The only man to have beaten Brian Mitchell - by Ron Jackson
Jacob “Dancing Shoes” Morake is the
only boxer who beat Brian Mitchell in a
professional fight. He also took Mitchell to the limit in two subsequent SA title fights.
But while Mitchell went on to earn his place among the Hall of Fame elite, Morake went into the history books as one of those who died from injuries he received in the ring.
His last fight was in the Sun City Superbowl on November 2, 1985.
Morake was knocked out in the twelfth round and never regained consciousness. He died at the Eugene Marais hospital in Pretoria at 07:30 the next day.
He will, however, always be remembered as a brilliant and courageous fighter. That he lived to become a professional boxer was a small miracle in itself.
Morake, born on December 8, 1955,
grew up in Central Western Jabavu near
Johannesburg. He was ten years old when, one bitterly cold night, his mother
told him to put more coal in the stove.
Disobeying her was not an option but
going out into the freezing wind was no
pleasant prospect. So he picked up a can of paraffin in the kitchen and tipped it
over the coals in the stove.
The explosion turned the youngster into
a torch, causing life-threatening burns
from just under his right ear down his chest and his right arm.
Jacob spent the next three years in the
Baragwanath Hospital enduring numerous
skin grafts as plastic surgeons gradually repaired his scars.
To regain and enhance his confidence
he became an amateur boxer, modelling
himself on his idol, Muhammad Ali.
According to reports, he won all but one
of his 42 amateur bouts. And because of
his style, he became known as “Dancing Shoes”.
In his book Dancing Shoes is Dead, author
Gavin Evans wrote: “Morake was a
thin man whose body looked even more vulnerable because it was terribly disfigured through the kind of childhood burning accident so common in houses reliant on open stoves and without constant childcare.”
Morake joined the professional ranks as a featherweight, making his debut on November 15, 1974 when he beat Jonas Sabela on points over four rounds.
In 1975 he had four fights, losing one,
winning two and fighting to a draw in the
The next year Morake moved into the
junior lightweight division and beat Quinsile
Boy April, Petrus Molefe and the capable Bramley Whiteboy.
He also drew with Herbert Gumede, but
was stopped in one round by Evans Gwiji,
who later won the SA junior lightweight title.
Guy Ratazayo twice beat him on points
but in 1979 “Dancing Shoes” defeated
Charles Marule, Elias Tshabalala, Josua Nhlapo and Joseph Tsotetsi in a four-win
In his only fight in 1980, he lost on
points over ten rounds to Tsotetsi but the
next year turned into the best one of his career.
Showing outstanding skills and fitness,
he beat Jacob Moyeye, Lazarus Mofokeng,
Michael Mohlabane and Joseph Tsotsetsi in a bout for the Transvaal junior
He retained the title in May 1982 when he dealt Mitchell the only loss of his professional career.
However, in October he blotted his CV
with a lacklustre performance against
Chris Whiteboy in a challenge for the SA junior lightweight title.
Morake was well beaten on points over
12 rounds, probably as a result of weight
problems that would also haunt him later in his career.
However, he stopped Iland Matthews in
the eighth round to retain his Transvaal
title and won on points over eight rounds against Job Sisanga who later held the SA
On August 8, 1983 he met Mitchell for the second time.
In and exciting bout, Mitchell retained
his title on a split decision. Judge Alfred
Buqwana scored it 115-114 for Morake. Granville Gorton and Chris Myburgh
handed in cards of 117-111 and 118-111 for Mitchell.
Chip Wilson, the boxing writer for Africa
Today, agreed with Buqwana’s score and
felt Morake should have taken the title.
Morake finished the year with a seventh-round stoppage of Paulus Pulumo in Secunda.
On March 3, 1984 he challenged, for
the third time, for the SA junior lightweight
title, taking on Mitchell at the Kwa Thema Civic Centre near Springs.
However, things went horribly wrong for
Morake. He was a shadow of the fighter
who had given Mitchell a tough time in their previous fight. Mitchell dominated
throughout and Morake hardly won a round.
In October he beat Matthews again; this
time on points over ten rounds.
Between fights, Morake wore pinstriped suits in his job as a clerk for an insurance
company in Johannesburg.
When he was offered another crack at
Mitchell’s national title on the undercard
of a bout between Brian Baronet and Arthur Mayisela at Sun City, he took a
month’s leave to ensure he would be at peak fitness after 15 months out of the
His father had died and his mother was
ill, so, as the family breadwinner, Morake
could do with the cash.
I reported on the fight for South African
Boxing World and wrote: “Brian Mitchell
retained his South African junior lightweight with a twelfth-round technical
knockout, at 2:18, against the brave Jacob Morake.”
This was the fourth meeting between
the two, with Mitchell 2-1 ahead. Ranked
tenth by the WBA, Mitchell had lost only once in 28 fights. He came out confidently, stalking his rival and throwing vicious lefts and rights to the head and
In the third round Morake was caught
with an overhand right that dropped him
on his face. He stumbled to his feet and moved away from an over-anxious
Mitchell. The 30-year-old challenger was never really in the fight, but managed to
avoid more punishment for most of the fight.
But he began tiring and dropped to one
knee after a barrage of punches in the
eleventh round. Getting up, Morake used all his ring craft and experience to stay
away from Mitchell.
Mitchell soon dropped Morake with a
number of blows to the head in the final
round. Courageously, Morake rose to continue but a terrific right cross caught
him on the jaw. His head was snapped back and his neck hit the lower rope as
Many questions were asked after the
fight. Some people wanted to know why
referee Wally Snowball did not stop it in the eleventh round. Others asked
whether boxing should not be banned.
One reporter wrote: “A lot of tears were
shed in the wake of a tragedy that should
never have happened. Morake was outclassed from the third round and the fight
should have been stopped long before death took up the final count in the 12th
and last round.”
The time-keeping also left much to be
desired. The second round lasted only 2
minutes and 3 seconds, the third 2 minute and 55 seconds, the fourth 3 minutes and 4 seconds and the tenth 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
There were rumours that Morake had
battled to make weight. And after an absence
of 15 months from the ring he was
allowed to take on a 24-year-old fighter
who was ranked in the top ten by the WBA.
Morake’s corner-men were also criticised
because when he returned to his
corner at the end of the eleventh round and indicated he wanted to retire, they
urged him to go out for the last round.
Arthur “The Fighting Prince” Mayisela,
who died less than eleven months later,
led a group of fighters in their boxing gear at Morake’s funeral, running angrily alongside the hearse from Rockville to the Avalon cemetery.
A saddened Mitchell wanted to offer
support but was advised by boxing officials
to stay away.
Mitchell sent a message of condolence,
a wreath and a picture of himself posing
with Jacob after a bout that was adjudged fight of the year for 1982.
The Morake family were left almost destitute
after Jacob’s death. His mother and
siblings, his girlfriend and their two-yearold son, Ramoleta had all relied on his income.