The Lion that shuffled like Ali by Ron Jacson

The shuffling movements around the ring, and the arms dangling at his side, suggested the youngster was copying the style of someone he admired. Indeed. Ditau Molefyane had seen a film about Muhammad Ali’s career. Now, learning to box in the Texas Gym in Tembisa, he was trying to emulate the style of his idol.

Ditau, later known as Diarora, was a pupil at the Moriteng Primary School in the big township near Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg. He played soccer at school but was determined to become a boxer, just like The Greatest.

His father, Joseph, who had boxed as an amateur, taught him the basics at the gym, where the lad immediately adopted the style that almost became a trade mark as he developed into a professional.

Named Paul Ditau Molefyane after his birth in Tembisa on January 6 1965, he was an active youngster who fought in what was reported as a total of 147 amateur fights. He lost only a few and won East Rand and Transvaal titles before turning professional in November 1984.

His debut was against Themba Mthiyane, whom he stopped in the third round. In only his fourth professional fight he took on Simon Bekker for the vacant Transvaal junior lightweight title. He was knocked out in the third round and Bekker won the SA lightweight title in his next fight.

By then, Molefyane had already adopted the nickname Diarora (the lion) and his trademark white trunks with images of lions in black. He also lost in his fifth professional fight – to Quinton Ryan, who later won the SA junior lightweight title.

But Molefyane won his next four fights in style before meeting Dingaan Thobela, who went on to won three “world” titles in a glittering career. Thobela beat him on points to claim the Transvaal junior lightweight title.

Molefyane then took revenge when he beat Quinton Ryan, who had lost his national title, on points over eight rounds. On November 14 1988 he took over the vacant Transvaal junior lightweight title when he stopped Moses Matlala in the seventh round.

The next year was a good one for Molefyane. He won each of his five fights and claimed the vacant SA lightweight title by stopping Welile Vumsindo in the eleventh round. He also made a successful defence against Sidima Qhina.

In 1990, after defeating Mexican Juan Castro and Nigel Haddock from Wales, Molefyane went to Wolverhampton in England where he stopped Neil Haddock in the sixth round. But he lost his SA title in a return match against Qhina.

As he had done before, he got straight back on the winning path and beat Sipho Ngcobo and three Americans, Bobby Brewer, Francisco (Pancho) Segura and Edward (Pee Wee) Parker.

On November 16 1991, he went in against former IBF champion Tony (The Tiger) Lopez. They met in Sacramento in California at the lightweight limit and the South African was stopped 2 minute 41 seconds into the eighth round. Lopez was having his first fight since losing the IBF junior lightweight title to another South African, Brian Mitchell, 14 months earlier.

The fight between Molefyane and Lopez was billed as The Lion versus The Tiger . But it did not live up to expectations. One journalist wrote: “Molefyane turned out to be a pretty tame lion and even the “Tiger” seemingly had a couple of his claws missing”.

Molefyane was quoted as saying his poor performance was because he had other things on his mind going into the fight. His was not focussed on the fight as he felt he could have been treated better by his promoter. He also had to spar with a heavyweight and his nose was broken two weeks before the fight. However, he remained in the United States and lost on points to Gabriel Ruelas, a future WBC super-featherweight champion. But he beat Benny Lopez and Ricky Quiles.

On March 19 1993, Ditau won a world title of sorts when he beat Ricky Raynor on points in Sydney, Australia, to claim the vacant WBF junior lightweight belt.

It seemed he had revived his career under the guidance of promoter Thinus Strydom when he beat Joseph Murray in a non-title bout and retained the belt against Noe Antonio Hernandez of Mexico. But he lost the title in Durban on December 3 1994 when Aaron Zarate of Mexico beat him. Molefyane was well behind on points when he failed to come out for the seventh round, claiming his vision was impaired.

Molefyane, who was trained by the experienced Norman Hlabane during the latter part of his career, returned to action after nearly nine months. He stopped Chen Roongroj of Thailand in the third round but lost his last fight – a challenge for the British Commonwealth lightweight title – when Billy Schwer knocked him out in the eighth round in London on October 30 1995.

Molefyane, was one of the most charismatic fighters in South Africa during the late 1980s and early 1990s, finished with a record of 29-7, including 15 wins inside the distance. When he was asked once about his style of boxing, he said: “I did it most of the time to get out of trouble and regain my breath. At other times, when I was well ahead, I liked to do a bit of showboating”.

After retiring, he started up and later abandoned a taxi business. These days he takes on “whatever work is available”.