SA legend's loss to Lopez marked low point in SA boxing history

How Tiger-taming Thobela overturned hometown decision

Dingaan "The Rose of Soweto" Thobela
Dingaan "The Rose of Soweto" Thobela
Image: Luck Morajane

This day, February 12, brings back sad memories for the boxing fraternity in SA because shining stars Dingaan “The Rose of Soweto” Thobela and Jan “Kid Gavilan” Bergman failed in their attempts to win world titles at different venues.

Thobela — who had already won the WBO strap in the lightweight division — lost to WBA defending champion Tony “Tiger” Lopez in Sacramento, California on February 12 1993. Lopez, who enjoyed hometown advantage, was assisted by the judges in retaining the WBA belt.

It was a controversial decision against the beloved South African. Experts scored the fight in favour of Thobela. A rematch was inevitable and they met four months later at Sun City where Thobela was crowned the new WBA champion.

“I don’t remember what happened on that day,” the 56-year-old former boxing great said yesterday. “You must remember that punches affected  a lot of us. I had a very good training camp, such that I knew nothing was going to stand in my way. Sadly, judges stood in my way.

“I was pulled down by my pants and I fell flat on my back. But I came back home with my pride intact because fellow countrymen and women saw what happened since the fight was televised back here at home. I am glad that a rematch was organised and I was able to turn justify my complaint.”

Thobela later won the WBC super-middleweight belt in 2000 and he eventually quit competitive boxing in 2006. He says he will always be part of boxing in every possible way.

Bergman — a left hook specialist — met Zab Judah for the vacant IBF junior-welterweight title at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut in the US on February 12 2000.

This was the second opportunity for him to fight for an IBF strap. He fought valiantly against formidable lightweight holder Kosta Tszyu, the Australian who knocked  Bergman out in the sixth round in England on September 14 1996.

Against Judah, Bergman hit the canvas in round one, dropped the American in the second but was finally knocked out in the fourth round. Bergman moved up to the welterweight division where he won the WBU belt in 2001. But he failed to add the IBO strap to his collection and he retired after his 49th fight on December 4 2010.

Bergman then trained fighters and produced an SA champion when Barend van Rooyen defeated Yanga Phethani for the vacant middleweight belt in 2017. But Van Rooyen later tested positive for steroids. He was stripped and that fight was declared a no contest.

Bergman, 50, was not available for comment yesterday.

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