SA light-heavyweight Johnny Muller shares some tips how to build a career in the sport and some life lessons learnt from the sweet science
Rising SA boxing star Johnny “The Hurricane” Muller, 22, is a former national light-heavyweight champion and a throwback to the glory days of the heavier divisions. He’s more of a fighter than a boxer, packing a mean punch and coming forward relentlessly.
On June 15 he fights his rival Ryno Liebenberg for the IBO All-Africa heavyweight title in the Final Reckoning tournament at Emperors Palace. The bout is a rematch following the recent fight won by Ryno on a TKO.
“He knocked me down, and the ref stopped the bout,” says Johnny. “I was far from finished fighting. But I know what I did wrong in my preparation for that fight and I’ve learnt from my mistakes.This time I’m ready for him.”
The dedicated fighter is a family man with a steely commitment to his craft that belies his devil-may-care style in the ring. Here he shares some tips on what it takes to succeed as a professional boxer.
I started boxing seriously when I was 12. My dad – also Johnny – was an amateur boxer. I grew up admiring his trophies and pestering him about wanting to take up the sport.
Join a boxing club
Eventually my dad took me to join his club, Witpoortjie on Joburg’s West Rand. After two or three months of training I had my first fight. You know (mini-flyweight boxer) Hekkie Budler? Well I was smaller than him in those days!
My first role model or hero was my dad. Then I was inspired by Evander Holyfield, who was a light-heavyweight boxer like I am today. He was one of the greats, and I liked the way he carried himself. Then, when I was six or seven, I was hooked on the Rocky movies. To this day, I use some of the training techniques Rocky used. Like chopping wood.
Don’t quit your day job
I’m determined to be a world champion one day. But I’m not in it for the money. Until my career progresses to where my purses can sustain me, I work at our company supplying feed for farm animals. I’m not in boxing for financial gain. I’m here to get to the top.
Get good guys in your corner
Currently (former SA welterweight champion) uncle Harold Volbrecht is my trainer and (former super-featherweight world champion) uncle Brian Mitchell is my manager. Harold has helped me become more tactical, where my natural style is to be a fighter. He’s teaching me pinpoint accuracy. I train at Harold’s Hammer gym in Boksburg. Uncle Brian helps me plan my career and negotiates fights and purses with our promoter, uncle Rodney Berman of Golden Gloves Promotions. Rodney has relationships with other promoters worldwide, which is crucial for securing international bouts.
Be an entertainer
Boxing is about entertainment. When I went to the States and Monaco, I realised Rodney Berman is one of the best promoters in the world. The shows he puts on at Emperors are glamorous and awesome – as good as anything out there. If you pay a few hundred rand to come watch, you want to see something special. In the same way, I try to deliver exciting fights that will catch people’s imagination.
Support your sport
Professional boxing is okay, but the amateur part of the sport needs support and encouragement. That’s where our next generation of boxers come up from, and they’re battling a bit. It’s expensive to get the right boxing equipment. But it’s also vitally important, as you can damage yourself permanently if you don’t use the right gloves, bags, bandages and protectors.
To make an impact as a boxer you need to do more than just win your fights, although that’s important. You need to be an exciting fighter, and you also need to make friends and gain fans. So after fights I go out and meet the fans. That’s how you build relationships. I’m lucky enough to have great sponsors in Natures Dream Bread and Prosperity Life supporting me. They obviously feel I have the right values to represent their brands.
Family is crucial
I have a young family who are my biggest fans. My lady Karen and my five-year-old boy JC are at all my fights and constantly encouraging me and offering advice. Karen doesn’t even mind when I come home with cuts and bruises on my face. She just says I need to work on my defence. “You must pick up your hands,” she tells me! I’m also a committed Christian and get a lot of support from that community too.
Train like a boxer
I’m up at 4am six days a week and I train twice a day. First I do a hard workout in the boxing gym with my trainer. Then in the afternoon I do running work on my own, followed by some upper-body power work.
Do your roadwork
I do a three-kay warm-up jog, then I get into some serious sprint work. I use a soccer field for training. I alternate sprinting the length of the field and then jogging back. You do that ten times and you’ll feel it in your legs! Sprint training builds strength and stamina, which you need in the later rounds of a fight.
Throw some leather
To be a decent boxer, you must fight hundreds of rounds. I do a warm-up run, then 10 or 12 rounds of sparring. After that, we do four rounds on the bag, and then two rounds on the pads with my trainer. Then we’re off to do some more running.
The old-school workout
Uncle Harold doesn’t believe in weights. He says it affects your speed, which is crucial for boxers. So we do traditional exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, jack-knifes etc. That workout lasts about 45 minutes.
The action of swinging an axe works exactly the same muscles that you use for throwing punches – lats, shoulders and arms. I stay on a farm, so when I get back from my afternoon run I go out in the yard and chop wood for a good half an hour. Doing it straight after a tiring run helps build strength and stamina and replicates the feeling of being exhausted in the eleventh round and still having to throw punches.
There’s a 79,34kg weight limit in the light heavyweight division, so my diet is focused on reducing sugars and fats while still getting protein. I make sure I’m well below the limit before weigh-in. Otherwise I’d be desperately on the treadmill, jumping rope in a plastic sweatsuit trying to lose a kilogram in a few hours. That reduces your power. I don’t drink any alcohol and I’ve had to give up Coke, which I love. I don’t mind a braai, though. Grilling meat is far healthier then frying it.
The Boxing Commandments
Even the most talented boxer can’t succeed without it. You need to be up every morning and on the road so you can get through your fights. Otherwise you’re just going to be hoping to land a good punch in the early rounds. You need to be the best you can possibly be. That means healthy diet, constant training and for me no drinking.
You’ve got to respect your opponent. We all know the hard work it takes to get ready for a fight and to give a good account of yourself. So even though we’ll try knock each other out, at the end of the fight we’ll shake hands and congratulate each other. You want to fight with honour. We’ve all come up from the amateur ranks, so we’ve been through a lot together.
My trainer Harold Volbrecht has taught me the importance of planning. A boxing match is like a chess match. You need to manage your energy and sap your opponent’s energy. Work his torso with body punches to drain his stamina. If he runs, cut off his movements and get him in the corner.
You need the support of your family, your community and your fans. So I try my best to entertain when I fight. I’m not a back-foot fighter. I draw strength from my supporters and in turn I deliver dynamic, exciting fights that they’re going to enjoy. Hopefully ending in a knockout win for me!
Name: Johnny “The Hurricane” Muller
Manager: Brian Mitchell
Trainer: Harold Volbrecht
Record: 17 fights 13 wins, 2 losses, 2 draws
Titles: Former South African light-heavyweight champion