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The Champ who sold Fish and Chips - by Ron Jackson

Seaman Chetty was 14 years old when he was told to take over his family’s fish and chip shop in Durban but he became an outstanding fighter and one of the most remarkable characters in SA boxing.

Born in Durban on May 29, 1914, Chetty eventually became a successful businessman who turned the little shop into a thriving fish market and also owned a bus company.

His uncle, Seaman Dorasamy, introduced Chetty to boxing when he was 17 years old. The boy was also named Seaman, reflecting his uncle’s love of the sea.

Details of his early record are rather sketchy. It was reported but not substantiated that he beat four opponents in one night at the old St Paul’s Hall opposite the Durban Post Office and that matchmaker Billy Padrach then signed him up. His first recorded fight was in 1933 when he outpointed PM Pillay over four rounds in Durban.

Whether he became the best South African boxer of Indian origin has been the subject of many a debate.

Others to be considered were Jack Moodley, Bob Narandas, Kid Mayet, Young Craig, Rajah Moodley, Peter Sam, Young Sadow, Harry Appal, Percy Vengen, Jack Abrams, Bud Gengen, Lutchna Veeran and Kid Abrahams.

Jack Moodley was highly regarded on the strength of his performance against Arthur Douglas, but Dixon, Appal and Cupido were also outstanding fighters.

However, many would argue that Seaman was the best.

He won the SA flyweight and bantamweight titles. In The Ring magazine of September 1938, he was ranked at number six in the world. At the time, there were only eight divisions and The Ring’s were the only recognised rankings in the world.

Jackie Jurich was the world flyweight champion. Those who were ranked above Chetty were Small Montana, Little Dado, Tut Whalley, Tiny Bostock and Pierre Louis; all top-class fighters. Therefore, there is no question that Seaman was among the best in the world in his division during that time.

However, Benny Singh, who is regarded as the father of Indian boxing in South Africa, rated Seaman only at No 5 among the country’s best Indian-origin boxers, together with Kid Sathamoney.

In his book My Baby and Me, published in 1950, Singh listed his selection as:
1. Young Sadow and Harry Appal.
2. Peter Sam and Bud Gengan.
3. Bob Narandas and Jack Moodley.
4. Percy Vengan and Lutchna Veerean.

Chetty, guided by Bill Latham, who trained the SA boxers at the 1938 Olympics in Sydney, went through nine fights undefeated before outpointing Young Pottier to win the SA “non- European” flyweight title in 1936.

He retained the title against Cecil Wolhuter and then won the SA “non-European” bantamweight title by beating Battling George on points in Durban.

With few flyweight and bantamweight challengers around, Chetty decided to try his luck in Britain. In April 1938, after paying R58 for his fare on the Balmoral Castle, he sailed for England.

With the help of Durban promoter Maurice Smith and Louis Botes, who had campaigned with some success in England, Chetty was introduced to former world flyweight champion Jimmy Wilde, who was considered by many to be the greatest flyweight in the history of boxing. Wilde became Chetty’s trainer and the fighter lived with him and his family throughout his campaign in Britain.

Wilde was already 46 years old but he sparred with Chetty and taught him some of
his outstanding moves.

In his first fight in London, on May 6, 1938, Seaman outpointed the highly regarded Dave Kellar over ten rounds. Eight days later, he beat world-ranked Pierce Ellis over 12 rounds in Rotherham.

At the time, fellow-South African Alf James was also campaigning in Britain. James, who later became the SA lightweight and welterweight champion, assisted Wilde in Chetty’s corner.

However, after Chetty had gained a world ranking, things began to fall apart.

In his next fight, in June that year, he was beaten on points by Jim McStravick. He also lost to Billy Tansey and Joe Curran. After losing a close decision to world-rated Tiny Bostock in September 1938, Chetty decided to return to Durban.

He made successful defences of his SA bantamweight title against Freddie Smith, Battling George and PM Pillay before returning to Britain.

However, his second campaign was interrupted by Hitler’s invasion of Poland when all boxing in the UK was suspended. Chetty managed to squeeze in a fight against Irishman Rinty Monaghan on November 8, 1939, but lost on points over ten rounds. It turned out to be Chetty’s last fight.

Monaghan went on to win the world flyweight title on October 20, 1947 when he beat Dado Marino on points in a clash for the vacant title.

Back in South Africa, Chetty discovered that his trainer, Bill Latham, had gone off to war with the navy, so Chetty decided to join the army. Eager to get into the action, he became the first soldier of Indian origin to use weapons and also the first to be promoted to secondclass warrant officer.

His duties took him to the Middle East and East Africa. Sadly, while he was on active duty his wife passed away. After four years, he returned to Durban to get married for the second time.

After the war, Chetty opened up a gymnasium and trained some well-known fighters such as Kista Govender, Lucky Maharaj and SA featherweight and lightweight champion Kid Sathamoney.

He subsequently took out a promoter’s licence and featured SA welterweight and middleweight champion Joe Ngidi and national lightweight champion Gladstone “Homicide Hank” Mahlo on many of his bills.

Both these fighters later joined rival promoter Benny Singh, but in November 1953
Chetty put on one of the biggest promotions when Jake Tuli defended his SA bantamweight title against Slumber David Gogotya at a soldout Hoy Park Stadium.

Seaman nearly became the first promoter to stage a world championship fight in South Africa with a black fighter as one of the contestants. He had virtually tied up Japan’s world flyweight champion Yoshio Shirai to defend his title against Tuli, but the bout fell through because of red tape.

Chetty also experienced legal problems when he took Kid Sathamoney and Young Hussein to box in Cape Town. They did not have permits to be in the city but they were eventually allowed to remain there after paying R20 each in deposits and R2 each for permits. To avoid disruption of the tournament, the promoter, Mr Shaik, paid the deposits and the fees.

Chetty later withdrew from boxing when fighters of Indian origin started fading from the scene.

He concentrated on his bus service and fish market, which had expanded from the small fish and shop that he took over from his father. Chetty died on November 20, 1989 at the age 75.

I met him at one of the annual King Korn awards ceremonies when he received a trophy for his services to boxing and will always remember him as a true gentleman.