SA rallies behind Baby Jake
Baby Jake Matlala (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Heavyweight prospect Flo Simba will fight at Emperors Palace in January in a tournament in aid of former world champion Jacob (Baby Jake) Matlala.
Matlala is back at home and making a steady recovery after three weeks in hospital with double pneumonia but he was still receiving oxygen this week, Golden Gloves promoter Rodney Berman said on Friday.
Berman staged 12 of the four-times world champion's title fights and described the 48-year-old Matlala as having "the second most recognisable face in South Africa".
"We would have liked to stage this benefit tournament sooner, but the logistics make it impossible. It will go on towards the end of January," he said.
Berman intends to assemble a star-studded bill at the venue near Johannesburg. Many leading fighters are ready to take part.
Unbeaten Simba is considered South Africa's finest heavyweight prospect since Gerrie Coetzee.
Matlala retired from the ring in 2002 after a career of 68 fights that included 54 wins, 12 losses and two draws.
His 28-year boxing career began when he was 12 years old. Some of his best performances came during the twilight of his career.
His last fight, in defence of the WBU junior flyweight title against Colombian Juan Herrara, was a landmark in SA boxing, with both former president Nelson Mandela and Hollywood star Will Smith in attendance.
"It is gratifying to see the country rallying around the little man with the big heart," said Berman, describing the response to Baby Jake's plight as "overwhelming".
Rhema Bible Church, of which Matlala is a member, is helping him pay his medical bills.
"Baby Jake is a member of our church and he has helped us a lot with a number of our charity programmes," Rev Ray McCauley said on Friday.
"We have used his stature as a sports icon to rally support for our Hands of Compassion's [Rhema's social responsibility programme] initiatives," he said.
"We need to plough back in his life and give him all the necessary support."
A lot more money was needed, said Berman, adding that, with the help of the many volunteers "we will do what we can to ease the burden of the little dynamo who made such a major impact in South African sport".