Dear Ed, Warm greetings from South Africa.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame continues to do important work acknowledging the very best in the sport. Such recognition affirms the greatness within boxing’s athletes and those associated with them. I commend you for driving this noble initiative.
As a long-standing promoter from South Africa I am compelled to nominate two worthy South Africans for induction. In the first instance, the late Mzi Mnguni stands out as the most important – and successful – trainer in African boxing history. Not only did he thrive despite the deprivations of apartheid, he produced countless world champions who could stand compare with any fighters on earth.
Less a technical expert than a patriarchal figure, he had an uncanny ability to find rough diamonds in the dirt poor townships of South Africa and polish them to championship level.
Among those he trained to become world champions were Welcome Ncita, Vuyani Bungu, Mbulelo Botile, Zolani Petelo and Hawk Makepula.
“Bra Mzi” rose from a hard scrabble life to become a titan of South African boxing who even enjoyed an audience with Nelson Mandela no less.
As a youngster, he travelled by train from the Eastern Cape province looking for riches in Johannesburg. He became a delivery “boy”, except he never knew how to ride a bicycle. Instead, he would chain it to a pole and deliver by foot.
Despite having no experience of boxing, he was self-taught and began training young boxers in a makeshift gym, a classroom.
Having attracted attention locally, he went on to travel to the Kronk gym in America where he befriended Murphy Griffith, who shared many insights and trade secrets with Mzi. It helped that he had a thirst for learning, for every such interaction added to his skills set.
Working out of East London, in the Eastern Cape, his gym became a magnet for aspirants who were drawn to his success and his extraordinary ability to hone championship quality boxers.
Not happy with merely shaping champions, he promoted many too, only stopping at 126 fights when ill health curtailed his ambition. He sadly died of illness in 2021, but the champions he moulded and the great men he helped develop stand as a monument to his tremendous work in the sport.
Posthumous recognition by the International Boxing Hall of Fame would be tremendous (and deserved) confirmation of the vital role he played in helping uplift fighters when the Black majority of South Africa were desperate for heroes from their communities.
Mzi, by any measure, was a giant of boxing.
Similarly, I urge you to reconsider Vuyani Bungu for induction.
Vuyani was on the ballot some years ago, but is no less worthy now than he was then.
His success was testament to remarkable hard work, an effective fighting style and an uncomplaining attitude. He trained harder than anyone and typically overwhelmed opponents with non-stop punching.
Having grown up on the hard streets of Mdantsane, he knew all about struggle and sacrifice. Indeed, as a youngster the story is told of him being so embarrassed to not have lunch for school, he would nonetheless arrive with a paper bag and sit in the corner pretending to eat. Contained in the bag were rocks.
Few gave him a chance when he was matched against unbeaten Kennedy McKinney for the IBF junior-featherweight title in 1994. McKinney was an Olympic champion who had beaten Vuyani’s stablemate, Welcome Ncita, for the championship belt.
Dedicating the fight to Nelson Mandela, Vuyani gave McKinney a boxing lesson so profound it was named by Ring magazine as “upset of the year”. Two years later, Mandela, a former boxer himself, invited Vuyani to lunch.
Vuyani took on allcomers and established himself as one of the best South African boxers of all time, his 13 title defences far and away the most in the weight division of the IBF.
Despite his success, Vuyani remains the most humble of men. Scandalously, he lives on a street with no name yet he remains a hero to many of the thousands who call the township their home.
I urge you to give consideration to inducting this fine pair of boxing men. They both achieved so much, yet recognition by the International Boxing Hall of Fame would be the ultimate honour.