History of South African Sport: II. Boxing

Tim OatesCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2008

The origin of professional boxing in South Africa can be traced to the second half of the 19th century when miners, brokers, speculators, and financiers were lured to the diamond and gold-fields.

Between 1927 and 2001, 35 South African fighters won a total of 49 world boxing titles. The number of South African world champions peaked in the 1990s. The country had six world champions in 1995, five the following year, and six in 1997. In 1998 the number stood at eight, and in 1999 at five world title holders.

Before the advent of more than one world body, Vic Toweel was South Africa's only world champion, winning the bantamweight title in 1950.

South Africa has, however, also produced multiple title holders. Among these was Brian Mitchell, who won the World Boxing Association title in September 1986 and the International Boxing Federation title in 1991 in the junior lightweight division.

Dingaan Thobela won three titles: the World Boxing Organisation and WBA lightweight titles, in September 1990 and June 1993 respectively, as well as the World Boxing Council middleweight title in September 2000.

Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala is the only South African boxer to have won four titles in three different divisions: he won the WBO flyweight title in May 1993, the WBO light flyweight title in November 1995, as well as the junior flyweight titles under the International Boxing Association in July 1997 and the World Boxing Union in February 2001.

Vic Toweel, a 23-year-old wood carver from Benoni, became world champion in May 1950 when he convincingly outpointed Manuel Ortiz in Johannesburg. Toweel won most of the 15 rounds to become South Africa's first world bantamweight champion.

Brian Mitchell, probably one of the best South African boxers of his era, won the WBA junior lightweight title in 1986 - and defended it a world record 12 times before retiring in 1991.

As South Africa was isolated internationally because of its apartheid policies, Mitchell became a true "road warrior," defending his title almost exclusively abroad. He finished his career with 46 wins, one loss and two draws. His 12 successful defences of the junior lightweight title remain the record in that division to this day.

Mitchell is now a successful boxing trainer with a stable of promising young boxers. He has guided at least two boxers to world titles, including Namibian Harry Simon and South African Cassius Baloyi.

Thobela's amateur career saw him win 80 times and lose just three bouts. The Rose of Soweto, as he is affectionately known by his fans, became the first South African to win a WBO belt when he beat Mauricio Aceves in 1990.

He made two defences of his WBO junior lightweight title, relinquished it in 1991, and fought for the WBA version of the title, which he won in a rematch against Tony Lopez at Sun City in 1993. Their first encounter in Sacramento in the same year had been controversially declared a draw.

Gerrie Coetzee was one of the fastest heavyweight boxers South Africa ever produced. Coetzee first won the national lightweight title as a 13-year-old amateur when he punished 16-year-old Hennie Colyn. In his 192 amateur fights, Coetzee lost only seven, three of these against his sworn enemy, Kallie Knoetze.

Coetzee became national heavyweight champion at 21 when he fought Mike "The Tank" Schutte, who was disqualified in the sixth round for dirty tricks, giving the title to Coetzee. 20 years after Coetzee won the WBA heavyweight title, with a 10th-round knockout of Michael Dokes, South Africa again had a boxer it could call heavyweight champion of the world.

Southpaw Corrie Sanders shocked the boxing world when he knocked out the highly regarded Wladimir Klitschko early in the second round to win the WBO version of the title. At age 37, Sanders' biggest win came late in his career.

South Africa’s latest boxing success was Cassius Baloyi who captured the Vacant IBF Super Featherweight Title in 2005 with a TKO over Manuel Medina.

The third instalment of the series can be read at:



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