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Dingaan one of the best

In a recent issue of Boxing News, the British weekly magazine that was founded in 1909 by the original editor John Murray, they published a list of the ten greatest African fighters of all time.

One of the best fighters in the history of South African boxing Dingaan Thobela was listed at number nine.

Nicknamed The Rose of Soweto, Thobela won three world titles in a fascinating career.

Born into a middle-class family in Soweto's Chiawelo suburb on September 1 1966, Thobela quickly learnt to look after himself.

"My father wanted me to be able to defend myself without a panga or a knife, so he taught me to box," Thobela said years later.

Even then he dreamt of becoming a world champion as his heroes, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, had done.

He joined Norman Hlabane’s stable and the well-known trainer guided him through an outstanding amateur career that included only one defeat in more than 70 fights.

The son of a panel-beater, Dingaan was forced to move in with his aunt when their home became a little overcrowded.

As a boxer, he was always close and accessible to his fans. This was probably detrimental to his career. "I like being with people and they like being near me,” he explained.

The well-spoken and handsome fighter matriculated and studied at the Soweto Teachers Training College, but dropped the studies to pursue a boxing career. He also played football and became a useful squash player.

In line with many fighters, Thobela liked fast, flashy cars as he moved through the rankings.

His professional debut was at Eldorado Park in June 1986 when he outpointed Quinton Ryan over four rounds.

After a few more wins he came up against local boy Peter Mpikashe in Durban. He appeared to win well enough, but the judges made it a draw.

In 1988 he won four bouts in row and the boxing writers were beginning to take note of this slickly moving and skillful young fighter. He was voted Kingkorn/Boxing World Prospect of the Year.

Brimful of confidence, he outboxed most of his opponents with a straight left and bursts of combinations.

He went on to win the South African junior-lightweight title from Mpisekhaya Mbaduli in Port Elizabeth and in 1990 received the King Korn/Boxing World Boxer of the Year award.

Thobela then joined Barberton promoter Thinus Strydom and scored a string of victories over imported opposition, including three former Brian Mitchell opponents.

They were Daniel Londas, whom he edged out over ten rounds, Daniel Cabrera, whom he outclassed in three, and Felipe Orozco, whom he stopped in the tenth after trailing on points.

International commitments and increasing weight resulted in Thobela relinquishing the SA title and moving into the lightweight division.

In his first fight outside South Africa, he came up against the WBO lightweight champion, Mexican Mauricio Aceves, in a non-title bout in Biloxi, Mississippi. He scored an eighth-round stoppage win.

Five months later, in September 1990, they fought a return match. Thobela realised his dream when, in Brownsville, Texas, he showed tremendous courage in extreme heat and humidity to take the title on points.

Thobela defended his WBO belt twice, in San Jose, California, against the durable Mario Martinez and in September 1991 against the No 1 rated Antonio Rivera.

He relinquished the WBO belt in June 1992 to challenge for the WBA lightweight belt held by Tony Lopez.

Going to Lopez's hometown in Sacramento in February 1993, Thobela fought the best fight of his career. He was the better man, but the judges awarded the decision to the champion.

Jim Jenkins of the Sacramento Bee had the South African ahead by four points, as did Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle.

After the unsatisfactory ending, Thobela's promoter, Rodney Berman, demanded a return, which was set for Sun City on June 26 1993.

Thobela won the WBA lightweight title by beating Lopez on points over 12 rounds before 7 300 fans in the Superbowl. This time the judges voted unanimously for him even though some spectators thought he was a little lucky.

With this victory Thobela joined Brian Mitchell as only the second South African to become a two-time title holder.

Making the first defence of his belt in Johannesburg on October 30 1993, a subdued and flatfooted Thobela was outpointed by Russian southpaw Orzubek Nazarov.

He blamed friction in his camp and promoter Gerrie Coetzee for his performance. It was reported that, after a dispute over promotional rights, Thobela was evicted from his hotel on the morning of the fight. There were also rumours that Thobela was weak after battling to make the weight.

The return match with Nazarov, at the Carousel in March 1994, was a disaster. Thobela was well beaten over 12 rounds.

It seemed his career had come to an end when he also lost an eight-rounder to Carl Taylor in Birmingham in his next fight.

Moving up to junior-welterweight in 1995, Thobela got his career back on track with five victories, all inside the distance.

His good form continued in 1996 when he stopped Booker Kidd and Wayne Boudreaux inside the distance.

However, in November 1996, after weighing in at 67,70 kg, Thobela was knocked out for the first time in his career when unheralded Englishman Geoff McCreesh put him away in the second round.

In his next fight Thobela lost a points decision to Willie Wise. At the age of 30 he was written off by most critics.

Fighting the battle the bulge, Thobela had only three fights in 1998 and 1999. He weighed in at 75,70 kg for the IBO welterweight title clash against Walter Daneff.

Even though Thobela won the fight he was unable to claim the belt.

Moving up to super-middleweight, he won a close decision over Soon Botes in February 2 000.

In his next fight he became the first South African to contest a WBC title in South Africa. He took on Glen Catley for the WBC super-middleweight belt at Carnival City, Brakpan, on September 1.

Coming into the fight a few weeks short of his 34th birthday, Thobela looked a bit podgy. With both men boxing from behind a tight defence, the fight lacked excitement through 11 rounds.

Catley needed to win the last round to clinch the decision and retain his belt. Thobela started the round strongly, but touched the canvas after a haymaker from the champion. The referee ruled it as a slip.

The champion continued to press forward and was well on his way to winning when Thobela caught him with a swinging right hand. He was out on his feet and a wild left put him on the canvas.

Somehow Catley got up, but a smashing right put him down again. He managed to stagger up on wobbly legs but the referee stepped in to call the fight off with seven seconds remaining.

The dramatic ending sent the home crowd into frenzy and Thobela became a world champion for the third time.

This was to be the last golden moment in his career. He lost the title less than four months later when Canada's Davey Hilton beat him.

He lost his next four fights in a row and in his last fight, in October 2006, weighing in as a light-heavyweight, he lost on a tenth round stoppage to Soon Botes.

Thobela, who had a career record of 40-14-2 (26), was probably the finest natural talent seen in South Africa over the past 30 years.

After retiring from the ring Thobela became a successful business man and has guided a number of young fighters.

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