Terror’s special place in history - by Ron Jackson

Peter Mathebula earned himself a special place in SA boxing history when he won the WBA flyweight title in 1980.

The date was December 13, and Mathebula beat Tae Shik Kim from South Korea on points in the Olympic Arena in Los Angeles to take the belt.

Mathebula, who was born on July 3, 1952 and spent his early years in the Mohlakeng Township near Randfontein in Gauteng, became the first black South African to win a world title.

Only three other South Africans – Willie Smith, Arnold Taylor and Vic Toweel – were regarded as world champions before “Terror” Mathebula defeated Kim.

Mathebula, sporting a collection of scars that he had picked up in street fights, left South Africa almost unnoticed to go challenge the champion. Only two sports writers went to see him off at the airport.

In a way, he was well prepared for the daunting task. He had grown up in an area where violence was part of life. He became, from the age of ten, a tough street-fighter.

The 23-year-old Kim, from Seoul, was a feared fighter. He had knocked out 11 opponents in his 16 fights. His only loss was in his debut as a professional in September 1977. He won the WBA title when he knocked out Luis Ibarra, who had a record of 19-1, in the second round.

After retaining the title against Arnel Arrozal, Kim was the overwhelming favourite when he took on the littleknown South African in a fight scheduled for 15 rounds.

At the bell for the first round, Mathebula rushed in and started throwing punches in an effort to stop the champion early. But when it became clear that Kim could take his best punches, trainer Willie Lock told Mathebula to pace himself and stay in close.

Mathebula used his jab to outbox Kim, who soon resorted to using his elbows, butting and even hitting on the break.

In the fourth round, when he headbutted the challenger again, an old cut above Mathebula’s right eye opened. The doctor was called in to examine the damage in the sixth round, but let the fight go on.

In the fourteenth round the desperate Korean launched a vicious attack but Mathebula hung on until the bell.

The courageous South African’s eye was swollen nearly shut but he launched an all-out attack in the final round to earn a split-decision win – 145-143 on two cards against 145-142 for Kim.

RUNNING START

Mathebula received his first boxing lesson from Jake Mashigo, who had fought as a lightweight in the late 1960s. Mashigo first saw the youngster when he was taking some members of his boxing club on a training run.

They were passing some shops when a boy of about nine years old joined the group – and stayed with them. The lad soon became a regular at the beer hall where the training sessions were held.

He had his first fight in Roodepoort when he weighed about 21 kg. He beat up his opponent and Mashigo afterwards told him his opponent was nicknamed Terror. But because there was no “terror” left in him, the name was transferred to young Peter.

In 1969, after winning most of his bouts, he teamed up with Theo Mthembu and Ted Khasibe at the Siphiwe Amalgamated Boxing Club in Dobsonville.

He made his professional debut in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, on July 10, 1971 when he beat Sidwell Mhlongo on points over four rounds.

However, he lost two of three fights in 1972 and had only one fight in 1973, when he defeated Joe Ngidi in Durban. But Ngidi stopped him in the fourth round of a return match in June 1974.

Ngidi won the vacant SA flyweight title on August 1, 1975 when he beat William Molatudi, but he lost it to Mathebula, who won by stoppage, in his first defence on May 1, 1976.

SEVEN FIGHTS AGAINST SITHEBE

Before winning the SA title, Mathebula had beaten William Molatudi to take over the Transvaal flyweight title, which he retained against Johannes Sithebe in the second bout of a seven-fight series between the two.

All were exciting battles that went the full distance, except for their last one in September 1980, when Sithebe was stopped in the ninth round. In four of the fights the SA flyweight title was at stake.

Mathebula also made successful defences against Ngidi, winning both fi ghts inside the distance, before facing his fi rst imported opponent, Freddie Hernandez, in Johannesburg. He was well beaten.

However, he then won ten fi ghts, seven inside the distance. One was for the vacant SA bantamweight title against Leslie Pikoli, whom he knocked out in the eighth round in Port Elizabeth on February 3, 1979.

He retained the title against Vincent Ngcobo but lost it when Welile Nkosinkulu stopped him in the ninth round in December 1979.

Dave Wolpert and Bobby Toll, who had just taken over as his management, felt a lot better when Mathebula recovered to beat Godfrey Nkate and Johannes Sithebe before being matched with Kim.

They were supposed to fight in South Korea in May 1980 but Mathebula and his countrymen Raymond Slack, Willie Lock and Stanley Christodoulou were refused visas and had to abort the trip in Hong Kong.

Mike Mortimer, chairman of the WBA rating committee, then struck a deal with the Korean Boxing Commission for the fight to be held in Los Angeles or Argentina.

After beating Kim in Los Angeles, Mathebula received a hero’s welcome in Johannesburg. He was named SA Boxing World/King Korn Fighter of the Year and his trainer, Willie Lock, received the Man of the Year award.

FIGHTING AT ORLANDO STADIUM

Mathebula was scheduled to make the first defence of his title against Shigo Nakajima of Japan, but negotiations broke down and he was matched with Santos Lacier from Argentina.

They fought at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on March 28, 1981. Laciar began to dominate after a slow first three rounds and knocked Mathebula down in the fourth and fifth. With his left eye cut, a tired-looking Mathebula came out for the seventh round. Laciar pounced and dropped the champion again.

Mathebula beat the count but soon afterward indicated to referee American Stanley Berg that he was unable to see through the blood flowing from his cut eye. The fight was stopped two minutes and two seconds into the round.

Some local supporters were so disappointed that they turned against Mathebula, whom they felt had let them down. “He drank and ate carelessly and forgot his responsibilities as a world champion,” one fan was quoted as saying.

As WBA champion, Mathebula had indeed attended many functions. He had to dance to the tune of sponsors and did not train hard enough. He also probably underestimated Laciar.

It was later revealed that he was 3 kg over the weight limit on the eve of the fight. He spent two hours in a sauna, which left him drained and weak.

As a former WBA champion, he was still in demand and was offered a fi ght against another former WBA flyweight champion, Venezuelan Betulio Gonzalez. They met in Maracaibo in June 1981 and Mathebula as stopped in the tenth round.

In a return match in Maracaibo three months later he was knocked out in the sixth round.

Fighting at bantamweight, he beat Joseph Ngubane in 1982 who would go on to win the South African bantamweight title and knocked out Welile Nkosinkulu, lost to Matata Plaatjies and outpointed Siphiwo Fuma.

On April 16, 1983 he outpointed Mandla Booi and in his last fight, on August 12, the same year he won the Transvaal bantamweight title by stopping Jacob Molefe in the tenth round to finish with a record of 36 wins (17 inside the distance) and 9 losses.