Zolani Tete has lived a storied life and on Saturday night, the ‘Scouse African’ begins the next chapter at Wembley Arena.
After losing his world title to John Riel Casimero in 2019, Tete spent over two years out of the ring, but he is now on the comeback trail.
Last time out, Tete got back to winning ways by knocking out Iddi Kayumba in the first round of his return fight in his home country of South Africa.
His next challenge, will not be quite so easy, as he is set to take on the experienced Jason Cunningham for the IBF International and Commonwealth titles in London.
“I am going to win the fight,” Tete said with unwavering confidence. “It’s up to Jason whether he is going to quit or last the full twelve rounds, but either way I’m going to win the fight.”
Tete has an impressive record of 29 wins in his 33 fights, with 22 knockouts, which is a lot for someone competing in the lighter weight divisions, and he has picked up world titles at super flyweight and bantamweight along the way.
“I am a knockout artist.” Tete told talkSPORT, “I’ve got the sting and once I hit the target, I will definitely take them down.
“I do plan all my knockouts and when I want to take someone out, I know what to do and I do exactly what I am planning.”
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This was certainly the case in Tete’s third professional outing when he recorded the fastest knockout in boxing history.
“I planned the knockout,” Tete said, “In my dressing room before the fight I told my manager that I want to throw one big punch and see if this guy can take it.
“That’s exactly what happened, I threw one punch and he was out. So, the knockout was planned but I didn’t expect it to happen that quick.”
Tete’s journey began as apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa. He grew up in a township called Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape and started boxing at just 8 years old, encouraged by his supportive and loving parents, as a means to a better life.
“There were not many opportunities,” Tete explained, “and we fought a lot because there was no work whatsoever, so you tend to just join sport, whether it’s football or boxing.
“So, I chose boxing because I knew I could make a living out of boxing. Life here in South Africa is not so easy, you have to go through a lot in order to be successful.
“I thought boxing could take me somewhere and that is exactly what has happened. Now I can provide for my family, so I’ve been doing well so far.”
While Mdantsane was a tough place to grow up, Tete also appreciates that he did not have to deal with the same difficulties as his parents, who lived through the height of the apartheid regime.
“My father and mother couldn’t travel out of the country or do a lot of things and we were so fortunate to be able to do such things.” Tet said.
“Right now I’m talking to [talkSPORT], I don’t think at that time they were able to talk to anyone outside of the country, so this is a privilege that we’ve got since the apartheid times. So, I’m very happy and very privileged to be living this type of life.”
Tete has made the most of his opportunities as a professional boxer and, in 2014, he travelled to Japan to take on Teiru Kinoshita for the IBF super flyweight world title, winning by a wide unanimous decision to take home the belt.
A year later, promoter Frank Warren saw Tete as easy pickings and so he brought his to Liverpool to take on local fan favourite Paul Butler.
Tete proved a much tougher test than Butler and Warren had imagined, as he knocked out the Liverpudlian in eight rounds to defend his title.
Despite stopping on of their own, the Liverpool fans took to Tete and gave him the nickname ‘The Scouse African’, which prompted Warren to sign him to Queensbury Promotions.
“I do love Liverpool,” Tete said, “because I support Liverpool Football Club and my wish was to meet one of the players.
“When the opportunity came to fight Paul Butler in Liverpool, it was a dream come true because then I knew I would be able to go and see the football stadium and I had the privilege to meet Steven Gerrard in the hotel. We took some pictures and it was so exciting.”
His fight with Butler was Tete’s first big payday and he announced in the ring after the fight that he would be using the money to buy his mother a new leg.
“My mother has been diabetic since 2012,” Tete revealed, “and unfortunately back then she was amputated and her life has never been the same.
“I could see in her eyes that she wanted to do things by herself but she couldn’t walk anymore, so I told myself that I wanted to do something for her because I wanted to see her living the life that she always wanted.
“So, I thought if I can make enough, let me try to give life back to my mother by giving her this leg and that’s exactly what I did. For that time she was so excited and I could see life coming back into her eyes and it was unbelievable.”
As a now established world champion, Tete returned to South Africa for a few homecoming bouts, before he was brought back to the Echo Arena in Liverpool by popular demand for back-to-back fights in 2017, winning by seventh-round KO on both occasions.
In 2017, Tete became a two-weight world champion when he knocked out Siboniso Gonya in the first round to win the WBO bantamweight world title.
Now, ‘The Scouse African’ has his sights set on silverware in the super bantamweight division and, despite being 34 years old, his ambitions go even further than becoming a three-weight world champion.
“Once I become a world champion again I will still want to achieve more,” Tete said. “And I will definitely achieve whatever I want to achieve in life.”
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