Each Nation's Best: South Africa

Zolani Tete landing on Jose Gonzalez.
Zolani Tete landing on Jose Gonzalez.

By Derek Bonnett: The Republic of South Africa ranks as the twenty-fifth largest country in the world and is populated with more than fifty-six million people. Located at the southernmost tip of Africa, South Africa is the among the top twenty-five most populated countries as well. It is a multi-ethnic region with an array of cultures, languages, and religions. Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have had representation in the country’s democratic parliament. South Africa is often called the "Rainbow Nation" to recognize its diversity in the wake of its apartheid history.


South African contains some of the oldest archeological finds in terms of human fossils. Some finds have supported claims that hominid species existed in Africa as far back as three million years ago. One of South Africa’s more modern, and far more recognizable, faces is that of Nelson Mandela, the first black President of the Republic. Other celebrity figures arise from the sporting world, which consists mostly of soccer, rugby, and cricket in South Africa. However, famous boxing figures include Baby Jake Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Dingaan Thobela, and, of course, International Boxing Hall of Famer, Brian Mitchell.

In total, South Africa boasts thirty-one world boxing champions since 1950. Vic Toweel became the nation’s first world champion when he won the bantamweight title from Manuel Ortiz on points. Toweel reigned for two years as champion. On one defense, Toweel earned a place in the Guinness book of world records by scoring fourteen knockdowns of Danny O’ Sullivan before stopping him in the tenth. At this writing, South Africa does not possess any reigning world champions; however, numerous fighters from this region do hold lesser titles not universally recognized by the general boxing public.


The following four boxers compromise the best of South Africa’s elite fighters today:


4.) Simphiwe Khonco, 17-5-0 (7), had a rough start to his career going 6-4 over his first ten outings. However, the Mthatha, Eastern Cape native has hit a nice stride, losing only once in his last twelve bouts. That narrow defeat was to fellow countryman Hekkie Budler in a 105-pound world title bid. Khonco pushed the then champion tough for twelve rounds and the final scores raised quite a few eyebrows. The Budler defeat is sandwiched by two defeats of undefeated prospects in Nhlanhla Ngamtwini (KO 4) and Siyabongo Siyo (UD 12). In his most recent outing, "Chain Reaction" scored a unanimous decision over Nkosinathi Joyi to forge his most salient victory. Khonco is rated eighth by SecondsOut and ninth by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. Khonco has held the South African title and currently holds a lesser alphabet title.


3.) Hekkie Budler, 31-2-0 (10), recently moved up to the light flyweight division after losing his alphabet title at minimumweight to Byron Rojas in early 2016. As a minimumweight, Budler, known as the "Hexecutioner", built his early career with a pair of wins over Juanito Rubillar and another over Michael Landero before outboxing former world champion Florante Condes. Budler, 28, followed that up with an impressive win over Nkosinathi Joyi, which led him to his first major world title bout. Budler put together a string of stoppages over Hugo Verchelli, Karluis Diaz, and Pigmy Kokietgym as champion. He also defeated popular Chinese minimumweight Chao Zhong Xiong and top contender Jesus Silvestre on points. The Khonco victory followed and was perhaps a harbinger for what was to come next against Rojas. Budler was outboxed by the Nicaraguan fighter, but remained competitive throughout the bout even if the scores were a tad generous to him. Since losing his belt, Budler has beaten Siyabongo Siyo and Joey Canoy for marginal titles. Budler, from Johannesburg, has taken over the number ten spot of SecondsOut’s light flyweight rankings.


2.) Simpiwe Vetyeka, 29-3-0 (17), first fought for a world title back in 2007 when he lost a unanimous decision to Hozumi Hasegawa at bantamweight. Vetyeka went 8-1 following that defeat before capitalizing on a big opportunity in Indonesia by stopping Daud Cino Yordan in the twelfth round. The victory led Vetyeka to another world title opportunity against, Yordan’s countryman, Chris John. Vetyeka fought wildly with his high-energy bouncing style, but landed enough right hand bombs to force the champion to surrender. Vetyeka, 36, took John’s title and unbeaten record in 2013, but he did not enjoy a lengthy reign as he lost a technical decision to Nonito Donaire five months later. Vetyeka was down in round four, but an accidental clash of heads produced a cut on Donaire that squashed any hope of a comeback. Vetyeka is 3-0 since the Donaire loss, but he has fought week opposition on his home turf and has been surpassed by a number of featherweight contenders in terms of impressive showings and activities. Vetyeka, a resident of Duncan Village, Eastern Cape, still holds a number three ranking by the TBRB. He meets Hungary’s David Berna on February 18.


1.) Zolani Tete, 24-3-0 (20), is a former super flyweight title holder, who vacated the belt to campaign as a full-time bantamweight. He started his career as a flyweight, but unsuccessfully tried for the world title against fellow countryman Moruti Mthalane. Tete was unfortunate in two world title elimination bouts, losing by split scores in both bouts while fighting in enemy territory. Nevertheless, Tete made good on his next world title opportunity and stopped defending champion Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. in ten rounds of a bout which saw both men down and deducted points for fouls. The rangy Tete fought well off the back foot and landed a massive overhand left to the jaw that finished the champion. Another signature win for Tete was a bout many predicted he would lose to Paul Butler. However, Tete took the British boxer into deep waters and drowned him with a savage uppercut in the eighth. Tete has won four more times since the Butler bout, but none of significant profile. He’s 2-0 as a bantamweight and has a match with Arthur Villanueva scheduled for April 8. Tete is ranked seventh at bantamweight by SecondsOut.

Also deserving mention, the incredibly frustrating flyweight Moruti Mthalane, who just might be the best fighter from South Africa today, but fights so infrequently and is consistently dropped from the SecondsOut rankings he was eliminated from consideration. Old warhorse Malcolm Klassen is still active and winning. He’s not lost since 2013 and could arguably sit in the fourth spot instead of Khonco. Lightweight Xolisani Ndongeni is a prospect on the rise with a couple of decent domestic wins, but may be a fighter of tomorrow or the near future with something still to prove to be ranked ahead of his countrymen.

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