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Boxing | South Africa

Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala © Gallo Images

Baby Jake Matlala dies

Jacob (Baby Jake) Matlala, one of the legends of SA boxing, has died.

Matlala, who held four “world” titles and two South African titles, died at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg on Saturday morning. He would have turned 52 on January 8.

At 1.48 m, he was the shortest world champion in history. He weighed 48.99 kg when he was at the height of his career.

He retired with a professional record of 53-13-2, including 27 wins inside the distance, after holding the WBO flyweight, WBO junior flyweight, IBA junior flyweight and WBU junior flyweight belts. He also won the SA junior flyweight title twice.

Matlala, a well-educated man, captured the imagination of South Africans at all levels with his sportsmanship and ready smile.

He always said the secret of his success was that he never smoked, drank or used drugs. His success was because of his total dedication to boxing.

He leaves his wife and two sons.

Matlala’s professional career began in Port Elizabeth in February 1980 when he was 18 years old and beat Fraser Plaatjies on points.

His trainer, from the beginning, was Theo Mthembu, a top-class lightweight in the 1950s. Mthembu was still in his corner when Matlala had his last fight 22 years later.

In only his tenth fight, Matlala won the SA junior flyweight title when he stopped Mveleli Luzipho in the 11th round in Luzipho’s hometown, Mdantsane, near East London.

In September 1991, he challenged Irishman Dave McAuley for the IBF flyweight belt. They met in Belfast and Matlala was knocked out in the tenth round, apparently after misjudging the count.

In May 1993, against the odds, he stopped a weight-drained Pat Clinton to take the WBO flyweight belt.

After three defences, he lost the title to Alberto Jimenez in a fight at Hammanskraal near Pretoria. He appeared to quit in the eighth round and complained of stomach cramps.

However, he was soon back, drawing with Sammy Stewart and beating Francisco Mendoza before dropping to junior flyweight and winning his second major title. He defeated Paul Weir on a technical decision in five rounds to take the WBO belt.

After two successful defences, against Weir and Mickey Cantwell, Matlala challenged Michael Carbajal for the IBA junior flyweight belt. Badly cut over both eyes, the Mexican fighter was stopped in the ninth round.

Matlala later relinquished the IBA belt to fight South African Hawk Makepula for the vacant WBO junior flyweight belt. Makepula won on a controversial decision.

After losing to Peter Culshaw in a challenge for the WBU flyweight belt, Matlala won his fourth “world” title at Carnival City in February 2001 when he stopped Australian Todd Makelin in a bout for the vacant WBU junior flyweight title.

After a successful defence against Mickey Cantwell, Matlala, then 40 years old, finished his 22-year career on a winning note at Carnival City in March 2002. He stopped Juan Herrera in seven rounds to retain the WBU junior flyweight belt.

Known as the little big man he was one of the most popular SA sports personalities of his time, a well-spoken public speaker and at home in front of TV cameras and at numerous black-tie events.


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