The junior featherweight or super bantamweight division, with a weight limit of 122 pounds or 55,5 kg, saw its first world title fight in 1976, when Panamanian, Rigoberto Riasco stopped Japanese based Kenyan, Waruinge Nakayama, in eight rounds to capture the WBC title.
Since then, great fighters like Wilfredo Gomez, Jeff Fenech, Daniel Zaragoza, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera have left their mark on the division.
South Africa is also well represented, with East London’s Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, capturing the IBF world title in 1990 when he outpointed the Frenchman, Fabrice Benichou, in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ncita was a trailblazer and with the win, became not only the first world champion from the boxing mad Eastern Cape but also South Africa’s first IBF world champion. A boxing purist’s dream with a classical style, Ncita had lighting fast hands and feet, as well as deceptive power in his left hook.
He made six successful defenses of his title, beating former world champions, Sugar Bay Rojas and Jesus Salud along the way, before running into Olympic gold medalist, Kennedy Mckinney in 1992. In a terrific fight that saw McKinney get off to a good start, with Ncita surging back in the middle rounds, he had the American on the verge of a stoppage before running into a right in the eleventh round that put him down and out for the count.
He tried to regain the title from McKinney in 1994 but fell short. Despite putting McKinney down in the fifth round, his left eye, an old injury, started to swell shut and he lost the fight by majority decision. He fought on sporadically and challenged once more for a world title in 1997 but retired in his corner after ten rounds against Hector Lizarraga for the IBF featherweight crown.
McKinney made five successful defenses of his IBF junior featherweight title before putting his belt on the line against Vuyani Bungu, the South African champion and Ncita’s chief sparring partner. McKinney was undefeated, and on many pound-for-pound lists at the time, while Bungu was a routine title defense and not given much of a chance.
On that special night in 1994, Bungu tore up the script and posted what was later named The Ring’s “Upset of the Year.” McKinney struggled to get to grips with Bungu’s bustling, crouching style and at the end of the fight the South African was a clear winner by unanimous decision, to the delight of the crowd at the Carousel Casino.
Fighters who become champions by springing massive upsets traditionally do not last very long, but Bungu once again turned convention on its head and reigned supreme for almost five years. During that time, he set the South African record for the most successive successful world title defenses, defending his title thirteen times. Highlights of his run included wins over former world champions, Jesus Salud and the popular Danny Romero, as well as a rematch victory over McKinney, who would go on to upset Junior Jones to win the WBO version of the title.
Bungu, having vacated his junior featherweight world title, challenged the UK superstar, Prince Naseem Hamed in 2000 for the WBO featherweight title but it was not to be, Hamed knocking Bungu out in the fourth round.
He retired but came back in 2002, before finally calling it a day in 2005, after dropping a decision to Thomas Mashaba. During that time, he scored two solid wins over future world champion, Takalani Ndlovu, winning the IBO featherweight title in their last encounter.
Today, Vuyani “The Beast” Bungu is regarded as one of the best from South Africa to ever do it and it is hoped that an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, for which he was nominated, will not remain overdue for much longer.
Bungu giving up the IBF junior featherweight world title in 1999, opened an opportunity for another South African, Lehlohonolo “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba, to contest the vacant title. He did not disappoint, winning a hard-fought unanimous decision over former WBA bantamweight champion, John Michael Johnson to keep the title in South Africa.
Ledwaba, who also held a WBU belt at bantamweight, was another fine IBF champion and made five successful title defenses. A solid all-round boxer and great body puncher, Ledwaba seemed to have slightly more pop on his punches than his predecessors, stopping all but one of his challengers.
It came to a sticky end when he met mandatory challenger, a former flyweight world champion and relative unknown at the time, Manny Pacquiao, in Las Vegas. Ledwaba got stopped in six rounds and Pacquiao went on to become a modern great.
Ledwaba scored one more great victory though, outpointing Vuyani Bungu for another WBU belt at featherweight. He also gave Cassius Baloyi all he could handle in two fights, many feeling that he was unlucky not to get the nod in their first encounter, before finally retiring in 2006.