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  Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Story of the White Buffalo
Francois Botha and Mike Tyson
Botha with Mike Tyson
Nothing sells in boxing like a good, white heavyweight. Francois Botha has at least one of those qualities and how he does against Lennox Lewis will ascertain how good he is.

The 31-year-old South African has been fighting for ten years and is a former world champion, but in the two biggest fights of his career, he suffered defeat.

Legend has it that a very young Botha was inspired to don the gloves after watching Muhummed Ali knock out George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

After a promising amateur career, which saw him win 28 titles and two Interstate Gold Medals, his dreams of turning professional were nearly ended after an injury to his arm. Despite successful surgery, he was advised by doctors to forget a career in the ring.


"It was very painful and I could not straighten my right arm. My hand was also numb," says Botha.

Botha and Phil Scott
In one of his earliest fights, against Phil Scott
But Botha continued and when word got out that there was a young fighter still beating people with just one arm, his days as an amateur were nearing an end.

Fighting initially as a cruiserweight, Botha racked up 12 wins before moving from South Africa to America. Under the tutelage of Joe Costello, he began to make a name for himself as a prospect of some quality, although his opposition remained mediocre.

It was Costello who provided him with some much needed therapy for the arm that had still not healed properly.

"The use of my right arm got better every day," Botha recalls.

Don King

Despite that, and the fact that Botha moved up to heavyweight and extended his unbeaten run to 28, he parted ways with Costello and signed a contract with extrovert promoter Don King.

Francois Botha and Axel Schulz
Botha (left) winning the title from Axel Schulz
After signing with King at the end of 1993, his progress towards a world title shot accelerated, culminating in an opportunity to win the vacant International Boxing Federation crown against German Axel Schulz.

The odds certainly favoured Schulz, with the fight taking place in his home country against an opponent without his world title experience - the German had battled George Foreman earlier in the year for the same crown.

But after a scrappy 12 rounds, it was Botha who emerged victorious and seemed destined for a bright future.


Four months later, in March 1996, he was stripped of his title after a drugs test for the Schulz fight determined the presence of steroids.

To this day, Botha insists that he had not deliberately taken any drug. He was given the chance to win his title back eight months later against new champion Michael Moorer, a fight on the undercard of the historic Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield contest.

In front of the biggest audience of his career, Botha started quickly before fading in the later rounds. After taking sustained punishment, the challenger was pulled out of the fight in the 12th round

But the fight indicated that Botha could sustain more punishment than one would expect from a man considered a small heavyweight - he stands six foot two inches and weighs some 20lbs less than Lewis.


The new and fitter Botha
After four more fights against more mediocre opposition, he was picked as an opponent for Tyson, who himself was coming off his suspension for biting Holyfield's ear in their second fight.

Copying the Holyfield style which had frustrated Tyson in two fights, Botha won the first four rounds and seemed on course for victory.

But a combination of fatigue and loss of concentration saw the South African felled by a single right hand punch. Once again, a lack of conditioning had punished Botha on a night when the world was watching.

After drawing with the much hyped but ultimately overrated Shannon Briggs, Botha's chance against Lewis has come as a surprise, especially given the champion's decision to vacate the World Boxing Association title for failing to defend against a more worthy challenger in John Ruiz.


The South African has a new trainer in Abel Sanchez and contends that he is better condition through the use of a nutricionist and constant work in the gym.

But even with stamina to match his durability, Botha will need to have a pretty special fight plan to overcome a man who outweighs him by more than 20 pounds and has at least a three inch height advantage.

Like most contenders, he is approaching the contest in a positive, mental state.

"The biggest mistake you can make is looking past me - when I come, I come to fight. I have a big heart."

See also:

06 Jan 99 | Sport
03 Nov 98 | Sport
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