The multitalented Nozipho Bell has begrudgingly left the mecca of South African boxing, the Eastern Cape, for the bright lights of Johannesburg and its financial strength. In doing so, the former World Boxing Federation (WBF) featherweight champion has joined a growing list of boxers who have left the province for Gauteng in search of greener pastures.
The Eastern Cape has seen the departure of boxers like Olympian and World Boxing Organisation (WBO) light flyweight champion Masibulele “Hawk” Makepula, Azinga “Golden Boy” Fuzile and the late Mzukisi Sikali, who was a world champion in different boxing sanctioning bodies. Sikali was the World Boxing Council (WBC) international light flyweight world champion, World Boxing Union (WBU) light flyweight and super-flyweight world champion, World Boxing Association (WBA) international flyweight world champion and International Boxing Organisation (IBO) flyweight world champion.
Bell’s move, earlier this year, saw the 31-year-old team up with renowned women’s boxing manager Colleen McAusland of Unleashed Boxing Gym, who was crowned Manager of the Year at the 2019 Boxing South Africa awards. Prior to the move, Bell trained under Caiphus Ntante of Caiph Camp.
The move to Johannesburg stemmed from the frustrations she felt in her home province. She was due to stage her title defence fight against Maria Elena Maderna of Argentina in 2019, but the fight never took place due to financial constraints. That situation was so challenging that she threatened to quit the sport after then Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Mongameli Bobani failed to honour a promised R500 000 sponsorship. She needed the money to defend her title.
“I am heartbroken that I had to leave my family and coach, but I am excited about the move because it will change my life,” said Bell, who hails from Port Elizabeth. “I have been struggling, and the coach has done everything in his power to try to help me stay in the game with no help in terms of sponsorship. I have been a champion since 2016, but nothing has changed since.
“My dream has always been to prosper at home so that children around me can see that it is possible to succeed and be what they want to be where they were raised. I have been watching other boxers leaving for Johannesburg, but I told myself I will stay here at home. However, because I have been struggling, I have decided to take this opportunity.”
Road to becoming a world champion
Bell joined Caiph Camp in 2016 with only one victory and one defeat under her belt. She quickly made a name for herself in boxing circles. In the same year she was crowned the SA champion – a title she has defended three times.
Her fierceness and hard punches gained her the nickname “Ntsimbi”, which means steel. She successfully defended her SA Junior Lightweight Champion belt for the third time in a row in 2017, when she beat Ryder Muleba in Limpopo. Of the eight title fights she fought under former manager Ntante, she won five and lost only two.
In October 2018, Ntsimbi decided to test her talent overseas. She fought against unbeaten Polish fighter Ewa Brodnicka for a chance at the WBA world super featherweight championship title in Poland. She lost the fight on points.
However, the defeat did not dent the confidence of the enthusiastic boxer. In 2019 she went back into the ring, but this time around to fight local boxer Unathi “Showtime” Myekeni. Bell ended Myekeni’s two-year reign as the WBF featherweight champion when she beat her at the Nangoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton. The victory gave Bell a major boost to contest for yet another international title.
In July 2019, she fought the United Kingdom’s Terri Harper for the vacant IBO super featherweight title at the Magna centre in Rotherham. The second attempt, however, saw her lose again on points.
“My family’s support has given me the strength and power to tackle any obstacles that lie ahead of me. All I want to do is to make them proud,” she said.
A multi-talented athlete
Bell is the youngest of three children raised by a single parent. She grew up in one of Port Elizabeth’s poorest areas, Walmer, a crime-ridden township. But she always had support from her number one fan, her mother.
“My mother has never told me that I belonged in the kitchen,” Bell said. “She has supported me from a young age. Even when I took up boxing, she never told me that it’s a male sport or spoke about the dangers that go with it, but instead she supported me 100%.
“I come from a home that struggled financially, but besides that I always listened to my mother and I never pushed her for more than she could afford, because I could see she had no money. I accepted my family’s situation and I never resorted to crime, like most of my peers did because of the state at home. I grew up in sport.”
Boxing is not the only sport Bell dabbled in. She was a football enthusiast while growing up, going so far as being selected for the Under-17 national team. But due to the challenges she faced in sport, most of them financial, she took a break and pursued art. Some of her artworks are splashed all over Walmer.
Upon returning to sport, her first love, Bell ventured into rugby and played at Number 8 for Bontle Tigers Ladies, who participated in the Port Elizabeth regional league. In the same year, she was picked to join the Eastern Province Sevens Women’s Rugby team.
“Despite enjoying rugby and fastly moving up the ranks, I still felt like what I was doing was not fulfilling my soul,” she said. “My body craved for more training so I joined boxing in 2011 and my spirit rejoiced.”