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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 middleweight champion Randolph Turpin and Australia’s multi-talented 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 curly-haired ex-railway employee from Pretoria, McCorkindale campaigned successfully in
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 were both left hand specialists and its debatable which of the two had the more unerring jab. They
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.

Bennie Nieuwenhuizen remains one of the most tragic enigmas in the history of South African boxing, and had this superbly talented welterweight been dedicated
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
City?

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.