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Boxing | History

Vic Toweel - SA’s only universal champion

On May 31, it will be 68 years since Vic Toweel beat Manuel Ortiz a Mexican-American, considered one of the great champions, on points for the world bantamweight title at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg, before a crowd of more than 20 000.

When he won his title, he was the universal world champion; not merely the champion of one of four or more organizations that dish out “world” titles these days. He is still the only South African to be recognized as a universal world champion.

Vic Toweel was, for a while, the best bantamweight in the world when there were only eight recognized weight divisions and champions.

Toweel was the second South African to win a world title, with Willie Smith being the first after his win over Teddy Baldock at the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, London on October 6, 1927, for the British version of the world bantamweight title.

Ortiz had won the title eight years earlier and defended it 15 times before losing the belt to Harold Dade. Three months later he regained the title in a return with Dade and then signed a contract to defend it against Toweel.

The South African won most of the 15 rounds through his superior speed. Ortiz was unable to match the younger challenger’s speed and stamina. The champion did get through with a short right uppercut several times but failed to shake Toweel.

Toweel had been fighting as a professional for less than a year and a half and had only 13 bouts before beating Ortiz.

A hot and stuffy old tin shed in the backyard of a house in Benoni was one of the most important buildings in South African boxing history.

The shed, with barely enough room for a makeshift ring, was where Mike Toweel taught and trained his sons to box during the 1950s.

There, at 12 Balfour Avenue, in a mining town east of Johannesburg, a legend was born.

In that basic structure, one of boxing's best family stories originated. It led to a world title, a draw in a world championship fight, two British Empire titles and seven South African titles.

That is where Jimmy, Vic and Willie Toweel honed the skills that also brought them numerous amateur titles, resulting in Vic and Willie representing South Africa at the Olympic Games.

Victor Anthony Toweel was born in Benoni on January 12, 1928. He began boxing at the age of nine and it was reported that he had in the region of 300 amateur fights, of which he lost only two. Of his 190 senior amateur bouts, he won 160 by knockout.

He once lost to a South African, Andrew Engelbrecht, whom he later beat more than once. He was also beaten by Arnoldo Pares of Argentina in his first fight at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

The defeat followed what was described in reports as one of the worst decisions at the Games.

Vic won the SA senior amateur flyweight title in 1946 and 1947 and won the bantamweight division at the 1948 Olympic trials.

In the 1947 SA championships, he clearly outpointed J. Andre in the final at the Feather Market Hall in Port Elizabeth and in the final of the Olympic trials he beat Pete Taljaard.

After turning professional, he launched his career with ten bouts against SA opponents and then beat Stan Rowan a veteran of 58 fights for the British Empire bantamweight title.

He went on to beat the champions of England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France and Spain before dethroning the world champion Manuel Ortiz a veteran of 118 fights.

Vic lost only three of his 32 professional fights. As a bantamweight, he won the universal world title, the Empire and SA titles and the national featherweight title in only 14 months.


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