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Boxing | Features

Never a champion

Johnny de Villiers, who was one of the best fighters to come out of the then Natal province, and fought from 1936 to 1948 went in against some of the best fighters around at the time but failed to win a South African championship.

Born in Ladysmith on 9 February 1916, Johnny eventually grew up in Durban and, as an amateur, he won two Natal titles.

Fighting at light-heavyweight he had to take on heavyweights to keep active, but, like many other fighters at the time, World War Two interrupted his career.

Known as the “Fighting Fireman”, he made his pro debut on 21 November 1936 at the Durban City Hall against Peter Adelaine, and lost on points over six rounds. He also lost his second fight against Bruno Ahlberg on points over ten rounds.

In April 1938 he won his first fight as a pro with an eight-round points decision over Jan van der Walt.

Soon afterwards he joined the army and fought for his country in North Africa before being taken prisoner in Tobruk where he spent 15 months in a cage.

While a prisoner he had two fights, winning the first one and losing the second, and then managed to escape from the prison on the day of the signing of the armistice with Italy.

On his return to South Africa he enjoyed the wrestling game before having his first boxing match since April 1938, when he beat Jack Kukard on points over four rounds on 20 February 1946 at the Durban City Hall.

Continuing with the wrestling game and boxing, the rugged and tough-as-teak De Villiers won his next three fights against Mac Stoffberg, Simon Coetzee, and Sakkie Rousseau before losing to Bertie Darnell in the sixth round, when the referee disqualified him for a low blow.

After this setback he beat Tiger Burns, the South African middleweight champion, over four rounds in a non-title fight, and, after scoring victories over Japie Smit (on two occasions), Mike Bell, and Adrian Scheepers, he took on the vastly experienced American heavyweight Buddy Scott at the Market Hall in Durban on 1 February 1947.

Scott, who had a record of 97-19-6, was beaten on points over ten rounds, even though some of the critics thought Scott had done enough to take the decision.

Seven weeks later Scott would go on to give the South African heavyweight champion Johnny Ralph a tough fight to lose on points over ten rounds.

In Johnny’s next fight he fought to a draw with the durable former South African light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Nick Wolmarans.

It looked like De Villiers was not taking the fight game seriously, alternating between show wrestling and boxing, until he was ordered by the authorities to make a choice. He chose boxing.

After scoring an eighth-round knockout over Bertie Darnell, the always-in-condition De Villiers took on the big tough heavyweights, Australian Alf Gallagher and American Johnny Denson, both over ten rounds.

He lost to the crafty Gallagher at the Beach Courts in Durban and outpointed the 78-fight veteran Denson (1.98m tall) at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg.

DeVilliers then fought to a draw against the experienced Willie Quentenmeyer of the Netherlands before losing to Scotland’s Bert Gilroy (81-23-9).

In his last and only fight for a South African title, on 8 August 1948, in the smoky atmosphere in the Olympia Ice Rink in Johannesburg, he was outpointed over 12 rounds in a clash for the vacant South African light-heavyweight title. The referee was Cyril Baynes.

De Villiers flew from Durban only a few hours before the fight and was badly affected by the altitude in the last six rounds.

Vorster, who was trained by former South African welterweight champion Joe Rosella, was knocked down in the 11th round but managed to get up at the count of eight.

However, after rising, he was sent down again flat on his back and would have been knocked out had he not been saved by the bell.

In the last round Vorster came out taking the fight to DeVilliers and not only withstood his attack but had him in serious trouble just before the final bell

Johnny finished with a reported record of 14-6-2; 5 and, after retiring from the ring, worked for the Durban Municipality cleansing division.

He also trained a few professional fighters and operated the Royal Durban Light Infantry amateur club.

Johnny passed away on 9 May 1991.


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