Like the great Roberto Duran, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba was nicknamed “Hands of Stone.” When he clenches his fist for a photo, adopting the typical fighters’ pose, it is easy to see why. Ledwaba, the former IBF junior featherweight champion of the world is not a big man, but one cannot help but notice the sheer size of the tools of his trade.
His name is often associated with the man who dethroned him as IBF world champion, Manny Pacquiao, who went on to become an international superstar and all time great. That is perhaps unfortunate because at his best, Ledwaba was a very accomplished fighter in his own right, a rare blend of speed, power, and skill. His slashing hooks to the rib cage were the downfall of many an opponent, Brian Mitchell often referring to him as the “best body puncher in South Africa.”
He won the vacant South African junior featherweight title in 1995 by stopping Ncedile Siko in seven rounds and kept racking up the wins, dropping down to bantamweight in 1996 to take on hard charging Mexican, Cruz Carbajal, for the vacant WBU bantamweight title. It was a hard fight but Ledwaba prevailed, winning the decision. Carbajal would go on to win the WBO bantamweight title and even record a win over Danny Romero, making Ledwaba’s victory look even better in retrospect.
He vacated his WBU title after one defense to return to the heavier division and after Vuyani Bungu vacated the IBF title, he got his shot at the vacant belt in 1999. Once again, he had a tough nut to crack. Standing across the ring from him, was former WBA bantamweight champion and conqueror of Junior Jones, John Michael Johnson. In a tense affair, Ledwaba showed his class over the second half of the fight and romped home a convincing points winner.
His reign was a dominant one, making five successful title defenses, all but one of them inside the distance. He even stopped the very tough Colombian, Ernesto Grey, who had given Vuyani Bungu a world of headaches in a previous title attempt.
One cannot help but wonder how long he would have reigned had he not run into the Filipino icon in 2001, the mandatory challenger at the time, but he bounced back from the Pacquiao loss by recording one more great victory.
Just over a year later, he faced Bungu, himself on the rebound from a defeat against Naseem Hamed, at Carnival City in a local derby between South African legends with the WBU featherweight title on the line. Ledwaba put himself back on top by winning a unanimous decision.
He fought on with mixed results, participating in two memorable battles with Cassius Baloyi, before retiring after some eye trouble in 2006 with a record of 36-6-1 with 23 knockouts. Always approachable to the fans with a ready smile, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba is still a ringside regular.