'I will conquer': Zolani Tete interview
Luke G. Williams
South African WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete tells Luke G. Williams he cannot wait to get his World Boxing Super Series campaign under way, and that he is confident he can conquer the rest of the field...
Growing up as the son of a pastor in the townships of South Africa, Zolani Tete hated fighting and was a shy, retiring soul who found peace singing in the church choir, rather than throwing leather in the square circle.
How times have changed.
Although he still sings in the choir from time to time, Tete is now a seasoned 30-year-old world champion boxer, who has won global titles at both super fly and bantamweight.
As an amateur he claims he was bested just three times in over 400 fights - with one of those losses being against his own brother. Meanwhile, as a pro, the heavy-handed and rangy Tete has assembled an impressive ledger of 27 wins and just three reverses, two of them via very tight and debatable points decisions on away turf, and is unbeaten since 2012.
The hugely gifted South African now has the opportunity to secure the worldwide boxing stardom that has thus far eluded him via participation in the highly competitive World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament.
If Tete can overcome former amateur standout Mikhail Aloyan (just 4-0 as a pro) on Saturday in Ekaterinburg, Russia in his WBSS 118lbs quarter-final, then potential contests against divisional rivals Ryan Burnett and Naoya Inoue could follow.
Speaking soon after the Moscow gala draw which launched season 2 of the WBSS, Tete admitted to Boxing Monthly that the showcase offered by the tournament is the sort of opportunity he has long hankered after.
"It was a great event in Moscow," he said, clearly still on a high from the glitz and glamour of the WBSS showpiece. "It was very special. Like nothing I’m used to. I believe this is the start of great things, the fact they called us all there and gave us one of the best events means we [the boxers] need to put up a great fight and give the fans what they expect from us.
"I am very much excited about the tournament. I now have the chance to fight against the best in my division. The fact that the tournament now is actually happening is giving me more excitement. I can’t wait for the tournament to start."
Turning his attention to his quarter-final opponent, Tete admitted: "I don’t know much about Aloyan. But I’m not taking anything lightly about him. He’s a good fighter. He’s not had many pro fights but he had a very high amateur ranking so I’m not taking him lightly. I will do my research and my homework and make sure I come up with a good plan to take him out.
"You know I’m very confident that I will make it through. I believe I have a great chance of winning the tournament, I’m not taking anything away from the other fighters but I believe this time around I will conquer. I believe my skills will get me the Muhammad Ali trophy."
Tete admitted that it has been frustrating chasing and failing to land big unification fights since winning the WBO bantam crown in 2017. Indeed, his promoter Frank Warren recently admitted to Boxing Monthly that he had "tried very hard to make Ryan Burnett against Tete and we couldn’t get it done ... [the WBSS] seemed a way to try and get the fight done".
Tete concurs with his promoter's view. "You know, I’ve been wanting to fight all the champions in my division for a while. I’ve been calling them out and they’ve not been coming forward. But definitely this time around we will get the opportunity to fight each other, I believe it will be a great tournament, especially now that there is the Muhammad Ali trophy and all these titles to fight for. I’m quite sure it’s going to be a great tournament."
Tete's association with Warren has seen his last five fights take place in the UK, adding to his reputation for being something of a road warrior, having also previously fought in Japan, Argentina and Mexico, as well as his native South Africa.
"I’m willing to go anywhere they put me," Tete said, when asked about the global nature of the WBSS fight cards. "Although preferably I enjoy myself more when I’m fighting in the UK. The British fans are unbelievable. I enjoy myself more fighting in the UK than I’ve ever enjoyed fighting in my own country.
"I believe the UK fans have changed the way I see boxing and the way I enjoy fighting in the ring, I’d love to come and fight in front of them again, they create the best atmosphere that any fighter could ask for. I believe that the best fans from the world come from the UK. I would love my semi-final or my final to happen in the UK, whether in Belfast or Liverpool or anywhere else.
"If I they were to say to me I was able to fight in the UK I’d really appreciate it and I’d be very excited, but if I have to fight somewhere else I’m quite happy about that as well. Anywhere they put it, I’ll be there."
On the subject of the boxers seeded above him at number one and two in the tournament - Ryan Burnett and Naoya Inoue - Tete is respectful, but maintains his steely aura of confidence.
"Ryan Burnett is a special fighter. He’s got skills, he knows what he’s doing once he gets inside the ring. I believe when we fight it will be one of the best fights the WBSS has ever produced because there will be skills coming out, there will be bombs coming out. I believe it will be one of the great fights in my career. I‘m looking forward to that fight, hopefully he’s going to win against [Nonito] Donaire and I’m going to win against Aloyan and we will meet in the semi-final.
"I think Inoue will make it to the final from the other side [of the draw]. So hopefully we will meet in the final. When I fight him I’ll be fighting one of the best champions in the division."
With the confidence bred of being a two-time world title holder, Tete concludes with an outline of the skill set that he believes will see him crowned king of the bantamweight division: "I’ve got a very slick style. I know when to hit the target and when to avoid punches. I time everything I do and I’m a very clean puncher. The fans should expect fireworks from me. I’m not taking anything lightly.
"I’m definitely going to go all the way and I believe I will be victorious and lift the Muhammad Ali trophy."