World champion boxer;
Born: August 1, 1962; Died: December 7, 2013.
JAKE MATLALA, who has died aged 51, was a South African world champion who was adept at blighting Scottish world champion boxers' dreams of further world title glory.
He earned his nickname "Baby" because, at 4ft 10ins tall, he was the shortest ever world boxing champion, but it was no handicap when he faced two of Scotland's best world champions: former WBO. Flyweight kingpin from Croy, Pat Clinton, and the first Scottish boxer to win two world titles: Ayrshire's Paul Weir.
Indeed, Matlala claimed his low centre of gravity enhanced his destructive body punches particularly when his opponents were - as they usually were - taller than he was.
He was born in South Africa in 1962 when the hated apartheid system was at its brutal and oppressive peak and grew up in the sprawling township of Soweto. Under apartheid, it was a violent, tough mileu in which to grow up, especially for someone as small as Matlala. Nevertheless, he had a naturally optimistic life view on life, coupled with the innate toughness that later made him so effectively formidable inside the ring.
He launched his career when he was 18 and outpointed one Fraser Plaaties in four rounds at Port Elizabeth in the eastern Capetown province. But he was less than sensational in his next two bouts and drew another but he bounced back to become hugely popular with his Soweto fans.
His long haul to glory really began in 1985 when he won the South African "Non-White" light-flyweight title in Cape province's Medanerse stadium - thereafter it was onwards and upwards for this diminutive, socking, Springbok, until he proved his undoubted world-class credentials by battering to defeat Scotland's 1984 Olympic games contender Pat Clinton at Glasgow's SECC to take Clinton's WBO world flyweight title in an awesome, exhibition of head and body punching. It was an exhibition of ferocity that contrasted sharply with the sunny, loveable, personality who captivated those Scots who met him during his stay in this country.
It was a victory that compensated for Matlala losing his first bid for world title glory to another Celt - Northern Ireland's Dave McAuley in 1991 who had knocked him out in Belfast in the tenth round of Matlala's bid for the IBF flyweight title.
He defended the WBO title successfully four times, including in London where he halted England's Francis Ampofo inside nine rounds before he met his temporary nemesis Mexican, Alberto Jiminez who dethroned Baby after eight torrid rounds.
Yet, this setback failed to dent Matlala's self-belief as he subsequently demonstrated in 1995-6 when he defeated Scotland's Paul Weir in back-to-back WBO Light-flyweight clashes in Liverpool and before Weir's home crowd in Glasgow's Kelvin Hall where the Ayrshire-based, two-time world champion was halted inside five rounds with a bad eye injury.
Meanwhile, a former South African welterweight boxer called Nelson Mandela had become a big Matlala fan, especially when Matlala made himself a three-time world title holder by outboxing and then stopping the hugely talented and admired Mexican-American, Michael Carabajal, to anexe the IBF Light-flyweight crown.
Matlala's reciprocation of Mandela's support and admiration was evident when, in his final career fight before his own folk in South Africa in 2002, he not only successfully defended his WBU light-flyweight crown against Latino opponent Juan Herrera but presented Mandela with his WBU championship belt. It was a gesture that delighted Mandela and also ensured this diminutive destroyer from Soweta went out of boxing with a bang not as so many world title holders have done with anti-climatic whimper.
The leading Scottish boxing coach, John McDermott, from Blantyre, who was in Clinton's corner when Baby Jake stopped the Scot in Glasgow for the WBO. flyweight crown said he was a huge fan of Matalala.
"I was in Pat's corner when the wee South African fought and stopped him," McDermott recalled. "Pat was one of best flyweight British and world 8 stone boxers this country ever produced, but after the third round of their fight I knew Baby Jake was going to be just too strong for Pat. Matlala's power packed punching - particularly to the body - eventually sapping Pat's strength so making it imperative the referee stopped the fight in Matala's favour.
"Jake was one of the finest, toughest, flyweights that I ever saw in my 60 years in boxing, but outside the ropes he was a great wee guy - I just loved his laid back attitude and politeness and also the sporting way that he fought against Pat Clinton. He was a credit to himself, boxing. And the South African people."
After retiring from the ring in 2002, Matlala was not one of boxing's all too familiar hard luck stories as he became a highly successful motivational speaker while running various thriving business ventures and supporting charities involved in helping the poor and disadvantaged and AIDS victims.
He is survived by his wife Mapule and two sons.
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