The two sides of Willie Ludick - by Ron Jackson

Deeply religious men do not make a career out of beating up their fellow men. But Willie Ludick, for a while at least, was an exciting boxer, a feared puncher and man of God.

Ludick, a South African welterweight and middleweight champion and challenger for the world welterweight title, came from a fighting family. The father, Ernest, was a useful amateur who later supervised the training of his four sons, who all boxed as amateurs.

Willie was born in Vereeniging on May 6, 1941 and was introduced to boxing at the age of eight when, in his first fight, he lost his temper and began to kick his opponent before his father jumped into the ring and gave him a good hiding. However, after this rather embarrassing start, he returned to the ring and in his first official bout he fought to draw.

This was the beginning of an outstanding amateur career in which Willie lost only a few decisions in more than a hundred fights. He went on to win the SA lightweight title in 1959.

In 1959, he represented South Africa against Ireland and then, fighting as a junior welterweight, he was eliminated in the third series at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Ludick beat Marti Lehteva of Finland in his first fight and enjoyed a bye in the second round. Then he was beaten by Vladimir Engibaryan of Russia in what was considered one of the poorest decisions given at the Olympics.

Willie was an all-round sportsman who excelled at rugby, cricket and athletics, but he loved the excitement of boxing most. He joined the professional ranks on February 24, 1962, scoring a firstround stoppage win over Mannetjies van der Merwe.

Trained by his father, Ludick was a dedicated boxer who worked out daily in the gymnasium built in the backyard of his home in Arcon Park, Vereeniging.

As an amateur, he had learnt a bitter lesson when he did not train properly for
a fight with Jan “Happy” Pieterse and was given a pounding. However, in the
return match he stopped Pieterse who went on to win the SA light heavyweight
title as a professional.

Willie did shadow-boxing with a brick in each hand and was once timed throwing
106 punches in 30 seconds.

After his professional debut, he went on to win three more fights before he met the experienced Frenchman Maurice de Villiers in only his fifth fight. De Villiers lasted ten rounds, but was well beaten. However, Ludick then suffered a fifth-round technical knockout defeat against Ronnie van der Walt to end his first year in the professional ring. He was well ahead on points when he was badly cut on his nose and the referee had to stop the fight.

However, six months later he stopped Van der Walt in the second round when he made the first defence of the SA welterweight title that he had won in April 1963 in a clash with Hansie du Plessis.

Ludick’s knockout power and exciting style brought the crowds back to boxing and a newspaper report described his fight with Du Plessis as “awesome”. It went on to say: “For sheer viciousness, Ludick’s display ranks as one of the most awesome witnessed in South African boxing, and earned him the national welterweight title in the third round.”

In his next fight, on November 30, 1963 – the second defence of his SA title – Ludick stopped Fraser Toweel in the tenth round. This was to be the first of an epic six-fight series between Toweel and Ludick that went on until their last fight in March 1969.

Even though Ludick won all their fights, they were classic boxeragainst- fighter encounters, with Ludick being the fighter. Only one ended early: the second, in which Toweel was stopped in three rounds. In almost every bout, Toweel built up a points lead before Ludick came back with a late charge to stop his opponent. The exception was their third fight, in March 1965, when Toweel lost on a highly disputed points decision.

In his 14th fight, Ludick knocked out the highly rated Ralph Dupas, a former world junior middleweight champion, to gain international recognition.

He finished 1964 with a stunning second-round knockout over Oscar Miranda
from Argentina, another world-rated boxer.

Promoters Dave Levin and Abe Hack, who invested heavily in Ludick, were determined to get him a crack at the undisputed world welterweight title.

On April 3, 1965, a crowd of 20 000 rain-soaked spectators at the Rand Stadium
in Johannesburg saw Ludick outpoint the British and Empire champion, Cliff Curvis. Six months prior, Curvis had lost on points to Emile Griffith (over 15 rounds) for the world welterweight title. After beating Curvis, Ludick won against Fraser Toweel, Sammy McSpadden, Billy Collins, Stoffel Steyn and Johnny Cooke
to end 1965 on high note.

The Ludick camp made a serious error when, in Cape Town on January 26, 1966, Willie fought out of his division to take on a little-known Italian-American, middleweight Mike Pusateri. Pusateri knocked out the gangling Vanderbijlpark southpaw early in the second round after Ludick had been smashed to the canvas three times in the first round.

At the time, Ludick was the hottest draw-card in SA boxing and he was tipped as a future welterweight champion of the world.

