Mashaba defied all odds to become a champion

His skills were polished by trainer Eugene Khanyile

Thomas Mashaba punished Vuyani Bungu on May 22 2005.
Thomas Mashaba punished Vuyani Bungu on May 22 2005.
Image: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

If boxing champions are like volcanos that erupt every so often then there is no doubt that Thomas “Merciless” Mashaba was that champion.

An unknown entity, driven by hunger but armed with a heart of a lion, Mashaba’s name rates among the endless list of accomplished fighters in South African boxing.

He was a locomotive train driver at the gold mine in Carletonville. Mashaba can best be described as a rough diamond. His skills were polished by trainer Eugene Khanyile, a former professional boxer and school teacher from Meadowlands, Soweto.

Yesterday, 18 years ago, average-skilled Mashaba shocked the boxing fraternity when the 100-1 underdog upset the bookies through his commitment to nullify the superior skills of Vuyani “The Beast” Bungu and in the process punished him throughout their 12 rounder for Bungu’s IBO featherweight belt in East London on May 22, 2005.

Bungu is the celebrated former IBF junior featherweight world champion the man who remains the only world champion in SA to successfully defend his world title 13 times. 

One of his victims was the tough and skillful American Kennedy McKinney, who ended the reign of Welcome Ncita as the IBF junior featherweight world champion.

Bungu won the IBO belt after defeating Takalani Ndlovu in 2003.

Mashaba cared less about those accolades. Going into that fight, Mashaba, who was known to be from Khutsong in North West, although it later emerged that he was from Maputo, had also held an IBO junior featherweight title he won from Zolani Marali in 2004.

Mashaba won the fight against Bungu comfortably, with judges scoring it 117-112; 116-114 and 116-113. The defeat ended Bungu’s illustrious career.

Mashaba lost the IBO belt in his fifth defence to Mexican Cristobal Cruz in the US in 2008. And like it happened with Bungu, Mashaba never fought again after the loss, retiring with 20 wins, two losses and four draws.

Mashaba could not be reached for comment on his biggest day in defeating Bungu.

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