Jan Bergman, the Toekomsrus Trailblazer with lightning in his fists.
Toekomsrus has spawned its fair share of fighters but before the likes Simon Ramoni and Malcolm Klassen made their mark, there was Jan Bergman.
Bergman had it all and when he stepped in the ring excitement followed. He had fast hands and feet with lightning reflexes, and he could punch with either hand, especially with the left hook. His knockouts of Grant Messias and Joseph Makaringe are still the stuff of local legend.
After winning his first 18 fights in spectacular fashion, he challenged Aaron Kabi for the South African junior welterweight title in 1993. Kabi was a tricky customer, but Bergman prevailed, winning a decision to take the title. He followed that up by stopping tough Russian, Viktor Baranov in ten rounds for the WBC international title on the undercard of Dingaan Thobela’s world title rematch against Tony Lopez. He continued the momentum by stopping former WBO junior lightweight world champion, Kamel Bou-Ali, in seven rounds.
Incredibly, it took 11 more wins until he finally landed a world title shot in 1996 in Australia. The only trouble was that he faced a future Hall-of-Famer, the formidable IBF world champion, Kostya Tszyu. Bergman fought valiantly and competed on fairly even terms with Tszyu until the power of the Aussie based Russian became too much and he was overwhelmed in the sixth round.
He was back the next year, winning three fights before dropping a surprise six round decision to a comparative novice in Junior Witter in the UK. It was another loss that looked better over time as Witter would eventually go on to become a WBC world champion.
After righting the ship with three more wins he got another shot at the vacant IBF world title in 2000, this time against a young, undefeated Zab Judah. Bergman hit the canvass in the first round, sent Judah down in the second but was knocked out in the fourth. His world title dreams seemed shattered, but Bergman had more lives than a cat.
He moved up to the welterweight division and starched Joseph Makaringe with a left hook from hell in another local derby and then got a consolation prize in the form of a shot at the vacant WBU welterweight world title against Guillermo Mosquera in 2001. This time Bergman made it count, Mosquera retiring in his corner after going down twice in the sixth.
He made two successful defenses before vacating his title to challenge Jawaid Khaliq for his IBO world title. It was a typical knockdown filled Bergman fight but unfortunately Khaliq prevailed by seventh round TKO, which marked the end of Bergman as a top-notch competitor.
Bergman is still a popular ringsider at Emperor’s Palace, the fans having fond memories of his meteoric career.
If he did not have the misfortune of running into two great fighters at their best in Tszyu and Judah, there could be no doubt that he would have won a world title in the four major sanctioning bodies.