Mohloai Mpesi and Lerato Ramolibeli
The American activist who became a visible and spokesperson and a leader in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote ‘if you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but by all means keep moving.’
The words seem to have been engraved on Arena Pakela’s heart.
Just short of six years ago, he realised he had boxing jones in his knuckles.
Not many people believe in themselves like Pakela, and the strong self-belief has helped the 22 year-old to scribble his name in the Zone 4 games top performers.
Born 22 years ago, Pakela finds his hands wrapped in boxing gloves these days, and his willpower is one that furnished his verve to outshine his opponents in the Zone contest a fortnight ago in Botswana.
In his first fight, Pakela thrashed Goma Nafital Afonso of Zambian 3-2, before walking over Mathule Agosto of Mozambique.
“My first opponent was powerful, and he was an experienced boxer with many years of experience in the boxing fraternity,” he told Newsday Sports.
In a sport he never thought would eventually win his heart, Pakela won gold medal at the National Championship tournament last year hosted at the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
“I started boxing in 2014,” he narrated.
Growing up at Ha-Tšosane in Maseru, Pakela was never a boy entertained by other sporting codes except taekwondo which he played throughout his primary level.
Pakela later joined the Motimposo taekwondo club in 2004.
The last born to Maarena Pakela and the late Tantu Pakela, he grabbed his silverware accolade in taekwondo in 2013 after enrolling at Merrylands High School for the Youth Championship held at Ha-Thetsane, Lesia.
“I have never played any other sports besides taekwondo.” But boxing spoke to him in a unique way.
“I grew up in the company of two boxers who were doing relatively well. I began to have an urge to join them.”
“They told me to simply go to the training sessions with them. I was not scared. I was taught basics of boxing by a person who was younger than me in age and physical build,” he continued.
He added, “It was hard to leave taekwondo for boxing because it was a new thing, but I loved boxing and I needed to make a decision.”
In 2014, his indecisiveness drove him to trail boxing with Tšosane boxing club 2014.
His first break in boxing was in 2016 when he captained a group which flew to Angola for the Youth Championships tournament.
“The love intensified in 2016 when Lesotho Under-20 team went to Angola to compete in the National Championship contest. I was among the selected to fight, but I wasn’t given a chance to fight because I was 19 years old at the time.
“In boxing 18-year-olds are not allowed to play in the Under-20 championships,” Pakela said.
Although he was denied a chance to fight, Pakela never threw in the towel.
He fought in the National Championship last year and won a gold medal.
The boxer is currently preparing to cement his name and add to his winning streak at the All Africa Games pencilled for August in Morocco.
“In August I am going to fight in Morocco, but before then I am still longing to fight at the local tournaments to better prepare me.”
Pakela said his club coach and mentor, Chaka Moekoa curved boxing as a career by instilling the love of sport in him, while his national coach Sebusiso Keketsi placed cherry on top of his cake who helped him identify different skills.
“My coach, Moekoa, helped me to become a fine boxer, while my national coach sharpened my skills. The both of them helped me to identify how to fight with necessary plans,” he said.
“They both helped me to beat my first opponent who was tough at the Zone 4 games in Botswana,” Pakela said.
Pakela’s boxing style is to keep a distance from his opponent.
“I find myself regularly paired with tall people and my boxing style is to keep my distance since I am a short boxer.
“I take the points from the opponent and keep my distance,” he explained.
He tells this paper that his role model is Michael Gerard Tyson who reigned as the undisputed World heavyweight champion and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win the title at 20 years, four months and 22 days old.
“My role model is Mike Tyson. He was so defensive, and controlled his head,” he said.
The style Pakela is referring to is called peek-a-boo which utilises relaxed hands with forearms in front of the face and the fist at nose-eye-level, it features the side-to-side head movement, bobbing, weaving and blind siding the opponent.
The style allows swift neck movements as well as quick ducking and uppercuts or even rising hooks.
His boxing icon is the 28 year-old middleweight Mexican Canelo Alvarez, who staged a maximum of 55 fights and 35 KOs.
“He (Canelo) is defensive and has target. His fist goes straight to the opponent with a lot of power,” he said.
Pakela believes that a boxer never fights outside the ring, however, the boxer came across the different incidents whereby he was picked on.
“I remember one drunken villager who swore to beat me just because I am a boxer, but I laughed it off because a boxer is only allowed to fight in the ring,” he said.
Those are challenges facing athletes in both boxing taekwondo fraternity, Pakela said noting the bullies feel at leisure to pick a fight.
He noted lack of training equipment as his major problem.
“We lack training equipment. We don’t have sponsorship to help us with our training needs.
“The only sustainable solution is to be employed so as to work until 5pm, then only practice after work. The income can come in handy to help us buy supplements,” he said.
“Most boxers are unemployed, except for the one that are working at LDF. If we were employed we would be able to improve boxing in Lesotho. We would collect more gold medals,” he stressed.
The young boxer is eying boxing international school as his ten year plan to augment his skills more then come back home to coach young and upcoming hopefuls.
“After retiring I would love to be a coach. From now to 10 years I would love to be going into international countries to train for boxing so as to increase my understanding and better my skills,” he said.