Boxing remembers Madiba

Baby Jake Matlala, left, was one of Nelson Mandela's favourite boxers. They are seen here 'sparing'.
Baby Jake Matlala, left, was one of Nelson Mandela's favourite boxers. They are seen here 'sparing'.
Image: Joe Sefale

While Nelson Mandela said in one of his many brainy quotes that his greatest regret in life was that he never became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Boxing SA chairman Peter Ngatane says the reality is that Mandela became more than a champion of the world.

The world celebrates Mandela's 101st birthday today, and the boxing family also remembers the man they claim was theirs. A lawyer by profession, not only did Mandela train with boxers but he also gave the sport many viewed as being barbaric his second love.

Due to his attitude towards boxing, South Africa hosted boxing head honchos from around the globe including Muhammad Ali, IBF president Bobby Lee Senior, his counterpart WBC president Jose Sulaiman, promoter Don King and Evander Holyfield, to mention just a few.

"His love for boxing was evident throughout his life, his presidency and after," said Ngatane about the man who he said was associated with a gym that was run by trainer Theo Mthembu in Alexandra township. Mandela also honed his skills at the DOCC Hall in Orlando East, Soweto.

"I didn't enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant. I never did any fighting after I entered politics," remarked Mandela some years ago on his favourite sport.

"My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter."

Even during his last days on earth, Mandela would still be at the ringside to enjoy the sport.

Mandela was ringside guest for his favourite local boxer Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala when the pint-sized popular fighter was involved in his swansong in 2002 against Juan Herrera at Carnival City in Brakpan on the East Rand.

Matlala, from Meadowlands in Soweto, retained his WBU junior flyweight belt in the seventh round in a tournament that was staged by Mandela's other friend, promoter Rodney Berman.

Matlala presented Mandela with that belt.

Mandela died on December 5 in 2013, while Matlala followed two days later.

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