Saluting SA Iron Men - by Terry Pettifer
Certain fighters throughout history
have made a living on their chins! And
if that sounds like gibberish, allow me
to explain. The term denotes a boxer
whose main asset is a rock-like jaw,
which as any follower of the sport will
inform you, cannot be acquired, no
matter how hard an athlete trains.
Like true ‘punchers’ who are blessed
with a natural ability to level the opposition,
the proverbial ‘iron men’
seem to have been born with extraordinarily strong mandibles!
Enshrined amongst the hardiest internationally famous ‘toughies’ were fighters like Joe Grim, a legendary iron man whose ability to absorb punishment was incomparable, George Chuvalo, Battling Nelson, Jake La Motta and Carmen Basilio amongst a legion of others.
A word about Grim: Born Saverio Giannone
in Italy, his family immigrated
to the United States and he inexplicably
decided to become a prize fighter.
It was a strange choice of vocation
since Giannone -after adopting the
fighting name of Joe Grim- was neither
a skillful boxer nor a hard
puncher. But although he was knocked
down more times than analysts choose to remember and ended up with one of the worst records in the history of the sport (10 wins, 96 losses, 9 draws) it was virtually impossible to render him unconscious. Grim, who was a middleweight at his heaviest, even had the temerity to take on great heavyweights, like Jack Johnson and Bob Fitzsimmons, both of whom confirmed his legendry powers of recuperation.
Typically the most famous of the socalled
“iron men”, were come forward
exponents who often led with their
chins, as if inviting opponents to break their hands on their trustworthy jaws.
Mind you, amongst some of Ringdom’s
most durable fighters were also marvelous
boxers like Gene Tunney,
Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson
and Barney Ross. All masters at slipping,
blocking and parrying their opponent’s
punches, they could
nevertheless absorb the hardest of
blows far better than the average fighter.
South Africa has had more than it’s
share of unusually rugged participants,
that included the likes of Billy
Lamberton, Duggie Miller, Don Mc-
Corkindale, Pierre Fourie, Bennie
Nieuwenhuizen, Charles Oosthuizen,
Arthur Mayisela, transplanted Namibian
Joe Archer Johnny Wood, Giovanni
Pretorius and current welterweight
contender Lovemore Ndou.
Lamberton, who retired from the ring
in 1955, was arguably one of the
toughest of the lot and though he had
a less than remarkable record (9-14-
3) in the professional ranks, this
hard-as-teak lightweight would fight
anyone at the drop of a hat. Indeed
former Empire lightweight champion
Willie Toweel had no hesitation in
naming “Bulldog” as Lamberton was
known, as the toughest opponent
he’d ever fought.
“I rocked him with a series of
punches but just couldn’t
knock him out!” recalled
Toweel in a 1975 interview.
Duggie Miller never
won a national title but
he faced two of the finest
boxers in the game;
Britain’s former world
Randolph Turpin and
Dave Sands. While losing
to both of these internationally
revered fighters, Miller took everything they threw at him and remained standing at the end.
Don McCorkindale was a
world rated heavyweight
during the 1930’s. A
employee from Pretoria,
Britain for an extended period of time, and traded blows with the likes of Canada’s Larry Gains, Primo Carnera, Young Stribling, Gypsey Joe Daniels, Walter Neusel, King Levinsky, Patsy Perroni, Paolino Uzcudun and Reggie Meen. One of the best heavyweights that this country has ever produced, McCorkindale had an authoritative left jab an extremely good defence, which complimented his sturdy chin.
Amongst the most durable fighters
that this land has ever known, was
Johnny Wood, a former SA middleweight
champion during the mid-
Sixties. Pale of complexion, Wood
turned professional at a very young
age under the guidance of the late
Cyril Carrol in Germiston and was
renowned for his courage and willingness
to fight anybody. Moreover, he appeared to have a reinforced chin that stood him in good stead against the likes of Willie Ludick, Pierre Fourie and Jan Kies. In later years Wood would say that Kies was the hardest hitter he ever fought.
No one doubted that Charles Oosthuizen
was one of the most rugged
local fighters of the Eighties. You only
had to look at this curly-haired battler
from the East Rand to know it, and
besides owning a marquee chin,
Oosthuizen could slam home body
punches with telling effect. In total Oosthuizen’s ring career lasted over seven years (1984-1991) during which he won both the SA junior middleweight and middleweight titles. Oosthuizen’s four bouts with Gregory Clark (1-3) were grueling affairs and he also fought such competent ringsters as Gerhard Botes, Reggie Johnson, Paul Toweel, Isaac Yoto and Brett Lally. He eventually closed off
his career with 26 victories, 7 defeats and 2 draws.
Lovemore Ndou has been boxing professionally
since 1993 and at the time
of writing is scheduled to fight his
namesake Phillip Ndou for the vacant
IBO welterweight title. Certainly one
of the gamest and most durable fighters
of the era, the 37-year-old Ndou,
whose been fighting out of Australia
for a number of years, is a former IBF
junior welterweight champion and
though he’s been in the ring with a
number of the finest competitors on
the planet, such as Miguel Angel
Cotto, Kermit Citron, Sharmba Mitchell, Paul Malignaggi and Junior Witter, the superbly conditioned South African has never been stopped.
Tough and gutsy Giovanni Pretorius
was one of South Africa’s more memorable
junior middleweight and middleweight
fighters over the past two
decades and he had an uncomplicated style of throwing punches with
relentless passion. Eventually, though
the years of warring told on this
brave pugilist and his career ground
to a premature halt.
Pierre Fourie and Bennie Nieuwenhuizen
left hand specialists
and its debatable
which of the two
had the more unerring
did, however, share another common asset: powerful chins! Fourie remains this writer’s choice as the finest light heavyweight that has ever been produced in South Africa and it said much for his toughness that the savage punching Bob
Foster couldn’t seriously hurt him in either of their world light heavyweight title bouts in the early Seventies.
of the most tragic
enigmas in the history
African boxing, and
had this superbly
to his profession, there’s no telling how far he may have gone. A product of Belgravia, east of Johannesburg Nieuwenhuizen was as tough as they come and more is the pity he squandered his lavish gifts as a fighter.
Joe Archer and Arthur Mayisela
were also tremendously rugged and
while Archer was a native of Namibia,
most of his bouts took place in South
Africa, where he earned a reputation
as a thrill-a-minute lightweight entertainer.
Archer was only stopped once
throughout his career! Mayisela on
the other hand was a hard punching,
former SA junior welterweight titleholder
and who will ever forget the
manner in which he knocked out Durban’s
lauded Brian Baronet at Sun
The list of exceptional ‘takers’ goes
on and on, but among the names we
should never forget are Fanie Phoko,
Mike Holt, George Angelo (on the rare
occasions when he was hit), Cassius
Baloyi, David Potsane, Brian Mitchell,
Pierre Coetzer, Bill Wood, George
Hunter, Gerrie Coetzee, Eddie Peirce,
Vic Toweel, Bushy Bester, Jimmy
Richards, Anton Gilmore, Henry
Seabela, Joe Munro and the jumbosized
Jimmy Abbott, who could absorb hammer blows without flinching.