SA'S Fabulous Feathers - Ron Jackson

South African has produced many good featherweight champions during the history of professional boxing in the country.

The first featherweight of note was Young Pluto, a South African living in Australia (there are also claims that Pluto was born in Nova Scotia, Canada) was really the first man from South African to challenge for a universally recognized world title. The name of this long forgotten history maker was Young Pluto, born Joe Brown in Port Elizabeth. At the early age of sixteen he presumably left for Australia and developed into a good title fighter and fought five draws with the legendary Young Griffo.

Late in 1898 Pluto left for a campaign in the United States and on January 17, 1899 met one of the legends of the featherweight division, George Dixon, in New York for the undisputed championship of the world. In a contest billed for twenty rounds, Pluto was knocked out in the tenth round.

Some of the early stars in this illustrious division were Harry Douglas, Watty Austin, Arthur Douglas, Pat Clancy, Billy Allen, WH van Rooyen, Dolf du Plessis, Willie Smith, Len McLoughlin, Clarence Walker, Ernie Eustace, Japie "Babe" Smith, Alec Hannan, Charlie Catterall, Tony Lombards, Vic Toweel, Willie Toweel, Elijah Mokone, Graham van der Walt, Charlie Els, Sexton Mabena, Levi Madi, Andries Steyn and Arnold Taylor.

Who is the best South African featherweight of all time? is a tricky question.

Arhur Douglas 73-27-13-1nc (37) was a skilled boxer who fought in Australia from 1908 - 1919 while Billy Allen 22-4-2 (20) was a big puncher.

Even though he did not have a long career the aggressive Ernie Eustace 15-4-2 (5) would get a lot of votes.

Willie Smith 39-13-3 (2) Olympic gold medallist and South Africa's first "world" champion when he beat Teddy Baldock for the British version of the world bantamweight title in October 1927 was a slick boxing master who was highly rated world wide in his prime, even though he lacked a power punch his clever orthodox boxing style and defensive tactics captivated the crowds.

Smith won the South African featherweight title with a fifteen round points decision over Dolf du Plessis in Durban in November 1930. The title was vacant as Ernie Eustace 15-4-2 (5) had vacated to fight in the lightweight division.

Len McLoughlin 20-6-6 (3) had a classic straight left and beat Willie Smith for the South African title but lost it back to Smith in May 1934.

Another champion in the classic mould was Japie "Babe" Smith 11-6-(2) who won an Empire Games gold medal in 1930. On February 6, 1937 he beat Young George Anderson son of "Fireman" George Anderson for the vacant South African featherweight title.

Charlie Catterall 16-1-1(1) was considered as one of the most scientific boxers in the history of South African boxing. He was most unfortunate not to receive the dicision against Argentineon Oscar Casanovas in the final at the 1936 Olympic Games. Catterall won the national title when he defeated Alec Hannan in a classic 12 round at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on November 18, 1939.

Catterall subsequently went to live in Northern Rhodesia and the title became vacant.

In the 1940's when there was a black champion and a white champion because of apartheid, Kid Sathamoney 13-6-1 (6) from Durban became the first black champion when he stopped Michael Twala to win the vacant black South African featherweight title, but never really got the recognition he deserved in an era when many fights were never recorded.

Sathamoney subsequently retired and Alby Tissong 47-22-6 (23) a tough campaigner who fought with success in England won the national title.

Vic Toweel 28-3-1 (14) who became world bantamweight champion when he defeated Manuel Ortiz in May 1950 won the vacant South African featherweight title in August 1949 with a 12 round points decision over the cagey Tony Lombard who never won a national title but beat some of the best featherweights around in a distinguished career.

Toweel is possibly the best South African featherweight of all time, but most of his success came in the bantamweight division. He defended the title successfully on two occasions against Lombard and after stopping Fanie van Graan in two rounds he relinquished the title.

Elija "Ellis Brown" Mokone 34-9-(17) who defeated Tisson for the black title was a brilliant stylist but never really got the breaks, subsequently lost his title in March 1959 to the all action Sexton Mabena 44-17-1 (19).

