The road to success is often a long and winding one, dotted with many rocks and potholes. With the cavalcade of champions that Golden Gloves promoted over the years, few realize that it took the promotion 13 years to produce their first world champion. Although Golden Gloves did promote a world champion in Brian Mitchell, he joined the organization when he was already an established world champion.
As the sport boycott was being lifted, many South African fighters started challenging for world titles in the WBO and IBF. Some were competitive and others took a beating but they all, ultimately, failed to get over the final hurdle. A small, clean cut young man with lightning in his fists from the humble township of Mdantsane in East London would change all that.
That man was Welcome Ncita and he finally got his chance in the unlikely venue of the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel when he challenged the French world champion, Fabrice Benichou for the IBF junior featherweight title. Benichou was a French Jew of Moroccan descent and had it in his head that he wanted to defend his world title in Israel, hence the unusual venue not known as a boxing hotbed.
Benichou was a rough and tumble highly unorthodox fighter. He didn’t look like much on tape or on paper, sporting a spotty 25-8 record but he kept coming at you and it was hard to anticipate where his punches would come from. Add to that the fact that he could hit, and you had a dangerous puzzle to solve. Another South African, Fransie Badenhorst, found that out when he challenged Benichou the previous year and succumbed in five rounds.
Despite the fact that Ncita was undefeated at 25-0, a former South African flyweight champion and an experienced international campaigner, the South African press were somewhat skeptical in their assessment of his chances, no doubt swayed by the South Africans’ lack of recent success in world title bouts. Circumstances were also less than ideal in the Ncita camp, with longtime manager/trainer, Mzimasi Mnguni forced to rush home when a shop he owned was burned down.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Ncita didn’t disappoint. True to his nickname of “The Hawk” he dazzled with his nimble footwork and fast punches. His smooth boxing stood in sharp contrast to the brawling Benichou’s bull rushes. The champion was the aggressor throughout, but his attacks were largely rendered ineffective by Ncita, who had him punching air, time and again, while sticking him with his jab, flurrying and getting out of the pocket before an increasingly desperate Benichou could retaliate.
After 12 rounds, Welcome Ncita was crowned the new world champion by unanimous decision and returned to a hero’s welcome in East London, the first world champion of a democratic South Africa.
He made six successful defenses of his world title, which included victories over former world champions, Sugar Baby Rojas and Jesus Salud.
Benichou went on to win the European title at featherweight and challenged for world titles three more times. He gave all of them hell, losing by split decisions to Luis Mendoza and Manuel Medina and getting stopped on cuts by Paul Hodkinson, making Ncita’s victory even more impressive over time.