By Mesuli Zifo
ALI “Rush Hour” Funeka is one angry fighter for being denied an opportunity to ply his craft for close to two years.
Although he blames his former manager Butityi Konki for his woes, the 34-year-old is now eager to make up for the lost time when he faces Zolani Marali for the vacant WBF junior welterweight title in a Showpony Promotions debut tournament at Monte Casino in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday.
Funeka’s differences with Konki started when the erstwhile manager allegedly recommended him to use a water retention tablet which happened to be under the list of banned substances, ahead of his IBF lightweight title clash against Dominican Republican Joan Guzman in Las Vegas, US in March last year.
Funeka (30-3-3, 25 Kos) lost a points decision to an overweight Guzman but his woes were to be compounded later when he was slapped with a nine months ban and a heavy fine for using a banned substance.
His relationship with Konki soured and the fine was never paid, rendering him to 20 months of inactivity.
Now he has been granted an all clear to resume his ring exploits.
Since the fight was announced Funeka has been training like a madman and in a random weight check up he was already within the limit several weeks before the fight.
“Ali is so happy that he is returning to the ring and he has been training so hard that we had to peg him back a bit,” said Funeka’s trainer Dudu Bungu.
Dudu looks under Funeka’s physical training regimen while his brother Vuyani takes care of the technical aspect of the preparations.
Funeka is still held in high regard in US where he put forth gusty performances against Nate Campbell in his world lightweight title challenge only to lose a controversial decision.
Campbell had also come to the bout overweight but Funeka agreed to go on with the fight even though he had a right to refuse.
His willingness to fight an overweight champion earned him respect from the partisan American boxing public.
The IBF for which he was mandatory when he faced Campbell resolved to grant him another shot at the vacant title and Funeka appeared to be boxing the rings around Guzman only to be denied a deserved victory when the fight was scored a draw.
Despite being denied of the title, his reputation as a world class fighter was cemented.
The IBF ordered a rematch against Guzman and the Dominican Republican came to the lightweight bout weighing as a middleweight.
Funeka’s decision to go ahead with the fight backfired as he lost a split decision to the bigger Guzman and subsequently failed the dope test.
Against Marali he will be fighting in the junior welterweight for the first time and Dudu says his charge will be strong in the weight class.
“Dont forget that Ali held his own against bigger world class guys like Campbell and Guzman. Imagine how strong he will be when he will be fighting boxers of his size.”
Funeka, who is now 34-years old, plans to use the WBF title as vehicle to relaunch his international career and he feels sorry for Marali.
Marali, who is a year older, was Funeka’s stablemate at Eyethu Boxing Gymnasium in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape and Dudu who was also a trainer at the club, knows the weaknesses and strength of 35-year-old.
“Marali likes the fight to be fought at a particular pace and he will receive a rude awakening against Ali,” he said.
The fight will form part of a tournament also featuring the WBF heavyweight title classh between Francois Botha and American Michael Grant.
Other fighters on the bill include two-time IBF junior lightweight champion Malcolm Klassen taking on Mexican Daniel Lomeli for the WBF crown.
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