A Madiba favourite, Baby Jake is buried

2013-12-14 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Standing just 1,48 metres tall and with especially short arms, a big problem for a boxer, Jacob Matlala rose from early hardship in Soweto to be a four-time world champion and one of South Africa’s most popular sportsmen.

No wonder he was also one of Nelson Mandela’s favourites.

Matlala died last Saturday aged 51 after a struggle with lung problems, dying two days after Mandela. He was buried yesterday in Johannesburg.

Yet even in the midst of its deep mourning for Madiba, South Africa made sure to also remember “Baby Jake”.

President Jacob Zuma, the ANC and even Mandela’s family shared words of tribute for a boxer referred to by fans as “the little man with the big heart”.

“With his tiny frame and lethal blows that achieved him iconic status among South Africans, Matlala demonstrated the greatest that a combination of a good head and a good heart could achieve,” the ANC said, playing on a famous Mandela quote that “a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”.

In perhaps its greatest praise, the ANC said Matlala showed the same good characteristics “that Madiba embodied”.

Matlala was so popular with Mandela that the former president attended his final fight in 2002, when Matlala successfully defended his WBU junior flyweight title and made his way into the crowd afterward to present the belt to Mandela, who was watching with Hollywood actor Will Smith.

With his ability to triumph over adversity, Matlala was an especially popular champion for many South Africans.

“Even with the disadvantages he had of being 4 foot 10 with short arms, he was a brilliant fighter,” said Brian Mitchell, South Africa’s former WBA and IBF super featherweight champion and a contender alongside Matlala for the title of South Africa’s greatest ever fighter.

Matlala had a 53-13-2 record in a 22-year professional career.

“He was a small giant … whose impact far outweighed its size,” the ANC said.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.