are even picking up my fight, it is just getting bigger and bigger. The quality of fighters coming out of Japan at the moment is insane. When one champion goes, another one is lined up. The number 2 rated fighter in the WBC behind me is also from Japan. They have a host of guys who are the top performers in the world.”

Budler (35-4, 11 KOs) squares-off with Teraji in just six week’s' time. He takes on a man who has almost careered as the WBC world champion at 108 pounds.

“It is another one of those fights where I will have to be better than I have ever been.” Budler calmly stated. “I have to be better than my best. In my eyes he is the best in the division hands-down. No offence to the other champions, but the way he lost his title and came back with a vengeance, getting the knockout in the rematch. He has had so many stoppages, his last two fights have ended in stoppages against top guys. I will have to be at my very best, work harder than I’ve ever worked. It is Colin’s [Nathan] department to sort out the game plan, we are already working on it. I know I’ll have to be ready. I will be.”

Budler has hit his mid 30’s, the pundits ultimately start to question; How long is left?

“You have to dream, if you don’t dream you shouldn’t fight.” Budler added. “You have to if you want to achieve things. I’m looking at this fight, I could become two-time Ring Magazine champion, I’ll be the only South African to ever do that. I would have won more world titles than any South African if I win this. I still think that I can do better. I still feel fresh, I still feel young. The Covid thing did me very well for the two years that I was inactive. My body needed a break and I just feel better for it. The finances weren’t great, but my body was feeling good. 

“The people around me, Colin [Nathan], my wife, my family, I’ve told them that when they see me taking longer to get fit and they see that my passion isn’t there anymore, they should make me stop. And I will listen to them. But I still love what I do and really enjoy it.”