By Keith Idec
Xolisani Ndongeni’s grandfather was the closest thing he had to a father while growing up in South Africa.
As you might imagine, it pained Ndongeni greatly when he couldn’t attend Zolendlini Ndongeni’s funeral December 22. Immersed in training camp for his fight Friday night against undefeated Devin Haney, Xolisani Ndongeni would’ve had to make what could’ve been a 20-hour roundtrip from Johannesburg to attend those services in Mount Frere, where the lightweight contender grew up.
“That’s motivating me more than anything because I know that he would’ve loved for me to win this fight,” Ndongeni told BoxingScene.com, referring to his grandfather. “It’s a great motivation for me and it kept me going.”
While Zolendlini Ndongeni knew everything about his grandson’s boxing career, American boxing fans aren’t all that aware of him. That’s about to change, according to the 28-year-old Ndongeni.
He fully understands upsetting Haney in their “ShoBox: The New Generation” main event in Shreveport, Louisiana, would thrust him toward a title shot within he 135-pound division. That’s why Ndongeni didn’t hesitate to accept this 10-round fight when it was offered to him by his promoter, Artie Pelullo.
“I know most people don’t know me and they don’t know what is coming for Devin Haney,” Ndongeni said. “After the fight, everybody will be thinking, ‘Man, who is this guy?’ I’m going into the fight with no pressure or anything. I just have to do my job, just box and win my fight. And then, everybody will be talking about this Nomeva boxer from South Africa after the fight.
“It’s a very interesting thing for me, that I’m going into the fight as the underdog, while I have much more experience than the boxer that everybody is thinking is gonna win the fight. It puts pressure on him because he needs to prove himself. I’m cool, calm and collected going into the fight.”
Ndongeni is 25-0, including 13 knockouts, in a pro career that began in May 2010.
He has fought just once outside of South Africa, however, and his record has been built largely against veterans from his home country. In his one fight on American soil, Ndongemi defeated Mexico’s Juan Garcia Mendez (then 19-1-1) by unanimous decision in a 10-rounder Showtime televised in November 2016 from Corona, California.
The 20-year-old Haney (20-0, 13 KOs) is commonly considered a future star, an uncommon combination of skill, speed and power. Ndongeni is confident he has the experience and ability to knock the emerging contender from Las Vegas off his fast track.
“I believe with all my fights and not having lost, I’m more experienced than the boy,” Ndongeni said. “He’s a very good fighter. He’s a skillful boxer. I’ve been in the game. I’ve seen it before. Whatever he will be able to dish out on the night, I’ll be able to manage it. I believe that I’ve been in too many different situations in boxing. There were times I’ve had to fight, there were times I’ve had to box – I can do it all. I know I have everything to beat the boy. That’s the reason why I know that his 0 is gonna go on the day.”
That said, Ndongeni appreciates Haney’s willingness to challenge himself against a difficult but unknown opponent.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Ndongeni said. “I’m very grateful for that. I’m very excited. I want to thank Devin Haney and his team for picking me, because this has been long overdue. I was supposed to get these kinds of chances a long time ago.”
Haney-Ndongeni will headline a “ShoBox” tripleheader from Stage Works, a studio complex in downtown Shreveport.
The telecast is set to begin at 10 p.m. ET with an eight-round heavyweight bout between Cuba’s Frank Faure (10-0, 8 KOs, 1 NC) and Indianapolis’ Willie Jake Jr. (8-1-1, 2 KOs). In the co-feature, undefeated featherweight prospect Ruben Villa (14-0, 5 KOs), of Salinas, California, will face Colombia’s Ruben Cervera (10-0, 9 KOs, 1 NC) in an eight-rounder.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.