When Vic Toweel relinquished the white title, hi younger brother Willie 46-6-2 (23) beat the same Tony Lombard for the vacant title. Willie who won a bronze medal at the 1952 Olympics was a brilliant boxer and was unlucky not to have won the world bantamweight title when he fought a draw with Robert Cohen, subsequently relinquished the national featherweight title in 1956 due to weight problems.

After this there were champions like Graham van der Walt (16-12-3 (12), Ernie Baronet 16-15-2 (6), Charlie Els 31-15-2 (12) and Bernie Taylor 36-5-1 (14) before the brilliant Andries Steyn 42-7-1 (22) came on the scene.

He stopped Bernie Taylor to win the title and then lost it to Arnold Taylor 41-8-1 (17) in February 1968 before moving up in weight. Arnold Taylor subsequently went on to win the WBA bantamweight title in November 1973 and relinquished the national featherweight title in 1976.

In May 1970 Freddie Rust 9-17-1 (3) beat Hansie van Rooyen for the vacant title. Meanwhile the black champion Sexton Mabena 44-17-1 (19) lost his title to the outstanding Levi Madi 68-18-8 (21) who must rank very highly in any all time great list. He defended the title four times before losing on a disqualification to Elias Tshabalala 29-13-1 (23) in March 1963. Madi subsequently regained the title from Tshabalala in December of the same year. He made three defences before losing his crown to Shole Mokoena 40-25-1 (8). He subsequently regained the title from Mokoena before losing it to Solomon Ramifikeng 13-12-1 (1).

The black title then changed hands from Ramafikeng to Joe "Green Cobra" Gumede 42-8-4 (15) to Gideon Borais 19-14-5 (7), Victor Mpiyakhe 19-13-4 (3) and then to Tsietsie Maretloane 27-7-2 (2).

Mixed fights between black and white South Africans at all levers of competition were only permitted from October 1976. However, despite this decision by the South African Boxing Board of Control, which had the backing of the then Minister of Sport, Dr Piet Koornhof, there were still black and white champions in addition to the all South African champion or Supreme Champion. The only exciting thing about the change in regulations was that for the first time in South African history there would be a true undisputed champion in all divisions. All "Supreme Champions" automatically became national champions with the abolition of race distinction in boxing, in January 1979.

When Tsietsie Maretloane stopped Freddie Rust in eleven rounds on November 14, 1977 he became the first Supreme South African featherweight champion.

Maretloane lost the title to Bashew Sibaca 77-21-2 (26) one of the better champions in recent years. Sibaca made eight successful defences before losing his crown to Thomas Sithebe 39-16-1 (8) in October 1987.

Sithebe was subsequently stripped of the title when he was unable to make the featherweight limit.

In a poor contest Israel khonkhobe 39-16-7 (6) beat Victor Mkholakali for the vacant crown before losing it to Norman Bromfield 21-6 (13) who in turn lost it to Gerald Isaacs 16-11-4 (5).

Isaacs lost the title to Mxhosana Jongilanga 25-8-1 (14) who after making four defences relinquished the title.

The talented jackie Gunguluza 37-8 (18) beat Stanley Mathe for the vacant title before losing and regaining it from Mthobeli Mhlope 26-7-1 (21).

Gunguluza relinquished the title in August 1991 and Stanford Ngcebeshe 27-9-2 (11) stopped Mxhosana Jongilanga for the vacant title.

Andrew Matabola 23-9-2 (14) took over from Stanford Ngcebeshe and made five successful defences before losing the title to former champion Jackie Gunguluza.

Gunguluza was dethroned by Phillip Ndou 31-3 (30) who only made one defence before relinquishing the title.

In March 2001 Anthony Tshehla 20-5-1 (10) won the vacant title when he outpointed Jackie Gunguluza but subsequently lost the title to Takalani Ndlovu 23-3 (15) in May 2002. Ndlovu made five successful defences.

Since Ned Starkey 29-13-4 (5) beat Rudy Unholtz on June 1, 1903 to become the first claimant of the South African featherweight title there have been many great champions and possibly the top ten in no particular order could be Arthur Douglas, Willie Smith, Charlie Catterall, Vic Toweel, Elijah Mokone, Willie Toweel, Levi Madi, Andries Steyn, Anrnold Taylor and Takalani Ndlovu.