Dingaan Thobela: The Rose of Soweto

Dingaan Thobela has proved himself as one of South Africa’s most talented boxers, although perhaps not the most hardworking fighter. The charismatic Thobela started his professional career in 1986 as a junior welterweight, but has since moved up to the light heavyweight ranks – representing a rise of almost 16 kilograms.

He has even spoken of possibly campaigning as a heavyweight . whether he was serious or not remains to be seen.

After an amateur career that saw him win 80 times and lose just three bouts, Thobela’s first professional fight pitted him against Quinton Ryan, a bout he won in four rounds. The slick-punching Thobela was held to a draw in his fourth fight, but proceeded to win 25 fights in a row over the next five years, registering 19 wins by knockout along the way.

Fighting outside South Africa

As he scored more and more wins, Thobela became increasingly marketable and began to fight outside of South Africa. In 1990, three of his five fights were in the United States and all three ended in victories, two by knockout over Pascual Aranda and Mauricio Aceves who he both disposed of in the fifth round.

In 1991, Thobela’s three contests were all won on points, and in 1992 he fought only twice, defeating Tony Foster over eight rounds and stopping Peter Till in nine rounds.

At the beginning of February 1993, “The Rose of Soweto” took on Tony Lopez for the WBA lightweight title. Lopez had previously fought twice against South African boxing legend Brian Mitchell. Mitchell, who retired as WBA champion after 13 successful title defences, had fought Lopez in Sacramento on both occasions. The first bout ended in a controversial draw and Mitchell left the matter in no doubt the second time around.

Controversial loss

Thobela discovered how difficult it was to win in Lopez’ backyard when he lost on a controversial points decision. Four months later he faced Lopez at Sun City, and this time he captured the title.

Thobela made his first defence in October, but came up against a superior fighter in the unbeaten Orzubek Nazarov, who claimed a convincing 12-round decision. Thobela challenged for the title again in March 1994, but Nazarov had his number and won over 12 rounds in a repeat of his previous victory. Later in the year Thobela faced journeyman Karl Taylor in England and was surprisingly knocked out in the eighth round of their contest.

In 1995 Thobela got back on track with five victories, all of them by knockout, and added a further two KO victories by June 1996. However, matters went haywire again for “The Rose” when he faced Geoff McCreesh in November. McCreesh, who came into the fight with a record of 15 wins and three losses, mostly against little-known British opponents, stunned Thobela in the second round, sending the South African to the canvas for a huge upset victory.

Beaten by a journeyman

In his next fight, in March 1997, Thobela was beaten by American journeyman Willy Wise, who came into the fight with 21 wins – only six by knockout – three losses and four draws. The South African was favoured to win, but Wise secured a points victory.

Questions were being asked about Thobela’s commitment, but he secured a big win later in the year, defeating fellow South African Gary Murray on a fourth-round TKO. In 1998 he fought only once, drawing against Carlos Baldomir over 12 rounds. Thobela looked rusty and out of shape and doubts grew about his boxing career.

However, he returned for two fights in 1999. He won in seven rounds against Walter Danett, but was beaten on points by Cornelius Carr for the WBF middleweight title.

World title win

In early 2000 he won a points decision over Soon Botes to earn a crack at Glen Catley’s WBC super middleweight title. The Briton was heavily favoured to retain his crown, but Thobela, way behind on all three judges’ scorecards, staged a strong finish, dramatically knocking Catley out with only seconds remaining in the bout. He was once again a world champion.

As had happened previously, Thobela was unable to defend his world title, losing to Canada’s Dave Hilton on a controversial points decision in Montreal. Shortly afterwards, Hilton was jailed for rape and Thobela was given another crack at the title against Eric Lucas in November 2001. He struggled to make the weight, however, and Lucas dominated the fight before winning on a TKO in the eighth round.

Thobela was a natural: a gifted boxer who, at the the height of his career, established himself as a charismatic, gifted fighter and a favourite of the South African public.

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