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Lalor vs Volbrecht

Former welterweight champion Harold Volbrecht holds the record for most
successful defences of a South African title. But not even “The Hammer” came close to Jack Lalor’s record for most SA title fights.

Lalor, who held the SA welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight titles, fought in 34 SA title fights.

Volbrecht won the vacant SA welterweight in only his seventh professional fight when beat Gert Craemer on points in June 1976.

At the time, Volbrecht only held a portion of the title because Morris Mohloai was the “black champion” and Johnny Sham the “white champion”.

Volbrecht defeated Sham in his first two defences and, also against Craemer,
retained the title for the third time.

On April 29, 1978, he won the vacant SA “supreme” title when he knocked out Mohloai in the second round to become the undisputed national welterweight
champion.

Volbrecht went on to make 15 defences of the undisputed (or “supreme” SA welterweight title.

He beat David Kambule, Coenie Bekker, Joseph Lala (three times), Gregory Clark, Peter Mgojo, Fanie van Staden, Ernest Moledi, Isaac Yoto, Eugene Mbambo, Arthur Mayisela, Patrick Mthimkulu, Patrick Mpamba and Phumzile Madikane before retiring as undefeated champion in March 1989 with a record of 47-5-2, with 14
knockouts.

Volbrecht is still one of the top trainers in South Africa and a popular and ellknown
personality among all boxing fans.

Remarkable ‘Lawlor’

Less known these days, is the story of Lalor, another former fighter with remarkable staying power.

He was born Edmund Lawlor at Birr in what was then King’s County, Ireland, on March 27, 1875.

As a 14-year-old, he signed up to join the army as a bugler and trombone
player. The orderly scribbled “Lalor” on the application form and from then, in
the eyes of Queen Victoria’s army, that was his name.

No one in the army called him Edmund. He was known as Johnny; later Jack.

When his regiment, the King’s Royal Rifles, was sent to Malta, he developed
an interest in boxing. During a tournament between the navy and the army, he came in as a late substitute and won the middleweight championship.

Lalor arrived with his regiment in what was then Transvaal in 1895. His first
recorded professional fight in Cape Town was in March 1897 when knocked out an opponent called Beyers in the first round.

He made his first challenge for an SA title when he lost on points over 20
rounds to Tom Duggan in Cape Town on March 5, 1900. They fought for the
vacant middleweight title. However, he won the vacant SA welterweight title
when he stopped Charlie Doherty in the fifth round in Johannesburg on October 17,
1903.

In 1914, the 3 9 - y e a r - o l d Lalor was generally recognised as the national champion in the welt e r w e i g h t , middleweight and heavyweight divisions.
In his last fight, in East London on June 14, 1919 when he was 44 years old, Lalor regained the welterweight title when he outpointed Ronald Dumar to finish his career with a record of 53 wins, 8 losses and 8 draws.

After his retirement, Lalor trained Johnny Squires, a future SA heavyweight
champion. He also worked at the Grand Station Hotel in Jeppe, Johannesburg,
and the place became a meeting place for boxing personalities. Lalor was also an above-average cricketer and played until he was well into his sixties. He also played soccer and turned out as goalkeeper for Rangers and Caledonians in Johannesburg.

Paul Irwin, a top boxing writer and one-time sports editor of the Sunday Times, visited Lalor on his 87th birthday and wrote, “He wore a yellow flower in the buttonhole of a neat suit as he shuffled into the room in carpet slippers. He was old to the day - but his blue eyes were clear and his handshake was firm.”

Lalor, one of the legends of SA boxing, died on July 23, 1964.

UNDERSTANDING VOLBRECHT’S ROUTE

To follow Volbrecht’s progress through the ranks and appreciate his contribution
to SA boxing, it is necessary to know something about the political situation in South Africa during his career.

Until 1973, no “interracial” fights took place in South Africa. However, Pierre Fourie’s climb to the top in the light heavyweight division gave rise to thoughts of
a world title fight between him and Bob Foster, the world champion, in Johannesburg.

Dr Piet Koornhof, who became minister of sport in 1972, was enthusiastic about the idea but arrangements were made for Foster to defend his title against
Fourie in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fourie proved to be such a worthy contender that a return bout became an extremely attractive financial proposition. Foster was guaranteed a record purse
for a light heavyweight, namely $200 000.

Fourie fought Foster for the title in Johannesburg on December 1, 1973 and the
breakthrough led to all racial discrimination in SA professional boxing being removed.

Just as President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic had altered the law, although only temporarily, to ensure that the fight between Wilf Bendoff and James Couper would take place on July 26, 1889, SA Premier John Vorster amended the Boxing and Wrestling Control Act of 1954 in November 1973.

Interracial boxing was still prohibited in South Africa, but Proclamation R2173 allowed the minister to approve any departure from some or all of the provisions of this regulation.

He could do so in the case of a world title bout, or an internationally recognised final eliminating contest for a world title, or a tournament that complied with the requirements of a SA “multi-national” tournament and in which SA boxers participated who were registered with the National Boxing Control Board.

This allowed the minister of sport and recreation to introduce black and white contact to professional boxing, albeit at a restricted level.

Fourie’s return fight with Foster will always remain a landmark in SA sports history. For the first time since professional boxing was placed under legal control in 1923, a white and black man met in the ring in South Africa. It happened in front of a racially mixed audience of 37 474 people.

Fourie’s fight with Foster in Johannesburg was therefore a test run for integrated
sport. It is no exaggeration to say that the clock would have been turned back years had it resulted in the racial disturbances that had been predicted at the time.

Instead, firm foundations were laid for “racially mixed boxing” in front of mixed audiences, thanks to the professionalism and businesslike approach of Fourie en Foster.

“Mixed” bouts between South Africans were legalised in 1977, but the system
of white, black and supreme titles was only done away with two years later. The first two multiracial SA title fights were held at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg on November 27, 1976.

On that night, Gerrie Coetzee and Elijah ‘Tap Tap’ Makathini became the undisputed champions. Makathini stopped the white middleweight champion, Jan Kies, in the third round and Coetzee knocked out the black heavyweight champion, James Mathato, in the seventh.