Simon “Tsipa” Skosana came within a whisker of becoming the WBA bantamweight champion of the world at the Rand Stadium in 1986. In the end, it was not to be, but no one would ever forget the skill and heart displayed by the man from KwaThema on that memorable night.
Skosana, whose nickname means “pinch,” was a clever boxer who had a knack of slipping through his opponents’ defenses, chipping away with his accurate punches. Usually a slow starter, he would get better as the fight wore on and could punch with authority that belied his slender frame.
Skosana won the national bantamweight crown in 1984 by outpointing Phindile Gaika and made three successful title defenses, one of them a memorable war against Fransie Badenhorst. Several international wins eventually landed him a shot against the WBA champion, Bernardo Pinango, from Venezuela.
Skosana, who was written off by many as a no-hoper, showed his class from the start, outboxing the stalking Pinango with his jab, while displaying a tight defense that had the champion punching air. As his confidence increased, he started teeing off on Pinango in the fourth round, landing some solid rights and a left hook for good measure. When a series of big rights found their mark in the sixth, one got the feeling that an upset might be on the cards, but there was more to come.
The fight exploded in a terrific seventh round when a right by Skosana rocked Pinango, a follow up left-right moments later depositing the champion on the seat of his pants. Pinango got up and returned the favor, putting Skosana down with a left hook of his own. Skosana was up quickly and fought back furiously, backing Pinango towards the ropes at the end of the round.
Things took a turn for the worse in the next round when Pinango opened a bad gash over the left eye of the South African. It kept pouring blood for the rest of the fight, Skosana’s corner unable to stem the tide. On top of that, the referee let the champion get away with numerous low blows.
Still, Skosana kept his composure and rocked Pinango with a right in the eleventh, only for the champion to stage a big comeback of his own by battering Skosana in the twelfth. Skosana came back yet again in the following round, outboxing Pinango but after that something just seemed to go out of him.
Perhaps the loss of blood was too much, but a big left hook from Pinango hurt him badly in the fifteenth and last round. After a brief respite when the ringside doctor was called over to inspect the cut, Pinango threw everything at him until Skosana slumped to the canvass where he was counted out with 42 seconds left in the fight.
Still, Skosana’s valiant challenge made the world take notice. During a nine-fight winning streak he made two more defenses of his SA title, renewing his rivalry with Badenhorst to win another war and outpointed Jerome Coffee, who had taken the great Jeff Fenech the distance in a world title challenge.
He had to wait until 1989 to get another world title shot. He took on American Kenny Mitchell in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the WBO junior featherweight title. On paper, Mitchell looked like a beatable champion, but Skosana could not muster anything near the performance he gave against Pinango. He lost on points in a pedestrian affair, retiring afterwards.
Simon Skosana passed on in 2009 at the age of 51 but will forever have a special place in the heart of South African fans.