Nontshinga dreaming of unification, the Hall of Fame and being the African Pacquiao

Sivenathi Nontshinga has big dreams, and they extend beyond Monte Carlo this weekend. South Africa’s IBF world champion wants to be his country’s Manny Pacquiao.

The ambitious 24-year-old believes he can be a breakout, crossover star, and that is something his decorated trainer Colin Nathan – who has trained several world champions – has always wanted. Nathan has dreamt of a star to go mainstream, and to uncover “the African Pacquiao.” 

“To be honest, the way I’m working, and our relationship, it’s such a phenomenon, it could be me,” smiles Nontshinga, talking about the bond he shares with his coach. “I could be the next Manny Pacquaio. So that’s the aim, we [fighter and trainer] are pushing one another. We love one another, he’s my friend, he can be my dad, he can be my manager, he can be my trainer - at the same time, he can be everything to me. I’m just so glad and grateful to have him by my side.”

But, as things were for Pacquiao, they aren’t easy for Nontshinga. Firstly, it is tough to get noticed in a Third World country. Secondly, he boxes at light-flyweight, a division often-overlooked by the masses. 

Still, against Adrien Curiel this weekend, Nontshinga, the 12-0 (9 KOs) 24-year-old, ticks another item off his bucket list by boxing in Monte Carlo, a place he has always dreamed of visiting.

“I feel like it’s crazy, I’ve always wanted to be an explorer,” he excitedly says. “I was like, ‘I want to explore around the globe’, and it was on my bucket list to go there in Monaco, it shocked me that I’m going there to fight. I’ve always read about the atmosphere, I've always read about the people from that side, you know, the cars, the casinos, so yeah, I feel great, I feel blessed. I’m so down and humble for such an opportunity. So let’s give gratitude to Matchroom, for making our dreams come true - as a young kid, from such an informal settlement, and straight to the world, it means a lot to me.”

Mexican Adrian Curiel is the man charged with ending the Nontshinga fairytale this weekend. Also 24, he’s won 23, lost 4 and drawn 1, stopping just four of his opponents to date. 

“I’ve watched him,” Nontshinga adds. “I’ve watched a lot of his tapes, he’s a good boxer. I’m not going to take that away from him, he’s a pressure cooker, he comes, but we’ve prepared for him. We’ve prepared for everything that he’s going to bring. We’re fit, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and on the 4th of November, I’m defending my title. That’s all I can say. This is my time now. There’s no one that’s going to stop me from shining or from achieving my dreams. I want to fight with the other champions. I want to unify the division. That’s all I want to do, that’s the aim. My dreams align with those two champions, Kenshiro [Teraji], you have [Jonathan] Gonzalez, so if there’s an opportunity to make it happen, why not? Let’s get inside the square and exchange blows, and see who’s the best. At the end of the day, there must be one. There doesn’t have to be three of us. They have to get one person that’s the best, getting all of those titles. So, it’s one of my dreams to just be exposed globally, and get big fights, with big contracts.”

Nontshinga and Nathan are a wonderful double act. The trainer has spent a lot of time in Los Angeles in the Wild Card Gym under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach, and Nontshinga is personable and not without a sense of humour. 

They went viral in a clip last year after Nathan motivated Nontshinga through choppy waters in Mexico against Hector Flores on his way to capturing the vacant world title. Nathan’s words not only got his fighter to the finish line, but they inspired him to win valuable championship rounds in hostile territory. 

That type of viral highlight reel corner work helped elevate them both, and Nathan was in there pitching for Trainer of the Year honours as 2022 closed out. Nontshinga admits it also helped him get noticed.

“Yes, it helped a lot, because I believe you can’t be a person without having people around you, you know?” he reflects. “They kept one pushing me, they saw a star in me, they saw a young kid who is ambitious, who wants to make something out of his life and is passionate about the sport of boxing, and they kept on pushing me. Even now, this is just the beginning. I’m coming for more. I’m coming for more opportunities. I want to become the first undisputed world champion in South Africa. I want to make sure that I pave the way for all the young kids to see that you can do it, it’s possible. So that’s the aim. It’s like that.

Nontshinga’s father was a boxer. So was his uncle. One day, a friend invited him to the gym and it was a sparring day. Nontshinga was put in the ring and he knocked out one of the established boxers on his first day. He was only seven or eight.

“This can change your life forever, so you must keep on coming here,” the coach told him. And he never looked back.

Nontshinga is living a movie, but he hopes he is not too far beyond the opening credits. Despite having a world title, the dreams of unifying, huge nights, inspiring a nation, they must wait for because Curiel comes first. And, of course, there are other challenges. 

One is being a fighter in a lower weight, but that might not always be the case. As with Pacquiao, Nontshinga can see himself moving through divisions as he gets older.

“As I grow up, I want to become a multi-division champion,” Nontshinga continues. “That is one of the things I want to achieve in the sport of boxing, I want to be there. A lot of challenges, man. A lot of challenges. I believe these challenges are what make us. I want to test the beast inside of me, I love to unleash it. It’s supposed to stress you. It’s supposed to stretch you, it’s not supposed to be comfortable. It’s supposed to give you anxiety, in a positive way, so that you can be able to push yourself and be brave enough to know that each and every opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”

He is Matchroom’s only signing from South Africa so far, but the goal is to inspire kids not just at home but further afield. He wants to leave a significant mark on the sport, and he dreams of being a Hall of Famer, even saying he wants to go in with modern stars like Bam Rodriguez and Canelo. He wants to be in that class.

But first he has to break through barriers, whether they are seen or otherwise. Being a little man from South Africa is, for some, two strikes against a man trying to make his way in this sometimes selective boxing world. But Nontshinga is unflinching and believes he can make it, even though he knows it will be difficult.

“To be honest, it’s hard because, you know connections, they’re scarce, scarce of resources,” he acknowledges, of just a few of the logistical obstacles. “If you’re doing your thing, you’ve got to do it yourself. The support is rare, you get it here and there, so it’s definitely hard, but let me give a shout out to Colin Nathan for making sure that I achieve my dreams, and become the person that I am, and for giving me the promotion that made me. [He] gave me opportunities so that I didn’t go into the hood and do the wrong things. They kept me locked into my dreams and my goals, and I’ve achieved greatness, now at least I’m one of the recognisable names around the globe, and a world champion as young as I am, at the age of 24. 

“It’s just so hard, it’s never easy, but it’s one of my dreams to give back to the community and make sure that other kids get more opportunities. Even better than me, if there’s a way.”