Baby Jake Matlala: Gone but not forgotten

By Drum Digital
09 December 2014

The legacy of Mzansi’s renowned boxer Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala still lives on.

Matlala (51) passed away on 7 December 2013, following a battle related to a recurring lung condition.

However, since his untimely death his family has reportedly fallen on hard times. Matlala, ex-wife Mapule and their two sons, Tshepo and Lesego, were allegedly kicked out of their home in Winchester Hills, south of Jozi, after the bank repossessed the property a few days before the champ died a year ago. But, contrary to tabloid newspaper reports, Matlala and his family were not evicted from the house.

Baby Jake was born in 1962 in Meadowlands, Johannesburg. At the age of 10 he started going to the gym with his father, an aspiring boxer himself.

He was so passionate about boxing that he decided to turn professional in 1979.

The flyweight champion began his boxing career in 1980 in a fourth-round victory over Fraser Plaatjie in Port Elizabeth under the guidance of former fighter Theo Mthembu.

It only took Baby Jake four contests to become South African Junior Flyweight champion. Vuyani Nene later dethroned the pint-sized star.

In July 1997, in an unlikely bout, Baby Jake defeated Michael Carbajal in Las Vegas, America, for the International Boxing Association (IBA) flyweight title.

He later gave it up to challenge Hawk Makepula for the vacant WBO junior flyweight title.

Matlala ended his once-illustrious career at Carnival City in 2002 by stopping Colombian Juan Herrera from getting the WBU Junior Flyweight title in the seventh round. Matlala became the only South African boxer to have won four world titles in a career of 27 stoppages, 54 wins, 12 losses and 2 draws after his final bout.

In January this year Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula suggested the idea of renaming the gym where the former champ trained in Dube, Soweto, to Baby Jake Matlala Boxing Academy. The unveiling of a plaque honouring the late boxer was attended by world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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