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Boxing | Features

Amateurs who never turned pro

South Africa have produced some outstanding amateur fighters since they first fought at the 1920 Olympic Games and the 1930 Empire Games, which later became known as the Commonwealth Games, that never joined the professional ranks.

Dennis Shepherd won the featherweight silver medal at the 1948 Olympics in London, but his performance at the 1950 Empire Games in New Zealand was disappointing when he was eliminated after his first fight in the lightweight competition.

At the 1948 Olympics he was in outstanding form as he beat Sydney Greave (Pakistan), Mohammed Ammi (France), Edward R. Johnson (USA) and Francisco Nunez (Argentina) on his way to the final. He sustained a cut over the eye in his first fight at the Olympics, but despite this handicap, Shepherd courageously fought his way into the final of the featherweight division. In the final the southpaw, Shepherd, fighting under the handicap of a badly cut eye, lost on points to Ernesto Formenti of Italy.

Theuns van Schalkwyk won the gold medal in the middleweight division at the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand, scoring a points decision over New Zealand’s Jim Beal in the final. Competing as a light-middleweight, a new class introduced at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Van Schalkwyk received a bye in the first round and his first fight at the Games was against Ebbe Kops from Denmark whom he defeated on points.

In the next round he decisioned the German, Erich Schoppner, and then beat Russia’s Boris Tischin in the semifinal. In the final the South African faced the legendary Hungarian, Laszlo Papp. Papp had won the middleweight gold at the 1948 Olympics. In a poor fight, Papp won with ease and Van Schalkwyk emerged with silver.

Southpaw Hennie Loubscher boxed his way to a bronze medal in the light-welterweight class at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. He beat Leslie T. Mason (Canada) and Joseph Shaw (USA) to reach the semifinal. In the semifinal he lost to the outstanding Russian and gold medallist, Vladimir Enquibarian. As a losing semifinalist he received a bronze medal.

At the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, he won the light-welterweight gold medal. Competing as a welterweight at the 1960 Rome Olympics he won his first two fights against Laszlo Sebok (Hungary) and Desmond J. Duguid (Australia) before being eliminated by Leszek Drogosz of Poland. He was also a six-time South African champion.

Piet van Vuuren a big punching light-heavyweight won three South African titles and a gold medal at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Van Vuuren was beaten on points in the first series by Gheorghe Negrea of Romania.

Possibly one of the strongest claims to be rated as the best South African amateur of all-time must be that of Grant Webster, who was reported as having 248 amateur fights with only eight losses. He won six South African titles in three weight divisions, light-welterweight, welterweight and light-middleweight.

At the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff he won the gold medal in the light-middleweight division. He also represented South Africa at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics losing his third fight and at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne he was eliminated after losing his first fight.

Also rated as one of greatest South African amateur fighters was Lennie Leisching who won a featherweight and two South African lightweight titles. At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, fighting at featherweight he won his first three fights against Emanoul Aghessi (Iran), Steven Redli (Yugoslavia) and Leonard Walters (Canada). He lost to Jan Zachara of Czechoslovakia in the semifinal. Zachara was the eventual gold medallist.

Leisching was subsequently awarded the bronze medal in 1970 as the losing semifinalist. He won the featherweight gold medal at the 1954 Empire Games in Canada. At the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 he had a bye in the first series but lost to Henryk Niedzwiedzki of Poland in the second series.

Ricky Knoesen won eight South African amateur titles in the bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight divisions. He also received Springbok colours when a South African team toured Britain in 1966.

Rhodesian-born Reg Gaskon had the distinction of winning five SA titles, three at lightweight and two at light-welterweight.

Also ranked as one of the greatest amateurs of all-time was Herbie Vermeulen who had a reported record of 232 wins and 11 losses. Fighting at lightweight and welterweight he won four South African titles.

Harry Finlay was a four-time SA light-welterweight champion in 1958, 1962, 1963 and 1964. He was also a member of the multiracial team that competed in the USA open championships. He took the light-welterweight gold medal. In the same team was Lucas Matseke who won the flyweight gold medal. Finlay also gained Springbok colours in 1966 and toured Britain with the South African team.

Some other notable amateurs were Len Hall, who won a gold medal at the 1930 Empire Games in Vancouver, Joseph “Jopie” Greyling, a gold medallist at the 1958 Cardiff British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Johannes “Johnny” van der Kolff, gold medallist at 1954 Empire Games, and Hendrik “Whitey” van der Linde, bronze medallist at the 1954 Empire Games and 1952 Olympic representative.


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