Baby Jake floored by poverty

The steel bars enclosing Baby ­Jake’s Diner at Johannesburg’s Carlton Centre are an indication of the hard times the former world champion has encountered.

It emerged this week that Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, a four-time world champion, is gravely ill and cannot pay his medical bills.

Matlala reportedly spent three weeks at the Lesedi Clinic in ­Soweto suffering from double pneumonia.

Matlala’s former promoter, Rodney Berman, has announced plans to stage a fundraising dinner and boxing tournament for the ailing former champ.

Pastor Ray McCauley of the ­Rhema Church, of which Matlala is a member, has also issued a call for the public to help raise funds for him.

Matlala’s family has asked for privacy on the matter.

Fast food outlet Baby Jake’s ­Diner, one of numerous business ventures Matlala undertook on ­retiring from boxing, has been closed for several months.
Matlala sold training apparel and also had a stint as a boxing commentator on SABC television.

His former colleagues have expressed sympathy and warned that the life of a boxer is not like that of multimillionaires, as often portrayed by the media. They point to the legion of former boxers who find themselves destitute after ­retirement, as an example.

“It is unfortunate that this is happening to Jake,” says former world champion Welcome Ncita. “He used his money wisely so it’s a bit difficult to understand why he is in this situation.”

Former world champion ­Dingaan “The Rose of Soweto” Thobela says though he is not privy to Matlala’s financial affairs he knows him to be a responsible person who is not reckless with his money.

Thobela says the fact that Matlala ventured into various businesses after his retirement shows he had prepared for life after boxing.

“Sometimes business does not always go the way you want it to. It could happen to anyone and maybe this is what happened. We shouldn’t blame Jake because at least he tried,” he says.

Thobela also dispels the myth that boxers make millions of rands during their careers.

“Look at the case of Mike Tyson, who is supposed to have made lots of millions but today he is said to be broke. If he did make millions then why is he broke?”

Thobela is now involved in a ­funeral undertaking business.

Ncita says he’s involved in a small business and the training of boxers. Vuyani “The Beast” ­Bungu, who defended his IBF world title a record 13 times, says he’s surviving with the help of ­sympathisers.

Bungu feels that boxers are short-changed by their managers and promoters, which often leads to destitution when they retire.

He cites the example of his title defence in 1994 when he read ­media reports saying he was going to receive R2.5 ?million for the fight when in fact he had signed a contract for only R60 000.

But six-time lightweight champion Cassius Baloyi is already laying the foundation for when he retires from the sport – he is setting up a gym in Bruma, Johannesburg.

Asked if boxers earn millions he replies: “No! not at all. Not like­ soccer players or American boxers.”

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