Vic Toweel and Mbulelo Botile: Who was the bantamweight boss?
Vic Toweel holds several South African records, some which may never be broken. He was South Africa’s first world champion and did not waste any time either, turning the trick in only his 14th bout, just over a year removed from his pro debut. More importantly, he was South Africa’s only undisputed world champion in an era of one champion in eight weight divisions.
Already the South African featherweight champion, as well as the Empire (Commonwealth) champion at bantamweight, he faced the long reigning world bantamweight champion, Manuel Ortiz at Wembley Stadium, Johannesburg, in May of 1950. Ortiz was vastly more experienced and had two reigns as bantamweight champion, winning the title for the first time in 1942 and making a total of 19 successful title defenses.
It was to be the 22-year-old Toweel’s night to shine. Nicknamed the “Benoni Atom,” he was a relentless volume puncher and he was simply too fresh and busy for Ortiz, outworking and outboxing him over fifteen rounds to take the decision. He went on to make three successful defenses of the championship. He knocked British champion, Danny O’Sullivan down 14 times before stopping him in ten rounds for his first title defense. His second challenger, Luis Romero, did slightly better by only going down twice, but was outpointed over fifteen rounds. In his third defense, he won another decision over the undefeated British and European champion, Peter Keenan.
His reign came to an end in November of 1952 when Australian, Jimmy Carruther’s, knocked out the severely weight drained Toweel in the first round. They had a rematch but even though Toweel lasted until the tenth round, the result was the same.
What many people do not realize, is the fact that during his world title reign, Toweel engaged in no less than 10 bouts sandwiched in between those three title defenses, even defending his South African featherweight title in two of them. Astonishing activity levels by today’s standards!
Mbulelo Botile from the boxing hotbed of the Eastern Cape, captured the IBF bantamweight crown in devastating fashion in 1995. Nicknamed “The Hitman,” he resembled the most famous holder of that moniker, Tommy Hearns, in the way he separated Harold Mestre from his senses in the second round.
A calculated boxer with dynamite in either hand, Botile made five successful defenses of his belt, before losing it in 1997, getting stopped by former Olympian, Tim Austin. He was not done and captured another IBF world title three years later as a featherweight, stopping Paul Ingle in twelve rounds in the UK in dominating fashion. The fight almost had fatal consequences for Ingle who had to undergo surgery for a brain bleed. That may have affected Botile, who never quite regained the same form, losing his featherweight crown in his first defense to Frankie Toledo.
Who was better?
There was not much to choose between them physically, being the same height, with Botile having an inch in reach over Toweel. Perhaps both, certainly Toweel, was not quite comfortable at the bantamweight limit. Botile did not like a lot of pressure, which Toweel could provide in spades but then again, how would the Toweel who succumbed to Carruthers have taken Botile’s power?
These are the debates that keep boxing fans busy while waiting for live boxing to resume.