What's in a Name? Exclusive for WAIL , A CBZ Journal
By Ted Sares
Here we go again. Two undefeated, free-swinging heavyweights with several fights under their belts ready to rumble in Convention Center in Atlantic City on December 14, 1996, and I was there. A month prior to this fight, Courage "No Limit" Tshabalala fought Jessie Henry (5-12) and Brian "Bam Bam" Scott fought Brian Yates (13-86-3). Not what one might call the best competition out there. "Bam Bam" Scott started out with an unbeaten streak of 15 before stepping up in March 1994 and getting iced by Tommy Morrison in the second round. Leading up to that fight, Scott's opponents included the immortal Andre Smiley, (0-25-1) whom he beat twice, and John Basil Jackson (4-75-2), whom he also beat twice. He then went on a seven-fight unbeaten streak before losing to limited Derrick Roddy and a streaking (at least then) Jorge Luis Gonzalez, both by second round KO. One of Bam Bam's other opponents was Alan Jamison (0-20). He also fought Mike Smith (4-14-1) twice. Most of his opponents had losing records, and many had never won a professional fight. But this was about hype, and the South African, Tshabalala, had far more than the overweight (278 pounds) heavyweight out of the unlikely boxing state of Kansas.
On the other side of the ledger, this man named Courage was a shooting star from 1993 to 1996, winning 19 in a row with 12 first-round KOs and three second-round KOs. Only three fights went the distance. But there were warning signs, albeit subtle at first. He claimed to have had something like a 70-1 amateur record, but to my knowledge it has never been verified. Then commentator Larry Merchant termed Tshabalala one of the saviors of boxing and "the best heavyweight since Mike Tyson." Merchant, who in my opinion isn't the greatest researcher, forgot to mention that many of his opponents leading up to the Scott fight had atrocious if not unverifiable records. Indeed, after this and a few other fights, Tshabalala would even take on legendary Danny Wofford (17-101-2).But back to December 14, 1996. The highly touted Tshabalala was a huge favorite and we all anticipated an early knockout, a la Tommy Morrison.
We were not disappointed. Only one problem. It was Tshabalala who got blown away by a sneaky, sharp and surprisingly fast Scott right in the second round. As we left the venue in semi-amazement, we wondered out loud whether this was just a fluke and whether Tshabalala would bounce back. Was Scott that good or was Tshabalala that bad? The consensus was that he would come back.
He next fought Stanley Hughey (7-16) in January 1997 and won by first-round KO. His next big fight was scheduled for June 3, 1997, at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia against Darroll "Doin' Damage" Wilson. After being down in the first and engaging in an ebb-and-flow second, Wilson used his superior skills to out-box Tshabalala in the third. Suddenly, however, he was caught by a big winging right hook. Wilson went down like he was shot and just barely got up and then fell down again, but he made it up just before the referee got to 10. Lou Duva (Tshabalala's manager and trainer) protested the referee's call in his usual hyper fashion but to no avail. Wilson held off the South African in the fourth when Tshabalala came in for the kill. Wilson then fought back (like he did against Shannon Briggs) and began to take the heart out of Courage. He soon drew Tshabalala into fierce exchanges, and Tshabalala, exposing a stamina problem, tired badly. Finally, Wilson used combinations and put Tshabalala down. Tshabalala spit out his mouthpiece and stayed down as referee Rudy Battle stopped the fight. The battle was hailed as one of the most exciting heavyweight fights of the year.
In just two years, Tshabalala had participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. If nothing else, he was on everyone's radar.Tshabalala then stopped three inferior opponents, including the aforementioned Danny Wofford and journeyman Tony LaRosa. The Chicagoan had lost seven in a row coming into the fight but actually hurt "No Limit," perhaps revealing still another warning sign. He was then booked to fight Oleg Maskaev in June 1998. Besides moving up significantly in class, the fight would be in Maskaev's hometown of Moscow. Tshabalala, a big underdog, was given a puncher's chance and nothing else. He did not disappoint; he was KO'd in the ninth.
A discouraged Courage would then take five years off to ponder his future. He returned to fight Lenzie Morgan (14-29-3) winning by spilt decision in a six-rounder in Cape Cod in July 2003. His next two fights were won by early stoppage and he seemed to be getting a bit of grounding.Stepping up once again, he signed to fight mediocre but sometimes dangerous Robert Wiggins on July 1, 2005, in Plymouth, Massachusettes. It would be his fourth fight of his comeback and his first semi-serious test as a force in the division. At only 34, he could conceivably line himself up for bigger paydays with a strong showing. To his credit, he weighed under 235 pounds, the lowest weight of his comeback efforts thus far. He seem ready to make a statement.
Wiggins (19-4-1, 11 KOs), out of Providence, Rhode Island, was a hot-and-cold fighter who had fought decent competition and could make the fight a slugfest or a snoozefest depending on which Robert Wiggins showed up. At any rate, the bout sized up to be a classic crossroads fight -- and also a toss-up. But this time, I thought the likable Courage just might pull it off, since Wiggins had lost three of his last five fights.
The two heavyweights went to war on the co-feature of ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. And one again, Tshabalala failed to live up to his first name as Wiggins scored a TKO in the fifth when Tshabalala could not come out of his corner. Both fighters were throwing heavy punches early, but Wiggins was landing the cleaner shots. Incredibly, Tshabalala landed three low blows on Wiggins and was deducted two points for them. After the fight, Tshabalala's handlers stated that he'd broken his hand in the first round thus causing him to quit on his stool, but those of us watching this fight felt that his suspicious stamina once again played a bigger part in the stoppage. I also wondered why he would throw three low blows, and visions of Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield quickly passed by.
I don't mean to be harsh, but anyone named Courage should not have let a fighter off the hook when he had him down twice and almost out; anyone named Courage should not be knocked out by an overweight fighter out of Kansas; anyone named Courage should train so stamina never becomes an issue in a five-round fight. And above all, anyone named Courage should never, ever concede a fight by retiring on his stool. Courage Tshabalala has not fought since this debacle in Plymouth, and I suspect the career of this former prospect is now over. Despite his so-called great amateur record and quick professional start of 19 straight wins, most by early stoppage, Courage simply never lived up to his name.
"Sammy Peter has loads of raw talent and potential. But he has fought such low-level opposition it's hard to know where he's going. It's a crapshoot. Maybe he'll be champ. Maybe he'll be the next Courage Tshabalala." --Dan Rafael (April 9, 2004).