It was the new guard against the old guard at Carnival City when Masibulele “Hawk” Makepula met “Baby Jake” Matlala with the vacant WBO light flyweight world title at stake.
Makepula had an illustrious amateur career that saw him capture gold at the All-Africa Games and he was the flagbearer of the South African team that competed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA. He went 1-1 at the Olympics and when he turned pro, he had an undeniable star quality about him.
He captured the WBU light flyweight title with a technical decision over Rafael Torres in the historical venue of Madison Square Garden, New York and made two defenses of that belt before getting the opportunity to contest a major world title.
Makepula may have had a glossy 16-0 record with 12 knockouts but his opponent was an experienced campaigner at world level, a veteran of 63 fights and a South African icon. It was never going to be easy.
The 38-year-old Matlala was on a nine fight winning streak, which included a career best stoppage of the legendary Michael Carbajal and had captured WBO world titles at both flyweight and light flyweight, as well as an IBA belt.
The styles combined to make a memorable encounter. Matlala knew only one way to fight and that was to swarm over his opponent with his relentless volume punching and pressure fighting style. Makepula, another product of the East London factory belt of boxing champions, was the slick boxer who had the edge in speed.
Makepula started out well, using his hand speed, hooks to the body and fast feet to keep Matlala from gaining full momentum. Matlala came back into the fight in the later rounds but Makepula was able to weather the storm and come back with enough shots of his own to win the decision in a memorable encounter.
Matlala fought four more times, capturing the WBU light flyweight title before calling it quits in 2002 after stopping Juan Herrera.
Makepula vacated his WBO title, made one more defense of his WBU belt and then moved up to flyweight to challenge IBF world champion, Irene Pacheco, in the US. He lost a majority decision in a fight that Teddy Atlas, commentating on the ESPN broadcast, had him winning.
He captured the IBO flyweight title in 2002, stopping Melvin Magramo in nine rounds but then ran into his nemesis, Mzukisi Sikali, who outpointed and then stopped him in two encounters.
He moved up to the junior bantamweight division and rebounded nicely with stoppage wins over former SA champion, Johannes Maisa and former SA and IBO champion, Lunga Ntontela, as well as several more wins over international opponents.
He was stopped by Mexican star, Jorge Arce, in a WBC eliminator in 2006. He fought one more time in 2008, dropping a split decision to Zolile Mbityi for the vacant IBO junior bantamweight title and called it a day.
He is still a familiar figure at ringside in the Eastern Cape. A pastor, he has also dipped his toes in the acting pool and appeared in the popular daytime soap, Rhythm City, as well as the recent award-winning film, “Knuckle City.”