Renowned for his expertise and passion for the sport, Willie Saayman has become a crucial figure in the world of boxing.
They say a good matchmaker must be a brother, a father, and a friend not only to boxers but to promoters, and Saayman embodies these roles flawlessly.
Despite his small stature, Saayman possesses a presence in boxing circles that could fill an entire arena. You will usually spot him standing among the towering figures of boxers and promoters.
He commands respect with his unwavering confidence and encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, pulling all the strings in the background of some of the best boxing productions in the country.
Saayman was not born into a boxing family; fate intervened when he watched one of his friends step into the ring. That was back in 1983 and the friend was a pro boxer Brian Baromet. The adrenaline-fueled atmosphere and the intense clash of gloves immediately captivated him. Although he never danced within the squared circle himself; Saayman found his true calling as the orchestrator behind the scenes.
When Baromet passed away, it troubled him that at the time he had not learned as much as he would have hoped about boxing.
That is when he started poring over records from every publication he could find and his lifelong journey in the world of boxing began, starting with a small tournament in a casino in Durban.
Saayman sees his role as a match-maker for boxing promoters as not too different from the role of a Wall Street broker handling investments and he prides himself on knowing every intricate detail about the boxers he works with.
He believes that understanding boxer’s strengths, weaknesses, and individual stories is crucial to creating captivating match-ups that leave spectators spellbound.
Saayman has matched over 200 tournaments.
One of his crowning achievements was the first meeting scrap between Ilunga Makabu and Thabiso Mchunu. The clash, he says, brought Las Vegas-like excitement to South Africa, leaving fans in awe. Saayman’s meticulous matchmaking had created a moment that would be etched in the annals of boxing history.
However, it was in the Western Cape where Saayman truly felt at home. Surrounded by a wealth of talent, he saw his role as elevating young, upcoming boxers to stardom levels. The city of Cape Town had a burning desire to soar to the pinnacle of the boxing world, and Saayman saw himself as one of the driving forces behind this effort.
“As I am talking to you right now, we have two of the best welterweights in South Africa based here in Cape Town, Wasim Chellan and Emile Brits.
“This city is filled with lots of talent and it is up to us to elevate them to the highest level of boxing possible.”
“My first assignment is to see WC in the South African rankings, then I want to see a South African flag in the world rankings,” said Saayman.
Saayman doesn’t just sit back and enjoy the action. He can be seen with a notepad, jotting down notes on every fighter at events.
These notes he takes are like his Bible, guiding him towards creating fights that were worth every penny for the spectators, as he learns everything he can about the boxers.
Saayman’s dedication to his craft extends beyond the ring. To him, being a matchmaker means being a mentor, a confidant, and a guiding light for the fighters.
“When a promoter calls me and tells me he has boxer A, B, and C already I know what needs to happen. I sit and get into a trance-like state because I have to make sure that the bill looks nice and it’s good for business.
“I have to buy myself an exam pad for every tournament and match a lot and I must be so convinced myself that this is exactly how the bill is supposed to be.
“I have to ask myself a lot of questions when matching fights. I will write down the positives and the negatives of every fighter. I ask myself why a promoter wants me to match this guy. What does he want out of him as a promoter? And what comes out must be what will also look good in the eye of the spectator,” said Saayman.
“I look at the interests of promoters. It’s a business and a matchmaker is like an investment banker. That is why I read the Financial Times, even though I don’t understand it, we have the same business operandi,” said Saayman.
The role is not free of challenges. Perhaps a good challenge, depending on who you ask, was when he had to match two of his good friends, Roland Francis and Eric Spalding as their paths always seemed destined to cross ways. He laughs that he could not find a way out of pitting his two friends against each other even though he knew who was going to whip the other.
As long as there are fighters with dreams and spectators hungry for showdowns, Willie Saayman, the master matchmaker, will be there, pulling the strings and creating boxing magic.