The Magnificent Axe Killer by Ron Jackson

Joe Ngidi was a soft-spoken, likeable and humble man, until he climbed into a boxing ring. Inside that squared circle he was something else. That’s why they
called him “Axe Killer”.

Ngidi became one of the legends of South African boxing long before he retired
with a record of 96 recorded fights against opponents whose names might
have come from a “Who’s Who of Boxing”.

Born at Edendale near Pietermaritzburg on April 19, 1934, he made his
professional debut in Durban in November 1954 with a first-round stoppage of
Barry Vandeyer.

He won his next five fights before he was beaten on points by Herbert “Blackhawk” Hlubi over eight rounds.

His first defeat probably motivated him to beat Gilbert Petros. He then stopped
King Alfred in the fourth round to win the Natal welterweight title.

In his next fight, on June 26, 1956, Ngidi won the SA welterweight title
when he beat Gilbert Petros on points over twelve rounds.

He made a successful defence against Simon “Young Batter” Mbatha before
beating Elijah Nyakale to also win the national middleweight title.

In March 1957 he retained the welterweight title against Billy Wilkens. After three defences of the middleweight crown, and with no other challengers in sight, he accepted an offer to fight in London, where he met the experienced Attu Clottey from Ghana. Ngidi won on points over ten rounds, so convincingly that other welterweights avoided him. He was forced to move to Australia to stay active.

On May 12, 1958, he lost a close decision to Derby Brown, a former British Empire welterweight champion, but he reversed the decision after beating middleweight Billy McDonnell on points.

Ngidi then took on a veteran of 135 fights who had lost and won in fights against Mike Holt and beaten another South African, Jimmy Elliot, twice on points. He faced American Jimmy Martinez in February 1959 and lost on points.

In his next fight, he outpointed George Barnes, the British Empire welterweight champion, over 12 rounds in a non-title fight. The referee was Australian legend Vic Patrick, who had boxed as a lightweight and lost only four of his 57 fights. Barnes had won the Empire title when he stopped South Africa’s Johnny “Smiler” van Rensburg.

Ngidi won his next three fights in Australia, beating George Berry, Jack Walsh and Irishman Nick Leahy who would go on to win the British middleweight title. He then returned to South Africa to defend his national welterweight title against Philemon Tshabalala, who beat him on points.

Ngidi regained the title when he stopped Tshabalala in the tenth round and retained his middleweight title against Gabriel Seleke. But he finished 1960 on a losing note when he surrendered the welterweight title to Joas “Kangaroo” Maoto and was outpointed by Bennie Nieuwenhuizen in Maseru.

In 1961, he only had two fights, regaining the welterweight title in a return match with Maoto and making a successful defence of his middleweight crown against Tshabalalala.

His class was evident in 1962 and 1963 when he won nine fights, including a points victory over the highly rated Nigerian Orlando Paso.

There was no stopping him as he added ten more wins in a row. Among the highlights was a stoppage victory over one of South Africa’s all-time greats, Enoch “Schoolboy” Nhlapo. He also beat former world lightweight champion Joe Brown.

However, on September 8, 1965 disaster struck when Ngidi was beaten inside two rounds by American middleweight Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. A young Stan Christodoulou was the referee for the fight at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Carter was later wrongfully convicted of three murders and released only after 20 years.

Carter’s story inspired Norman Jewison’s film The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, Nelson Algren’s novel The Devil’s Stocking and Bob Dylan’s song Hurricane.

James Hirsch, in his book Hurricane - The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter wrote that a young Steve Biko was assigned to guide Carter around Johannesburg in the weeks before the fight against Ngidi. However, Biko was at school in 1965 and unlikely to have been in Johannesburg at the time.

Ngidi finished 1965 with wins against Isaac Madondo and Herbert Hlubi and remained unbeaten in 1966, winning seven fights including two against Joe Brown.

In 1967 he was outpointed by former WBA junior welterweight champion Eddie Perkins, but he bounced back to beat George Jetu, Simon Sithole, Ezra Mzinyane and Mackeed Mofokeng before losing the SA middleweight title to Carlton Monnagotla.

In March 1968, he also lost the welterweight title when Mike Ramagole outpointed him in Benoni.

The irrepressible Ngidi regained the middleweight title in his next fight when he stopped Monnagotla in the fourth round. In June that same year he had his jaw broken when he lost on a fourthround technical knockout to world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes.

On his return, he lost on points to Willie Ludick, the former (white) SA welterweight champion and reigning middleweight champion.

At the age of 35, Ngidi lost to Ramagole. He was also stopped in the seventh round of a non-title fight by Freddie Little, the WBA and WBC light middleweight champion. In August 1969, he lost the SA middleweight title to Gordon Goba.

After losing to Little, Ngidi won only four of his next twelve fights before winning on a fourth-round disqualification against Phutuma Khuboni in Durban on May 27, 1972. It was his last fight.

Joe had saved most of his earnings and built a magnificent double-storey house in Edendale, where he ran a trading store near.

He also trained young fighters, among whom Siphiwe Gwala, who had 131 amateur fights and represented Natal in the lightweight division at the SA Games in 1970 before having a few professional fights and making a name for himself in local government.

Ngidi was trained by Sam Burns in England and Ern McQuillan in Australia and managed through most of his career by Ernie Sampson in South Africa.

In a professional career that spanned 18 years, he faced world champions such as Joe Brown, Eddie Perkins, Curtis Cokes and Freddie Little. He fought in 29 SA title fights.

Of all the fighters he had faced, he later said, Jimmy Martinez was the best and Rubin Carter the hardest puncher.

Joe died at the age of 56 in Edendale in March 1990.