Before the advent of more than one world body, Vic Toweel was South Africa’s only world champion, winning the bantamweight title in 1950. The only other boxer who came close was Willie Smith, who won the British version of the world bantamweight title when he defeated Teddy Baldock in October 1927
Multiple title holders
South Africa has, however, also produced multiple title holders. Among these was Brian Mitchell, who won the World Boxing Association title in September 1986 and the International Boxing Federation title in 1991 in the junior lightweight division.
Dingaan Thobela won three titles: the World Boxing Organisation and WBA lightweight titles, in September 1990 and June 1993 respectively, as well as the World Boxing Council middleweight title in September 2000.
Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala is the only South African boxer to have won four titles in three different divisions: he won the WBO flyweight title in May 1993, the WBO light flyweight title in November 1995, as well as the junior flyweight titles under the International Boxing Association in July 1997 and the World Boxing Union in February 2001.
Wood carver turns champion
Vic Toweel, a 23-year-old wood carver from Benoni, became world champion in May 1950 when he convincingly outpointed Manuel Ortiz in Johannesburg. Toweel won most of the 15 rounds to become South Africa’s first world bantamweight champion.
Brian Mitchell, probably one of the best South African boxers of his era, won the WBA junior lightweight title in 1986 – and defended it a world record 12 times before retiring in 1991.
As South Africa was isolated internationally because of its apartheid policies, Mitchell became a true ‘road warrior’, defending his title almost exclusively abroad.
He finished his career with 46 wins, one loss and two draws. His 12 successful defences of the junior lightweight title remain the record in that division to this day.
Mitchell is now a successful boxing trainer with a stable of promising young boxers. He has guided at least two boxers to world titles, including Namibian Harry Simon and South African Cassius Baloyi.
Thobela’s amateur career saw him win 80 times and lose just three bouts. His first professional fight pitted him against Quinton Ryan, a bout he won in four rounds. The slick-punching Thobela was held to a draw in his fourth fight, but proceeded to win 25 fights in a row over the next five years, registering 19 wins by knockout.
The Rose of Soweto, as he is affectionately known by his fans, became the first South African to win a WBO belt when he beat Mauricio Aceves in 1990. He made two defences of his WBO junior lightweight title, relinquished it in 1991, and fought for the WBA version of the title, which he won in a rematch against Tony Lopez at Sun City in 1993. Their first encounter in Sacramento in the same year had been controversially declared a draw.
The fastest heavyweight
Gerrie Coetzee was one of the fastest heavyweight boxers South Africa ever produced. Coetzee first won the national lightweight title as a 13-year-old amateur when he punished 16-year-old Hennie Colyn.
In his 192 amateur fights, Coetzee lost only seven, three of these against his sworn enemy, Kallie Knoetze. Coetzee became national heavyweight champion at 21 when he fought Mike “The Tank” Schutte, who was disqualified in the sixth round for dirty tricks, giving the title to Coetzee.
20 years after Coetzee won the WBA heavyweight title, with a tenth-round knockout of Michael Dokes, South Africa again had a boxer it could call heavyweight champion of the world. Southpaw Corrie Sanders shocked the boxing world when he knocked out the highly regarded Wladimir Klitschko early in the second round to win the WBO version of the title. At age 37, Sanders’ biggest win came late in his career.
- Willie Smith – bantamweight, British version (1927)
- Vic Toweel – bantamweight, Universal (1950)
- Arnold Taylor – WBA bantamweight (1973)
- Peter Mathebula – WBA flyweight (1980)
- Gerrie Coetzee – WBA heavyweight (1983)
- Piet Crous – WBA junior heavyweight (1984)
- Brian Mitchell – WBA junior lightweight (1986)
- Welcome Ncita – WBA & IBF junior featherweight (1990)
- Dingaan Thobela – WBO lightweight (1990)
- Brian Mitchell – IBF junior lightweight (1991)
- Ditau Molefyane – WBF junior lightweight (1993)
- Jacob Matlala – WBO flyweight (1993)
- Dingaan Thobela – WBA lightweight (1993)
- Vuyani Bungu – IBF junior featherweight (1994)
- Mbulelo Botile – IBF bantamweight (1995)
- Phillip Holliday – IBF lightweight (1995)
- Gary Murray – WBU welterweight (1995)
- Jacob Matlala – WBO junior flyweight (1995)
- November Ntshingila – IBC featherweight (1995)
- Francois Botha – IBF heavyweight (1995)
- Thulani Malinga – WBC super middleweight (1996)
- Sakhumzi Magxwalisa – WBU super flyweight (1996)
- Mzukisi Sikali – WBU junior flyweight (1996)
- Cassius Baloyi – WBU junior featherweight (1996)
- Lehlohonolo Ledwaba – WBU bantamweight (1996)
- Jacob Matlala – IBA junior flyweight (1997)
- Peter Malinga – WBU welterweight (1997)
- Patrick Quka – WBU bantamweight (1997)
- Corrie Sanders – WBU heavyweight (1997)
- Thulani Malinga – WBC super middleweight (1997)
- Zolani Petelo – IBF mini flyweight (1997)
- Cassius Baloyi – WBU featherweight (1998)
- Thulani Malinga – WBF super middleweight (1998)
- Mzukisi Sikali – WBU junior bantamweight (1998)
- Simon Ramoni – IBO super bantamweight (1998)
- Mpush Makambi – IBO middleweight (1998)
- Jacob Mofokeng – WBU cruiserweight (1998)
- Lindi Memani – WBU strawweight (1998)
- Masibulele Makepula – WBU junior flyweight (1998)
- Lehlohonolo Ledwaba – IBF junior featherweight (1999)
- Sebastiaan Rothmann – WBU cruiserweight (1999)
- Wele Maqolo – WBF mini flyweight (1999)
- Zolile Mbityi – IBO flyweight (1999)
- Peter Malinga – IBO welterweight (1999)
- Masibulele Makepula – WBO junior flyweight (2000)
- Mike Barnardo – WBF heavyweight (2000)
- Dingaan Thobela – WBC super middleweight (2000)
- Mbulelo Botile – IBF featherweight (2000)
- Jacob Matlala – WBU junior flyweight (2001)
- Corrie Sanders – WBO heavyweight (2003)
MULTIPLE TITLE HOLDERS
- Brian Mitchell: WBA (1986), IBF (1991) junior lightweight.
- Dingaan Thobela: WBO (1990), WBA (1993) lightweight; WBC middleweight (2000).
- Peter Malinga: WBU (1997), IBO (1999) welterweight.
- Jacob Matlala: WBO flyweight (1993); WBO light flyweight (1995); IBA junior flyweight (1997); WBU junior flyweight (2001).
- Thulani Malinga: WBC super middleweight (1996 & 1997); WBF super middleweight (1998).
- Cassius Baloyi: WBU junior featherweight (1996); WBU featherweight (1998).
- Lehlohonolo Ledwaba: WBU bantamweight (1996); IBF junior featherweight (1999).
- Mzukisi Sikali: WBU junior featherweight (1996); WBU junior bantamweight (1998).
- Masibulele Makepula: WBU junior flyweight (1998); WBO junior flyweight (2000).
- Mbulelo Botile: IBF bantamweight (1995); IBF featherweight (2000).