A legend in and outside the ring

MEMBERS of the boxing community had this to say about Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala:

Stablemates at the Dube Boys Club in Soweto Peter Ngatane and Takalani Ndlovusaid it was difficult to believe Matlala was no more.

"He was not expected to excel in the fistic sport due to his shortness, but he instead used it to his advantage and went on to scribble his name in the history books as being one of the few South Africans to win four world titles in two weight categories," said Ngatane, a formerchairman of Boxing South Africa.

Ndlovu said Matlala played a pivotal role in his career.

"One day he stopped by our house and asked for water. He had been jogging. I was asleep. My grandmother woke me up and said if I wanted to be something, like a boxer, I should learn from Jake. That motivated me. It was a blessing because from that day, my attitude changed," he said.

Masibulele Makepula, the last local boxer to beat Matlala when they fought for the WBO flyweight strap in 2000, said Matlala remained his hero.

"The result of our fight did not change anything. He was still Bra Jake, my hero," he said.

Brian Mitchell said Matlala a legend inside and outside the ring.

"I regard him as the Nelson Mandela of boxing," said the former two-time world champion.

Dingaan Thobela said: "His dedication and hard work paid dividends late in his career."

Jan Bergman called it "an honour" to have Matlala as his son's godfather.

Phillip Ndou said: "God works in mysterious ways. Matlala, who was Nelson Mandela's favourite boxer, died two days after Mandela."

Trainer Steve Masike, who trained with Matlala in the amateur ranks, remembers how Matlala took up boxing.

"He used to carry the training kit for his father, who trained with us at Dube. One day Matlala came empty-handed. His father demanded to know where his training gear was and Matlala said it had been taken by some boys who bullied him as he was coming to the gym. His father said: 'My laaitie, ek gaan jou breek (My son, I will break you.)' He asked him why he did not fight back and Matlala said: 'From today I'm starting to train so that I can beat them up.'"