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Dingaan Thobela-Rose of Soweto


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Apparently, in South Africa, rose is not a necessarily feminine symbol. The proof of that is the nickname of this beloved fighter, Dingaan Thobela. Thobela holds the distinction as the only man to hold world titles (real ones, not bogus) in both the lightweight and super middleweight divisions, which is one of the greatest gaps in weight classes in the history of all champions. The small 5'7 1/2 (171 cm) Thobela was a more natural lightweight and spent his best days fighting in that division, but still managed, against all odds, to win a world title in the twilight of his career as a super middleweight. In dramatic fashion, no less. Here is the story of THE ROSE OF SOWETO!

Dingaan Bongane Thobela was born 24 September 1966 in Soweto, which back then was a separate municipality, but today is a suburb of Johannesburg. He has a very big reach for his height, 72 inches or 183 cm! As amateur, Thobela amassed a record of 80-3, before turning professional in June 1986. He would go undefeated in 29 of his first fights, with one draw early on. At first, he fought as a featherweight and super featherweight, but found his glory as a lightweight. He won the Transvaal super feather title in March 1988, by a KO 3 against Gerald Isaacs. In October that year, he also won the South African title at 130 by TKO 8 against Mpisekhaya Mbaduli. His first better known opponent was Danilo Cabrera, who had fought Barry McGuigan for the WBA title earlier. Thobela stopped him by a TKO 3. 

Finally, on 22 September 1990, he got to fight for the WBO light title against Mauricio Aceves, in Brownsville, USA. He entered history books after winning by SD. In his first defence, he beat former super feather contender Mario "Azabache" Martinez, this time by UD. After making one more defence against Antonio Rivera, Thobela vacated the belt to challenge for the WBA one. His obstacle was Tony "Tiger" Lopez, who had taken the belt from Joey Gamache. Thobela went to Sacramento to fight him, 12 February 1993, and lost for the first time as a pro by a close UD. Because of the closeness of the fight, there was a rematch, this time in Sun City, South Africa. This time, Thobela emerged as the winner after 12 rounds, on all cards. He was now a two-time world champion and one of the first Black South African world champions. 

He then lost the belt in his first defence against the excellent Orzubek Nazarov, by way of UD. It was on 30 October in Johannesburg and Thobela also lost the rematch on 19 March 1994, in Hammanskraal, SA. For a while after that, his career was in a vacuum and he shifted between divisions, also getting knocked out for the first time by Geof McCreesh in 2 rounds in a fight above 147. He also dropped a decision to Willy Wise and then drew against Carlos Baldomir in a fight for the WBC International welter title. In March 1999, he beat Walter Adrian Daneff by TKO 7 in a fight for the IBO welter title, but as he came overweight, he could not claim it. He then first entered the middle division and lost in a fight for the WBF title against Cornelius Carr in England, 31 October 1999, by majority decision. On 19 February next year, he beat Soon Botes by MD12 in a fight for the South African super middle title. 

He was then suddenly chosen as the opponent of the freshly crowned WBC champion Glenn Catley. Catley had become the champion by stopping the excellent Markus Beyer away in Germany, in the 12th round. Same outcome would happen here, however-Catley would wind up on the wrong end. The fight happened on 1 September 2000 in Gauteng, SA and Catley, not accustomed to the heat, was ahead on two scorecards going into round 12, with the third being even, when he simply gassed and faded badly. Thobela took advantage of that and hit him with a barrage against the ropes which brought forth the stoppage-only 7 seconds before the end! In a somewhat controversial victory, Thobela made history by becoming the only fighter to win titles at 135 and 168. That didn't last very long, however, as he lost the title only 3 months later, fighting Dave Hilton Jr. on 15 December in Montreal. 

It was a close and tough fight, and, in the end, two judges had Hilton winning by 115-113 and 117-111 while the third had Thobela up by 115-113. This fight marked the beginning of the downward slope for him, as he was also stopped by Eric Lucas in a fight where he was trying to regain the same title, which had been stripped from Hilton. In round 8, Thobela was hurt by a hard left and then stopped with a follow up flurry. It was only the second time he got stopped, but not the last. He lost the rest of his fights, to Mikkel Kessler by UD12, Otis Grant UD8, Martin Nielsen UD6 and then got stopped by Lucian Bute by TKO4, before finally fighting his old rival Soon Botes on 27 October 2006 and Thobela weighed in at as much as 180! He scored a knockdown in round 6, but later retired in his corner after round 10. 

His final record is 40(26)-14(4)-2. Thobela was only the second Black South African to win a world title, 6 months after Welcome Ncita, and the first to win more than one world title and at two weight classes. He was a true warrior and came to fight, never possessing anything special but his will to win. He could box and brawl when needed and was a strong little man. In his best years, he only lost to the very best, usually technical, fighters.


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