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Boxing | History

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True SA amateurs

Over the years South Africa has had a number of outstanding fighters who never joined the professional ranks.

Possibly the first outstanding South African amateur boxer was heavyweight Frederick John van der Byl Hopley, who was born in in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape on August 27, 1883.

Soon after the 1914 world war was declared he travelled to England and signed up with Grenadier Guards and won the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in the field at the battle of Somme.

He attended Cambridge University and was inter-varsity champion on a number of occasions and was unbeaten in his amateur career.

Hopley was also a good rugby player and represented England and it has been reported that he also represented the MCC cricket team that toured Canada and the US.

One of the earliest outstanding amateurs who never turned pro was the southpaw Dennis Shepherd, who won a silver medal at the 1948 London Olympics in the featherweight division and also represented South Africa as a lightweight at the 1950 Empire Games held in Auckland, New Zealand where he lost his first fight.

Following on from Shepherd was Theuns (Theunis) van Schalkwyk, who won a gold medal in the middleweight division at the 1950 Auckland Empire Games and a silver medal as a light-middleweight at the 1952 Helsinki, Olympics losing to Lazlo Papp of Hungary in the final.

Hennie Loubscher, who fought from the southpaw stance, was one of South Africa’s most outstanding amateurs, winning six South African amateur titles and a gold medal at Cardiff British Empire Commonwealth Games in 1958, in the light-welterweight class.

At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics he won a bronze medal in the light-welterweight class.

Three-time South African amateur light-heavyweight champion Piet van Vuuren won a gold medal in the light-heavyweight class at the 1954 British and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada.

Originally known as the British Empire Games there have been a number of changes to the name over the years as set out below.

1954 Changed to British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

1970 Changed to British and Commonwealth Games.

1978 Changed to Commonwealth Games.

Another great amateur was Grant Webster, who had a reported record of 240 wins and only eight losses and won six SA amateur titles from light-welterweight, welterweight to light middleweight.

He took the gold medal in the light-middleweight division at the Cardiff Games in 1958 and represented South Africa at two Olympics.

At the 1952 Olympics he lost his third fight and in 1956 was eliminated after losing his first fight.

Also in the same class as Webster is Lennie Leisching who was an outstanding cricketer and footballer.

He represented South Africa as a featherweight at the Helsinki Olympics (1952), Melbourne Olympics (1956) and Vancouver British and Empire Games (1954), winning the gold medal in Vancouver and a bronze medal in Helsinki.

Ricky Knoesen won eight national titles in the bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight divisions.

He also toured with the Springbok team to Britain in 1966.

Another outstanding amateur was lightweight Harry Finlay, a four-time SA amateur champion (1958/62/63/64).

He was also a member of the multiracial team that competed in the USA open championships in 1963 and won the light-welterweight gold medal together with Lucas Matseke who took the flyweight gold. Matseke would turn professional and go on to win the South African flyweight title.

Also one of the finest amateurs was Herbie Vermeulen, who has a reported record of 232 wins and 11 defeats.

He also won four South African amateur titles (1965/67/68/70) and fought mostly at light-welterweight.

Reg Gaskon, who was born in the then Rhodesia won five SA titles (1960/62/64/65/67), two as a light-welterweight and three as a lightweight.

Finlay also won his Springbok colours for the 1966 tour of Britain.

There are a number of other outstanding fighters who never joined the professional ranks like Len Hall (welterweight gold Canada 1930), Japie Smit, Leon Weitz, Johannes “Johnny” van der Kolff (middleweight gold Canada 1954) and Jopie Greyling (welterweight gold –Cardiff 1958).

There might have been more outstanding amateurs who never joined the professional ranks if it had not been for the government’s apartheid policies, which prevented talented blacks from representing their country.


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