Many years after he had retired from the ring, Ludick admitted that he never had a hope of beating Pusateri, a strong middleweight and one of the hardest punchers ever seen in South Africa. From a matchmaking point of view it was one of the worst blunders ever to be made by the handlers of a promising young boxer.

Putting the disastrous defeat behind him, Ludick returned to action four months later to beat Fraser Toweel for the fifth time; on points over ten rounds in a non-title fight.

In Johannesburg on August 6, 1966, chunky Jean Josselin, the French and
European welterweight champion, met Ludick over 15 rounds in a fight that was
advertised as being for the world welterweight championship. Emile Griffith had
moved up to the middleweight division, which left the welterweight title vacant.

However, even though the bout was over what was then the championship distance of 15 rounds and advertised as a championship bout, promoter Dave Levin failed to get it recognised as world title bout. It was a bloody fight in which both boxers suffered cuts over their eyes. Ludick was dropped by a short right to the head in the seventh round and until the tenth seemed to keep going on heart alone.

He then staged a fantastic rally that had the 24 000 spectators on their feet.
Going in to the 15th round, the scores were desperately close. There was still
nothing between them midway through the round. Then Ludick caught Josselin
with a thundering southpaw left to the jaw. The Frenchman went down on his
haunches and just managed to beat referee Wilf Garforth’s count.

The knockdown turned the verdict Ludick’s way in one of the most dramatic
fights in the history of SA boxing. The price of victory in this fight was too high
for Ludick. He went on to have 18 more fights but he left something in the ring
that night.

Some reporters described the fight as the nearest thing to bare-knuckle fighting
and it was indeed a primitive struggle for supremacy.

Only four months later Ludick was back in action, taking on the durable East Rand middleweight Johnny Wood. In a rousing battle, he outpointed Wood over ten rounds.

In a return match, on July 29, 1967, Ludick beat Wood for the SA middleweight
title to earn his second national championship.

Levin began protracted negotiations with the management of Curtis Cokes to
get Ludick a crack at the world welterweight title. As the negotiations dragged on, Ludick took on the Italian Carmelo Bossi who had won the European welterweight
title from Jean Josselin. The South African benefited from two highly controversial points decisions.

Ludick was by then beginning to have trouble making the welterweight limit.
This could have been part of the problem for his poor showing in both fights
against Bossi.

Levin finally came to an agreement with the Cokes camp for a co-promotion
at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas, on April 16, 1968. Even though
Ludick’s father travelled with his son, it was agreed that Angelo Dundee would
be in the corner for the fight. Johnny Wood went along as a sparring partner.

Ludick kept his weight problems a secret. Even his father was unaware that
Willie’s wife, Caty, was sending him dehydration tablets with her letters.

The South African was completely outclassed and American referee Lew Eskin
stopped the beating 34 seconds into the fifth round. In a non-title return bout in
a bullring in what was then known as Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) Ludick was again smashed to defeat; this time in the third round. Ludick had to lose weight before the fight and it seemed his best ring days were numbered.

He lost his third fight in row when, in September 1968, Patrick Toweel beat
him over 12 rounds for the SA welterweight title.

Ludick got back on the winning track when he outscored the black SA middleweight
champion Joe Ngidi over ten tedious rounds in Maseru.

Paulie Armstead, a top American lightlightweight who was in the country at the
time said, “I have never seen two highly thought of fighter’s box so badly.”

By then Ludick was clearly past his best. He was knocked out in one round by Pierre Fourie, losing his SA middleweight title to end a disastrous 1968.

However, Ludick had serious tax problems and continued to fight, beating Johnny Kramer, Fraser Toweel, for the sixth time, Dick Duffy and Fabio Bettini. The slide continued when Ludick lost on points to an Italian, Domenico Tiberia, and then ended 1969 on a bad note when he was outpointed by Les McAteer of England.

But the 28-year-old Ludick felt he still had something left when he was offered
a fight with Pierre Fourie for the SA middleweight title on February 7, 1970. With
rain and hail pelting down at the Ellis Park tennis courts in Johannesburg, Ludick
put up a gallant effort, but with both his eyes badly cut, he was knocked out in the tenth round.

Sadly, this was the end of the career one of one of the most exciting boxers and hardest hitters in SA boxing history.

Ludick soon lost interest in boxing and was very rarely seen at the fights. Instead,
he dedicated himself to the work of the Lord until he died of cancer in Schweizer-Reneke on May 12, 2003.