Boxing Snippets

Golden Gloves trio fight for junior-middleweight glory.

If the 1980s was a golden age for South African junior-middleweights, the division is thriving again with three current Golden Gloves fighters all vying for bragging rights.
In the 1980s it was Gregory Clark, a tall, rangy technician, who bossed the division, making his name with tough outings against the like of Charles Oosthuizen and Gerhard Botes.
Clark established himself as one of SA’s greatest middleweights, but not before doing the same at junior-middleweight where he won 12 of his 13 fights at the weight. His only reverse came against American Buster Drayton who stopped him in the second round almost exactly 40 years ago. Drayton later won the IBF championship.
It was the only stoppage defeat of Clark’s impressive career and he retired with a sterling 50-7 record which includes a run at junior-middleweight that stands atop as arguably the best ever produced by a South African.
Of the modern-day fighters, three locals in the form of Roarke Knapp, Shervantaigh Koopman and Brandon Thysse are all making their way with Knapp probably best placed to challenge for a place in history.
Indeed, the challenge is significant if you consider that claimants to the mythical “best ever junior middleweight” crown include old, timers Gert Steyn and Bushy Bester.
Steyn was a master boxer who took on allcomers and had three memorable bouts against Bester, winning one and losing two.
He also famously beat Elijah “Tap Tap” Makhathini in 1979 and at his best could have held his own against any of the world top 10.
One of his finest wins came in 1977 when he stopped the excellent Gordon Gobo, later to become an accomplished referee, in their fight for the “Supreme” SA title which pitted the white champion of the time against the black champion.
Goba himself deserves reckoning. The apartheid policies at the time ensured he faced just a single white fighter among his 86 opponents (Steyn), but many top names were beaten, among them Joe N’Gidi and Maxwell Malinga.
Although Charlie Weir campaigned at junior-middleweight – indeed, his only world title attempt came at the weight against Davey Moore – his biggest moments were at middleweight where he looked most comfortable. It was also the division in which he was most successful, knocking out Bushy Bester, Sydney Bensch and Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss.
Bester was a terrific all-action boxer who had a fine run at the weight before running into Ayub Kalule for the WBA championship.
Boasting a win against Buster Drayton alone earns him a place among SA’s best-ever junior middleweights.
The aforementioned Oosthuizen won the SA junior-middleweight title and made three defences before shifting to middleweight where he really made a name for himself. Interestingly, the run was book-ended by Clark, who beat him first up, but then lost to him in a clash for the middleweight bout in 1988.
Often forgotten in any discussion about elite junior middleweights is ex-champion Mpush Makambi, a former operative with the Azania Peoples Liberation Army.
He had three cracks at the IBO title (all at middleweight), but was more successful at the lower weight where he picked up wins against Johannes Malaza, Sydney Msutu and Johnson Tshuma.
Odds are that punters won’t recognise the name of Theunis van Schalkwyk, but as a junior-middleweight he captured the silver medal at the 1952 Olympics, having captured gold, albeit at middleweight, at the Empire Games two years before. Who knows how well he may have done had he turned professional?
Knapp, Koopman and Thysse thus have their work cut out to rank among SA’s best, a sequence of excellence that dates back over 70 years.
Their careers have become entangled, Thysse having beaten Knapp five years ago (and lost the subsequent rematch) and Koopman having bested Thysse last year.
Koopman himself hasn’t lost in 13 outings and is matched tough in his next outing – to be announced later this week – in yet another examination of his credentials.
It all points to a grand time for SA fans, who have a handful of skilled fighters at the same weight all well placed to plunder the rankings in the months and years to come.


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