Obit – Baby Jake, a real boxing hero

2013-12-07 18:34

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The unexpected death of Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala has robbed the country of one of its greatest sportsmen.

The erstwhile four-time world boxing champion died today at the age of 51.

His passing comes against the backdrop of the national and international mourning for his admirer, Nelson Mandela.

The world’s shortest boxer conquered the ring with ease by beating opponents usually taller than him, earning him the nickname “Baby Jake”.

The affable Matlala, who was revered for his stinging right hook, made a name for himself by becoming the country’s only pugilist to win world titles under three different sanctioning bodies.

He lifted the championship belts of the WBO, WBU and IBA in the light flyweight and flyweights in an illustrious career before hanging up his gloves at the age of 40.

Despite his unusual height, Matlala exuded confidence inside the ring.

This feature made him the drawcard as his fights were attended by fans from all walks of life throughout the rainbow nation.

“Baby Jake” was such a gifted pugilist and a warm athlete that he was often referred to as the “little man with a big heart”.

He was loved by fans not only at home, but abroad as well.

I remember covering one of his WBO title fights when he defended against Scotsman Paul Weir in Glasgow in 1996.

He beat Weir on a technical decision in the fifth round to win the belt.

The likeable Matlala was widely congratulated by the partisan Scottish crowd for the sterling showing he dished out against their man.

And Matlala in turn showed sportsmanship by thanking the crowd for their attendance.

“Baby Jake” will be remembered as a true hero – in and out of the ring.

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