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Zolani Tete leads tributes to world champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba

A file photo of Lehlohonolo Ledwaba helping Zolani Tete before the defense of his junior bantamweight belt against Paul Buter in the UK in March 2015.
A file photo of Lehlohonolo Ledwaba helping Zolani Tete before the defense of his junior bantamweight belt against Paul Buter in the UK in March 2015.
Image: Veli Nhlapo/Sowetan

Former two division world champion Zolani Tete paid a tribute to his ex-trainer Lehlohonolo Ledwaba‚ who died of Covid-19 complications on Friday.

Ledwaba‚ 49‚ a former world champion himself‚ is credited with launching Tete’s successful career when he was chief trainer for the Mdantsane boxer‚ who went on to achieve a breakthrough win over England’s Paul Butler in 2015.

The win‚ rated as Tete’s best‚ earned him a lucrative contract with English promoter Frank Warren‚ who has remained with him up to this day.

Dismissed as a paper champion who would help Butler make history by becoming the first British boxer in more than 100 years to win a world title in a heavier division and drop down to win another in a lighter weight class‚ Tete put in a terrific performance before knocking Butler out with a vintage uppercut that attracted worldwide attention.

The win saw Tete defend his IBF junior bantamweight crown‚ which he later relinquished to win the WBO bantamweight title under Warren’s Queensberry Promotions.

Tete said he would never forgot the role Ledwaba had played in the fight.

“You could tell he knew what challenges boxers go through in big fights‚ because throughout the fight he kept imploring me to stick to the game plan‚” Tete said.

“I can still hear his voice from ringside as he shouted: ‘Keep trying champ‚ don’t panic‚ you will get it right’.

“I remember the tears we shared in the ante room after the victory which catapulted my career to another level.”

That victory not only made Tete crack the pound-for-pound rankings‚ but it dramatically improved his earning potential‚ making him one of South Africa's highest-paid boxers.

“I owe everything to Bra Hloks [Ledwaba] and we had kept consistent communication throughout until his death.

"Indeed death is the worst opponent one could face.”

Ledwaba held the IBF junior featherweight title which had previously been owned by boxing legend Vuyani Bungu‚ for which he had made a record 13 title defences.

After five title defences‚ Ledwaba lost the title to Filipino Manny Pacquiao‚ who would later develop into an all-conquering global champion by winning world titles in a record eight divisions.

Pacquaio‚ who is preparing for a world welterweight unification against unbeaten American Errol Spence‚ joined in mourning the death of Ledwaba.

“Sad to hear [about] the passing of Lehlo Ledwaba‚” he wrote on social media.

“Rest in peace‚ champ.”

Sports minister Nathi Mthethwa also paid tribute to Ledwaba‚ describing him as a boxing legend who had been a role model to a number of boxers.