Today is 10 years since Vic Toweel, South Africa’s only undisputed world champion, died at the age of 80 in Sydney, Australia.
Times have changed since he won the world bantamweight title. So have systems and controlling bodies and the social status of boxers.
But talent and skills and all the other basics, such as dedication and courage, do not change. And there is enough evidence to suggest that Toweel would have been a champion in any era.
When he won his title in Johannesburg on May 31, 1950, he was the universal world champion; not merely the champion of one of four or more organisations that offer titles these days.
Toweel was, for a while, the best bantamweight in the world. Period.
More than 20 000 people saw him at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg the night he became the second South African to win a world title. To do so, he had to beat of the best bantamweights of the post-war years, a Mexican-American by the name of Manuel Ortiz, who had been fighting as a professional for 12 years.
Ortiz had won the title eight years earlier and defended it 15 times before losing the belt to Harold Dade. Three months later he regained the title and signed a contract to defend it against Toweel.
The South African won most of the 15 rounds through his superior speed. Ortiz was unable to match the younger challenger’s speed and stamina. The champion did get through with a short right uppercut several times but failed to shake Toweel even though finished with a puffed up ear and bloodied nose.
By winning the title, Toweel made history. In addition to being the first South African to win a universally recognised professional title, his rapid rise to the top was spectacular.
He had been fighting as a professional for less than a year-and-a half and had only 13 bouts before beating Ortiz.
Toweel also became the first South African to be awarded The Ring magazine championship belt.
He finished with a record of 28-3-1 (14). – Ron Jackson