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LEGEND'S CORNER: Boxing's silent assassin Jacob Ntsuwane speaks

By Bongani Magasela | 2013-02-21 11:02:35.0

JACOB Ntsuwane Mofokeng from Bethlehem in Free State is an unsung hero.

He became the first black South African heavyweight champion whose achievement went unrecognised probably because he was not like Muhammad Ali.

Ali had a real big mouth, which he used so well to market himself.

Unfortunately, Mofokeng was and still is laid back, despite rewriting the history of South African boxing in the heavyweight division.

The former SA and WBU cruiserweight and SA heavyweight champion was untouchable in his heyday.

Mofokeng was an inspiration to his older brother Entwa as well as Ginger Tshabalala, two former karatekas who eventually became professional boxers.

After a bad start to his career, where he lost five of 12 fights, Mofokeng sprung a huge surprise in his 14th fight, outpointing Freddy Rafferty for the SA cruiserweight title on April 17 1994.

Rafferty was a seasoned campaigner who had already fought big names like Sakkie Enslin, Sugarboy Malinga, Piet Crous and Siza Makhathini.

Elias Tshabalala, Ginger's younger brother, guided him to the WBU cruiserweight title with victory over Ryan Poletti in the US on September 12 1998.

Mofokeng lost the title in his first defence to Robert Norton in the UK and later tested positive for drugs. He was banned for a year and fined £50.

Mofokeng had just won the vacant SA heavyweight title against Isaac Mahlangu before going to the UK. He was also stripped of the heavyweight belt.

In the UK, Mofokeng was banned for a year.

The amiable Mofokeng opened up to Sowetan on Monday, when we also spoke about his failed drugs test.

You are as tall as the Carlton Centre but you were nicknamed "9mm", why not AK-47 at least?

My trainer Nick Durandt saw my 9mm pistol and he just gave me that nickname.

When and where did your boxing career begin?

I can't remember the year but it started at the YMCA Gym in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, under trainer Andries Koekemoer. I only had one amateur fight. I beat David Mthembu and turned professional after that.

What made you join boxing, since there was no one to inspire you back in Bethlehem?

I had always liked boxing. I was inspired by Brian Mitchell. I still take my hat off to him. Brian remains the best boxer from South Africa that I know of.

You had come to Johannesburg for work. All of a sudden you are a boxer. How was the support back home and how much were you paid for your first fight?

I had a lot of support, especially from my elder brother Entwa. Him and our homeboy Ginger saw me grow as a boxer and they decided to give it a try. I was paid R80 for my first fight. I blew it even before I arrived where I stayed (laughs).

You lost five fights before you got your act together, tell us more.

Koekemoer let me fight in the wrong weight division. It was draining me a lot.

Was Koekemoer still your trainer when you beat Rafferty?

It was Nick Durandt. Nick and Elias Tshabalala were actually my stable-mates at Koekemoer's gym.

When did you win the IBF Intercontinental title?

On July 8 1995 in America. It was my first time boarding an aeroplane.

Did you really take drugs?

I never took drugs in my career. All I know, and still stand by that, is that I only took two tablets for flu.

When did you reclaim the SA heavyweight title?

It was on September 1 2000 when I stopped Anton Nel in the third round.