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Levi Madi, a nice guy by Ron Jackson

The problem with Levi Tlhabane Madi was that he was too nice a guy. He was too friendly with his fellow man and possibly because of this he lacked the killer instinct in the ring.

Earlier in his career he came under the influence of Theo Mthembu as his trainer and Joe Gumede who assisted Theo. In the hands of Theo, a quality fighter in his younger days, Madi was one of the best fighters in his era.

Mthembu said, Madi was a very smooth southpaw and it was a myth amongst the boxing fraternity that he lacked punching power. He was lightning-fast, clever and fought the best in an era of good fighters during a 17 year professional career that began with his debut in March 1955 against Valentine Barkley with a four rounds points victory and ended in May 1972 with a point’s loss to Wally van der Haar.

In only his sixth fight Madi captured the Transvaal featherweight crown from Jerry Moloi over 10 rounds to avenge an earlier defeat at the hands of Moloi. In the first defence of his title he drew with the legendary Enoch Schoolboy Nhlapo.

Madi admitted that he was scared of taking on Nhlapo, but even though he was cut in the first round, he felt he did enough to take the decision. In the return fight with Nhlapo for the Transvaal title he was beaten on points, but Nhlapo could not claim the title as he came in over the featherweight limit.

A further three fights with Nhlapo were considered among the classics in boxing annals with all being closely contested affairs. All three were for the South African lightweight title, even though Madi was never more than a featherweight. In November 1962 Madi was considered unlucky to only receive a draw and lost on points in the other two encounters.

He was born Kgabaletsane Village in Pretoria on April 14, 1931 and still resides in the area today.

Madi was at his splendid best when he beat the rugged all action Sexton Mabena who had just returned from a successful campaign in the United K ingdom, in July 1960, on points over 12 rounds to win the South African featherweight title. He held the title for ten years, making ten successful defences, but lost and regained it on two occasions in that period. First to Elias “Baby Face” Tshabalala and then to Shole “Tiger Floor” Mokoena.

The loss of his title to Tshabalala in March 1963 was controversial when Madi was disqualified for a head butt in the ninth round. However, he made no mistake in the return fight some eight months later when he stopped Tshabalala in the fourth round and later in October 1964 clearly outpointed Tshabalala over 12 rounds to retain the title.

In September 1966 he lost the featherweight title once again in losing on points to Shole Mokoena, but claimed it back again 8 months later with a well earned decision.

Wins against top international opponents like Ray Adigun from Nigeria and American’s Don Johnson, Tommy Tibbs and Jerry Stokes on two occasions, proved Madi’s class.

The two fights against Joe Brown, the former lightweight champion of the world in November 1964 and February 1965 were minor classics in the art of ring craft. Brown was a veteran of some 134 fights when he met Madi and won on both occasions, because the South African was far too cautious, but never the less it was an absorbing duel each time between two ring technicians.

Slowly the skills began to erode and at the age of 37, Madi or the ghost of him, lost his coveted South African featherweight title for the last time against the stronger and younger 22 year old Solomon Ramafikeng on a 12 rounds points decision in Johannesburg on October 31, 1970.

The ex champion continued fighting and only won three of his next seven fights against opposition who would have been hard pressed to stay with him in his youth, before finally hanging up his gloves in May 1971 at the age of 39.

Madi will always be remembered as one of the better South African fighters and in discussions with veteran referee Len Hunt and trainer/promoter Zeke Mtshali, they described him as one of the best southpaws they had seen and also recalled what a good counter puncher, cagey and slick mover he was.

The former champion hardly follows boxing today and never attends any tournaments, but my record of 94 fights with only 18 losses and 8 draws tells the story of this once fine fighter.

Nelson Mandela vs Jerry Moloi

Levi Madi