By Thomas Gerbasi
Certain things can make a young fighter stand out in your memory: good power, blinding speed, a lethal left hook, flash, etc. But the thing that made me watch South African super middleweight Thomas Oosthuizen a bit closer was his reference in several interviews to modeling his style on a mix of Hall of Famers Thomas Hearns and Bob Foster.
Now that’s an intriguing mix for sure, yet what impressed me is that the 25-year-old even knows who Bob Foster is. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that while the majority of his peers in the fight game would obviously know the “Motor City Cobra,” the Albuquerque light heavyweight terror would draw plenty of blank stares.
Unfortunate? Yes. But that’s a rant for another time. For now, we can get back to Oosthuizen and his respect for his elders, from his father Charles (a former pro boxer himself) and trainer and former welterweight contender Harold Volbrecht, to the aforementioned Hearns and Foster.
“That comes from Harold Volbrecht,” said Oosthuizen of his appreciation for the sweet science’s greatest practitioners. “It’s a good thing to watch the history of boxing. He said I’m a lot like Thomas Hearns from the outside, and when he saw how I fight on the inside, he said I was like Bob Foster, and it’s a complete package. That’s why Harold calls me ‘The Package.’ I throw short, quick, combinations on the inside, stick on the outside and lure them into something. Bob Foster was a menace on the inside, the way he used the body shots and whipped those long punches out, he just enjoyed the sport of boxing.”
Oosthuizen is having a pretty good time himself these days. 21-0-1 with 13 KOs, “Tommy Gun” is the current IBO champion at 168-pounds, and he will defend that title on Saturday in his HBO debut against fellow unbeaten Brandon Gonzales. Add in an affable personality and a crowd pleasing style, and there are plenty of people in this business who believe he’s the next big thing in the division. That’s a long way to come in a little over five years as a pro, and like any other young fighter of 25, he’s eager to get on with things against the elite of the division.
“It (waiting) is very difficult because I’m young and impatient,” he laughs. “And I’ve been caught up in the hype a couple of times. People boost you the whole time and then you get a big head. But thank God I’ve realized that I have to keep my feet firm on the ground and do what I’m good at. And while it’s difficult to stay patient when you’re hungry for the world, getting caught up in the hype is a bad thing. Staying patient and listening to Harold Volbrecht is where the experience comes from, and when Harold tells me something, I listen. That’s very important. I have no doubt in him, and he knows me. We have a six year relationship, I don’t have more trainers than fights. I have more fights than trainers because I’ve only had one trainer. And I trust in him. When he says left we’ll go left, and whatever he says, we’ll do. Harold teaches me the art of boxing and also what happens behind the scenes. We talk about everything moneywise, about personal lives, relationships. Harold advises me in everything, and I do listen to him.”
The 56-year-old Volbrecht earned that kind of respect from those in his native country over the course of a 14 year career that saw him hold the South African title for years while challenging for the world crown twice – albeit unsuccessfully – against Pipino Cuevas and Mark Breland. He did end his career on a high note, going 8-0 with five KOs before retiring in 1989, and after sticking with the game as a trainer, he was the first choice for Charles Oosthuizen when his son wanted to turn pro.
“I rate Harold as the best southpaw South Africa’s ever produced, and that’s why my dad took me to him,” recalled Thomas Oosthuizen. “I told my dad at the age of 18 I wanted to turn professional, and he said ‘okay, win the National games, and then when you turn professional, I’m gonna take you to this guy.’ My dad comes from the same era as Harold Volbrecht. He took me to Harold and he left us to our business. To be honest, there’s nobody better in South Africa, and I even compare him to world trainers. He’s one of the best in the world and without a doubt, having him in my corner is a big thing. I trust Harold with everything in the ring.”
And it’s been so far so good for the duo, even with a bit of a layoff following his most recent win over Fulgencio Zuniga last November. So good that when Oosthuizen was in the midst of a 4-0 run last year, his sights started turning to the big guns at super middleweight, namely Andre Ward, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, and Arthur Abraham.
“While I was very busy last year, we started looking at Froch, Ward, Kessler, Arthur Abraham, all of those guys,” he said. “And the important thing is, we can beat them. I know I can beat these guys without a doubt. It’s just a matter of time and everything. I’ve had the layoff, I don’t believe it will affect me, I haven’t fought in a couple of months, but at the end of the day, prep is what it’s all about, and I’ve prepped for this fight (with Gonzales), I’ve worked hard, I’ve trained hard and I’m ready for this fight. And after this fight, we’re just gonna go further and we’re gonna get closer to those guys. Those guys have crowns that I want, and it’s just a matter of when, not if.”
Bold words, but what fighter worth his salt doesn’t have a healthy dose of confidence when he’s 25 and unbeaten? But Oosthuizen isn’t all talk. In fact, he plans on letting the world see that when he steps in front of the HBO cameras for an audition of sorts, considering that both Ward and Froch are fighters familiar with the HBO airwaves.
“It’s all about making them realize that when people start talking about you, then somebody will talk to them about me,” he said. “They would normally just say ‘who’s this kid? He’s a young kid on the block, he thinks he’s Johnny Bravo, he’s new in town, he thinks he’s hard like a rock and invincible.’ And then once they meet me, they’ll see that I’m not the kid that thinks I’m all that; I’m the kid that works to be all that. And they’ll see that I’m the guy that fights to be all that. Ward is a scientifically sound boxer. He’s a big player, he makes the right moves, he uses his speed very well, and he’s a big challenge. I do believe I can outbox Froch. Froch is all brute strength. He’s all brute strength and power and fitness. There’s no distinct style, nothing. He’s just very tough. He’s gonna come at you for 12 rounds with intensity. Kessler is more scientific, and I’m not sure, but I think he’s lost his edge. And I’ve been training for these guys. When I turned pro, this is why I’ve been training all these years – to fight these guys. And I do believe given the opportunity to fight these guys, I will be prepared for every individual and I will be ready for every individual.”
It all starts Saturday night, but as “Tommy Gun” points out, don’t think you’re looking at a finished product. Not yet.
“I think I really made an impact on Golden Gloves promoter Rodney Berman, and also on (American promoter) Lou DiBella, but Harold always says ‘you haven’t seen the best of Tommy,’ and I do believe the world has not seen the best of me yet,” he said. “I’m still far away from showing the world who I really am.”