How Boxer Simangele ‘Smash’ Hadebe Stays In Top Form

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Profile

It all started with a movie. Million Dollar Baby, to be exact. It was the main character, Maggie Fitzgerald, who inspired Simangele ‘Smash’ Hadebe to try her hand at boxing. “The main character in that movie is so persistent,” reflects 29-year-old Simangele. “She wants to achieve something and [like her] I think I have the persistence to not give up and make it to champion status.”

As it turned out, Simangele wasn’t just a great boxer but was great enough to go pro in only two years. By age 23, she was in the ring and winning multiple bouts, even going up against her hero (more on that later).

Going Pro

Her journey from amateur to pro is also echoed in the film. In the movie, “the coach didn’t really pay attention because, you know, it’s a male-dominated sport,” explains Simangele. “So it happened exactly the same, because I was the only female in the gym.” Simangele also fights on a platform advocating for awareness of abuse against children, of which she was a victim. It spurs her on to not only have the platform, but to be able to defend herself. She also found confidence from the film. “Coming from being abused as a young girl, the main character [in the movie] boosted my confidence. [She] made me believe in myself – that no matter what people say
about men I’m still gonna make it,” shares Simangele.

She kept going to boxing classes, all the while adopting Fitzgerald’s mindset in the movie so she could reach her own goals. And it worked! Out of her 17 match-ups, Simangele has won 12 and lost three, leaving her with only two draws. Last year, she was crowned the winner of the flyweight ABU (African Boxing Union) title, knocking out her opponent in the third round. Now, she’s gunning for even more belts and is looking to take on international cards.

The importance of her team

Her wins didn’t come without a great team that encourages her every step of the way. Colleen McAusland of Unleashed Combat Sport, her manager, took her under her wing in 2018 and introduced her to the wider world of boxing – where she could compete with other names and find more fights. She also has a strength and conditioning coach, André van Heerden, as well as a boxing coach, Hekkie Budler, a two-weight world champion (IBO & WBA minimum weight, the unified WBA – Super, IBF, and Ring magazine light flyweight titles).

“She’s married to boxing. She eats, sleeps and lives boxing,” says van Heerden. “She’s easy to manage because she’s just so committed and disciplined.” In boxing, it’s important to stay focused since the sport is so challenging – every match presents its own challenges and your fitness always needs to be in top form. Before meeting Colleen, Simangele was based in KwaThema, a small township in Ekurhuleni, east of Gauteng. Transporting herself to matches was an issue, but with Colleen, she’s been exposed to more networking and business opportunities. With sponsors such as ISUZU Drivetrain, LIA Med and RGM Cranes supporting her, she now has access to great trainers and is able to dedicate her time to getting ready for matches.

“It’s nicer when you’re in it, seeing everything, experiencing everything, meeting other boxers and talking to them, you know? I think I started being more myself.”

Simangele’s training

In the south of Joburg, Simangele dedicates each day to training, even on weekends. Upon waking up at 4:30am, she does a seven to 10km run, followed by breakfast – usually eggs or some fruit. Then she’s off to her boxing training programme, where she spars with her coach for about ten rounds of three minutes each, followed by boxing on the pads and working on different combinations of punches for two hours. After that, Simangele does strength and conditioning, where she works on explosive strength, involving squats, jumps and fitness trials to assess her readiness for the next fight for two hours. One day a week, she takes a break from training, but still makes time for a long run. “We have the best coach who knows what to expect [with your opponent], preparing you according to how your opponent will be fighting and making sure that you get the right combinations,” she says. “He comes up with new stuff every month.”

Simangele Smash Hadebe

Fuelling up

Before, nutrition wasn’t top of mind for Simangele. But with her team and manager, they quickly realised that she wasn’t fighting in the right weight division for her body. For example, she needed to eat a bit more to make bantamweight, when really it wasn’t her ideal weight class.

Now, she’s a flyweight and eating correctly to fuel for training and making her weight class. When she’s prepping for a fight, sugar is cut out completely 12 weeks prior, per advice from her dietician. Before then, Simangele fuels up with chicken salads, tuna and a moderate amount of healthy starch for energy. “I still eat pasta. I still eat potatoes. So, I’m still good until maybe the week of the fight then I have to watch my weight,” she says. “That’s when I’ll just stick to the greens, you know, all the veggies.” To aid muscle growth and recovery, Simangele turned to 32 GI products, a range of sports supplements to help her body recover from intense training.

Having said that, Simangele carefully selects the supplements she uses. “We have to be specific on the supplements that we’re using [to make sure] that they’re not banned in boxing,” she explains.

Gaining focus

One of the pivotal moments in Simangele’s career was taking on her hero, and boxing champion, Gabisile Tshabalala in 2018. At the time, Gabisile was unbeaten by anyone in South Africa.

“I was like, ‘Hey, I’m taking a big risk’,” recalls Simangele about the match. “I was nervous. I don’t know what happened but I just kept on throwing those punches and it was a split decision,” she enthuses.

Simangele won and immediately felt the pressure to keep winning matches. “It’s very hard when everyone is expecting you to do more than what you can, but it’s also something that I don’t want to dwell on,” she says. “I’m just trying to avoid all that and focus on what I know and what I’m doing.”

To that end, Simangele has tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on her goals. “I only focus on what I need to focus on,” she says. “I just build a wall and try to avoid [negativity] by all means and focus on what I want. As long as it’s the right thing, then nothing else matters.” This strategy has worked, with Simangele now having beaten the best in South Africa and Africa – and is looking overseas for more match-ups. Her last big fight was against Argentinian Yoselin Fernandez on 29 April.

Taking losses

With every athlete, rankings matter a great deal – and in boxing, like every other sport, you’re often only as good as your last win. This can make a loss feel that much more challenging. “I tend to deal with the loss before I even get to the fight. So whatever the result, I’m already prepared for it,” she says. There’s a sense of immediacy to Simangele’s focus. She shuts out the world, focuses on one thing and lets it rip.

For losses, her passion for the sport carries her through unfavourable results. “One thing that helps me with overcoming every result is [that] it’s always nice to just fight each other. Then at the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter who wins or loses because the performance was just beautiful and everybody loved it.”

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