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Mgxaji – The incomparable Happyboy - by Ron Jackson

On December 21, 1985 Nkosana “Happyboy” Mgxaji had his last fight. And
after all these years, no other South African boxer has commanded the following
he enjoyed.

Some of the younger fans may not know much about him, but most would
have heard of Happyboy Mgxaji. He was probably the best of the many outstanding
fighters from the Eastern Cape. He was certainly one of the best South
African boxers who never won a world title and eventually retired with a record
of 88 wins, 9 losses, 4 draws and 26 knockouts.

Mgxaji had lost only once in 73 fights when, at the age of 30, he challenged
Samuel Serrano of Puerto Rico for the WBA junior lightweight title. They met before an estimated crowd of 6 000 at the Cape Show Grounds in Goodwood, Cape Town, on April 14, 1979.

Mxaji’s “go-go gyrations” gave Serrano problems at the start. However, the SA Boxing World reported that there was no happiness for Happyboy, who “clowned” his way through the bout. Serrano, defending his title for the ninth time, tagged Mgxaji with a whiplash left hook to the jaw and a rasping right to the body in the eighth round. The force of the blows sent Mxaji backwards. He staggered to his feet at the count of eight but was in no condition to continue. His chief second, Ronnie Madinda, threw in the towel and referee Larry Rozadilla stopped the fight 1 minute 34 seconds into the round. However, the South African had enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the fifth round when he dropped the champion with a cracking right to the jaw. Instead of following up, he stood back and allowed Serrano to recover.

Happyboy was not the only loser. Stanley Vokwana, the first black to promote a world title fight in South Africa, must have lost a fortune on the tournament. The fans never turned up to support the local hero and no television and radio rights were sold.

Mgxaji, a slim Xhosa, was born in Tsolo Location, which later became Duncan Village, near East London, on September 18, 1949. He began boxing at the age of eight when he learnt the game in the Peacock Hall. He called himself “Blueboy” but later switched to “Happyboy,” which referred to his late brother.

He attended Duncan Village Primary School and enrolled at the Welsh High School. But after nine months, he dropped out and never went back.

Little is known about his amateur career but he joined the professional ranks in May 1969, under the guidance of Mzoli Madyaka. In his debut, he outpointed Isaac Khoza over six rounds in Port Elizabeth. The young fighter had an unusual shuffling style; influenced by Muhammad Ali as many other young fighters were at the time.

He was absolutely dedicated and never shirked training. In his the first two years as a professional, he won 19 fights, including one for the Cape Province junior lightweight title when he stopped Mongezi Twani in five. He also won the Cape lightweight title with a victory over the experienced Joe Africa.

In February 1971, Mgxaji beat Terrence Makuluza, who went on to become a respected fighter in the middleweight division. Makuluza is still in the game as a referee and judge.There was no stopping the exiting young Mxaji as he reeled of victories over fighters such as Levi Madi, Alfred Buqwana, Blakeny Matthews and Gideon Borias.

On June 24, 1972, Mxaji had his first crack at a national title when he took on Anthony Morodi for the SA junior lightweight belt at Jabulani, near Johannesburg. Morodi was too experienced and Mgxaji suffered his first loss, beaten on points over 12 rounds.

When Mxaji beat Moses Mthembu on points over eight rounds on September 2, 1972, it was the first time that boxing had been staged at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane. He regularly attracted crowds of more than 25 000 to the venue later in his career.

No other fighter from the Eastern Cape, including world champions Welcome Ncita, Mbulelo Botile and Vuyani Bungu, ever attracted crowds of that size.

In his heyday, he owned a Mercedes- Benz and youngsters often ran behind his car hoping that one day they could emulate their hero. Mxaji was an entertainer and most of his fights went the distance as he mesmerised his opponent with his skills.

On June 30, 1973, he fought Morodi in a return match and won the SA title. In December that year retained the title with a points win over Alfred Buqwana, who is still one of the top SA ring officials.

In 1974, Mgxaji won eight bouts in a row, including two wins over Morodi, before beating his first foreign opponent, Bingo Crooks from England. He then outpointed talented fighters such as Tadios Fisher from Rhodesia and Sammy Goss from the US.

From 1975 to 1978, he won 16 fights, beating highly rated imports such as Antonio Amaya (Panama), Hyun Chi Kim (Korea), Norman Goins (US), Antonio Jumao-Es (Panama), Langton Tinago (Rhodesia) and Willie Rodriguez (US). Among the local fighters he defeated were former or future SA champions such as Norman Sekgapane, Thomas Sithebe, Manuel de Paiva and Eddie Mileham.

He won the vacant “Supreme” SA junior lightweight title when he stopped De Paiva in the eighth round. His first fight against Norman “Pangaman” Sekgapane, in August 1976, ended in a draw after six rounds when the police stopped the fight because of rioting among the spectators. However, in a return match three months later, Mgxaji won convincingly over ten rounds. Sekgapane at one time held the SA lightweight and junior welterweight titles and in August 1978 made an unsuccessful challenge for the WBA junior welterweight title against Antonio Cervantes.

The year 1979 started badly for Mxaji when he was stopped by Serrano in his first and only crack at a world title. In June the same year he was outpointed by Tsietse Maretloane. In August, he lost his SA junior lightweight title when he failed to make the weight for a fight against Evans Gwiji, even though he won on points over 12 rounds.

In May 1980, he faced the same situation when he was stripped of the Cape Province lightweight title because he failed to make the weight for a bout against Bramley Whiteboy. Aged 31, the good life and increasing weight problems were beginning to take its toll and the popular boxer was reduced to fighting in six and eight-rounder’s against local fighters. However, he still had enough skills left in 1981 to win the Cape junior welterweight title with a stoppage win over Whiteboy. He also beat Ernest Bing from the US, Peter Kanie, Ernest Moledi and Peet Bothma. The cracks were showing, however, when he lost on points to Chris Whiteboy and Mzwandile Biyana in a challenge for the SA junior welterweight title. Mxaji, slowing down, lost return matches against Whiteboy and Mzwandile, and against Hugo Luero of Argentina.

In 1983 he still had enough left to beat Rodney Botha and on July 2 he shocked many observers when he outpointed Arthur “Black Prince” Mayisela over 12 rounds to win the SA junior welterweight title. He followed this up with unimpressive points victories over Elias Diraditsile and Thomas Sithebe to finish the year on a high note.

In a return match with Mayisela in February 1984, the veteran was no match for Mayisela. He was stopped in the ninth round and then announced his retirement.

However, he could not stay away. On December 21, 1985 in his favourite fight town, Mdantsane, he beat Joseph Madonsela on points over eight rounds to end his career on a winning note. He beat 15 fighters who at some time or another held a SA title.