We’ve had some great boxers, but no Sugar Ray Robinson
I’ll get it in the neck for saying this, but none of our SA champs stand up to the all-time great
Recent debates about South African boxing’s greatest fighter of all time have convinced me about one thing — this country has never had a Sugar Ray Robinson.
The age-old discussion resurfaced recently after Hekkie Budler’s sensational victory in Japan last month, and it’s amazing to see how the topic stirs the emotions in some people.
There are some who think Budler has earned the mantle, while others will point to Vic Toweel, Brian Mitchell, Vuyani Bungu or even Dingaan Thobela.
New arguments have been put forward and old ones are being recycled, but I doubt the deliberations have altered anyone’s preconceived opinions on the matter.But while discussing it for the umpteenth time the other day, it occurred to me that South African boxing has never had a Sugar Ray Robinson.
The title of world’s pound-for-pound best of all time has pretty much belonged to Robinson, a six-time world champion who first held the welterweight crown before winning the middleweight mantle five times.
There have been dissenting voices, but by and large the consensus has been for Robinson.
Boxers are measured on various characteristics — such as chin, heart, punching power, ability to box and fight, victories over big names, getting up from knockdowns to win, and longevity at the top of the game.
And Robinson had it all. Perhaps he wasn’t the best of all time in each individual category, but he was good enough in all of them to be widely considered the most rounded of all champions.
But no single South African boxing great has ticked all the Sugar Ray boxes.Bantamweight Vic Toweel was South Africa’s only undisputed world champion, but his lack of passion for the sport saw him balloon in weight between fights, and that eventually turned his chin to mush and robbed him of longevity.
Brian Mitchell held the WBA and IBF versions of the junior-lightweight crown, but he never got a chance to fight his division’s top-ranked champion, Azumah Nelson, nor his predecessor, Julio Cesar Chavez.
Mitchell also lacked punching power, with a career KO ratio of 46.7% compared to Nelson’s 71.8% and Chavez’s 79.4%. Even Floyd Mayweather weighs in at 54%.
Mitchell couldn’t end a fight with a single punch, but then again he didn’t need to, having lost only once in his career, and he avenged that defeat on three occasions.
Vuyani Bungu falls into a similar bracket with a 48.7% ratio, but he has another question mark over his chin after being blown away in four rounds by Naseem Hamed in the biggest fight of his career.
Perhaps Thobela could have been the sweetest of South Africa’s pugilists, but he lacked dedication.He could box, he could fight and he could punch, amassing a decent 65% knockout ratio.
The Rose of Soweto held three world titles — the WBO and WBA lightweight titles, separately, and the WBC super-middleweight crown — and he lost two of them in his first defence. He vacated the WBO title after his first defence.
Although his on-off reigns stretch over the course of a decade, longevity can hardly be considered a strength of his, especially when looking at his record between his second and third titles — 10 wins, five losses and a draw.
In fact, after scoring a come-from-behind stoppage win over Glenn Catley for the WBC title, Thobela never won another fight.
Budler falls into the Mitchell category; both have climbed off the canvas to win fights, and neither have punching power (Budler’s KO ratio is 31.2%).
These fighters have all been greats for South African boxing, and they all score A on their report cards.
They just aren’t at Sugar Ray’s 99.9% and, quite frankly, that’s no disgrace.