Vuyani Bungu (left) in action against Prince Naseem Hamed in March 2000. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – The past 72 years have seen some great South African fighters at international and world level but the colour bar during the apartheid era prevented many black fighters from rising to their true potential.

Together with soccer, rugby and track and field athletics, boxing became a protagonist in the dismantling of apartheid. 

Mixed bouts between South Africans were legalised in 1977, but it was not until two years later that the last vestiges of the colour bar disappeared when the system of white, black and supreme titles were mercifully done away with.

The super-middleweight division produced two great world class fighters in Thulani 'Sugarboy' Malinga and Dingaan 'The Rose of Soweto' Thobela.

The middleweight class produced several outstanding fighters like Johannes 'Jolting Joe' Maseko, Joe 'Axe Killer' Ngidi and Elijah 'TapTap' Makhathini.

The welterweight division had national stars like Willie 'Baby' Mbatha, Leslie McKenzie, Maxwell Malinga, Enoch 'Schoolboy' Nhlapo and in the junior-welterweights there were quality fighters like Norman 'Pangaman' Sekgapane and Arthur 'The Prince' Mayisela.

South Africa's Dingaan Thobela (left) and Canada's Dave Hilton Jr. pose together after being weighed in Montreal, December 14, 2000. Photo: Shaun Best/Reuters
South Africa's Dingaan Thobela (left) and Canada's Dave Hilton Jr. pose together after being weighed in Montreal, December 14, 2000. Photo: Shaun Best/Reuters

The late ‘40s and ‘50s produced a number of lightweights like Elijah 'Ellis Brown' Mokone, Johannes 'Congo Kid' Mahlangu, Jason 'Black Hammer' Radebe and Gabriel 'Windmill' Seleke.

Among the junior-lightweights Nkosana 'Happyboy' Mgxaji was one the best and would have won one of the alphabet titles on offer today. 

Possibly the No 1 featherweight of all time would be Simphiwe Vetyeka. He held the IBO bantamweight and featherweight titles and stopped Chris John who was the WBA 'super' featherweight champion in six rounds.  

Without a doubt, the top fighter of all time in the junior-featherweight division must be Vuyani 'The Beast'’ Bungu, who defended his IBF title a record number of 13 times.  

Other outstanding fighters in the junior-featherweight class are Welcome Ncita, who was the first South African to win an IBF title, and Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, who won three world titles. 

Another fighter who has had success out in this division is Cassius Baloyi, who has held six world titles from junior feather, featherweight to junior-lightweight.

The bantamweight division has produced an outstanding fighter in Mbulelo Botile who won two world titles.

WBU Light - Flyweight Championship -
WBU Light - Flyweight Championship - "Baby" Jake Matlala v Micky Cantwell - 29 September 2001."Baby" Jake Matlala beat Micky Cantwell when the referee stopped the fight in the 5th round. Photo::Action Images/Reuters

The junior-bantamweight division, which was created in 1992, has not produced any fighters of world-class except for Zolani Tete, who has held the WBF flyweight, IBF junior bantamweight titles, and as the current holder of the WBO bantamweight title is classed as one of the best in the world.

In the flyweight class Jake Tuli who won the British Empire title and beat some of the best flyweights in the world must be ranked as the best South African flyweight fighter of all time, irrespective of colour. In recent years Moruti Mthalane stands out winning three world titles.   

Among the junior-flyweights, the outstanding fighters are Jacob 'Baby Jake' Matlala, who won four world titles, and Masibulela 'Hawk' Makepula, who held the WBU and WBO junior-flyweight titles and also the IBO flyweight title.

Because many great black fighters were denied the opportunity to fight at world level or to challenge for a world title during the apartheid years, we do not know how many more world champions we would have had since Willie Smith a white fighter won the British version of the world bantamweight title on October 6, 1927. 

.Black South African fighters can be proud of their history despite all the obstacles in their way in the early years 

African News Agency (ANA)

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