South Africa

Plaudits for 'humble' Baby Jake

2013-12-11 12:13
Baby Jake Matlala (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala will always be remembered for his humility, Peter Ngatane said at the boxing legend's memorial service in Nasrec, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

Ngatane is president of the Commonwealth Boxing Council and former chairperson of Boxing SA (BSA).

GALLERY: Baby Jake in pictures

Baby Jake remembered

"He was very spiritual and always insisted that after every training session at the Dube Boxing Club (in Soweto) that we must pray, as he felt the world was not always a safe place," he said.

"He took education very seriously and encouraged fellow boxers to upgrade their qualifications, and led by example as he himself was a B. Comm graduate."

The former flyweight world champion, who died in Johannesburg on Saturday, aged 51, also understood boxing could be brutal, Ngatane said.

There was a sombre mood and gospel music playing softly in the background as former boxers, family and friends gathered, waiting for the formalities to get underway.

Dingaan Thobela, known as "The Rose of Soweto" and Masibulele "The Hawk" Makepula were at the service at the Nasrec Expo Centre, formerly the home of Gauteng Boxing and BSA. The hall was set up as a mock boxing ring and was where pre-fight weigh-ins took place in the 1990s.

Makepula, now a pastor, conducted the opening prayer. He fought and beat Matlala in February 1990.

Arguably the most successful boxer produced by South Africa, Matlala, the four-time world flyweight (50kg) champion, was born in Meadowlands, Soweto on August 1, 1962.

Matlala's professional career began in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, in February 1980, and, by the time he retired in March 2002, his record stood at more than 50 victories.

His titles included World Boxing Organisation flyweight champion in 1993, the light flyweight title in 1995, the International Boxing Association junior flyweight title in 1997 and the World Boxing Union (WBU) flyweight title in 2001.

He was the only South African boxer to have won four world titles and, at 1.47m, he was the shortest man to have been a world champion.

His death came just days after that of former president Nelson Mandela, who was a boxer in his younger days.

Mandela and US actor Will Smith attended Matlala's farewell fight. Afterwards, Matlala presented his WBU belt to Mandela.

When he retired, Matlala remained actively involved in the community, helped to raise funds for HIV/Aids programmes and supported the SA Police Service in its campaign to get members fit.

In 2010, Golden Gloves boxing promoter Rodney Berman arranged a black-tie charity fight called The Night of the Little Big Man to raise funds for Matlala to cover his medical costs after he was hospitalised for weeks, reportedly with double pneumonia.

The Rhema Church, of which Matlala was a member, also called on the public to help raise funds for him, and SuperSport agreed to sponsor the broadcast of the charity event.

At the time, Berman's publicist, Terry Pettifer, who has himself since died, told The Times newspaper that Matlala had "lost everything and needs all the help he can get".

Matlala is survived by his wife, who was his childhood sweetheart, and two sons.

Read more on:    baby jake matlala  |  boxing


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Love 2 Meet
Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter


The 2019/20 Absa Premiership season is in full swing. Will Mamelodi Sundowns retain their title? Or can one of Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Wits, SuperSport United - or another team perhaps - snatch glory from the Brazilians? Be sure to visit Sport24 for all the latest news!

Latest blogs

How should the 2019/20 English Premier League title race be resolved?

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.