The Rose aims to turn back the clock

BY Deon Potgieter ON July 12, 2006
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Former 3-time world champion Dingaan “The Rose of Soweto” Thobela will be making a comeback to the ring in September. A number of fight options are on the table and news of who his opponent will be and where the fight will take place is expected to be revealed in the next week or so.

“I’m not done yet,” says Thobela who has started training following a two year absence from the ring. “I’m not satisfied with my last few fights. In most instances I took them on short notice and was not properly prepared when climbing into the ring. This time it will be a different story and I will be in there to win.”

Thobela, who previously held the WBO and WBA lightweight world titles as well as the WBC super middleweight world title, has long been regarded as the most naturally talented boxer to emerge from South Africa to not live up to his full potential. Even with three credible world titles, public expectations have always been higher.

In essence it is those self same expectations which drive Thobela to want to wrap up his career on a high note. He feels that he still owes his fans a fitting end to his career. “I’m looking at between 4-6 more fights,” says Thobela, “and who knows maybe there’s another world title in the mix as well.”

One of the fights which earned Thobela huge international acclaim was ironically one he lost. At least on the judges’ scorecards. It was his first match against Tony “The Tiger” Lopez for the WBA lightweight world title which took place on February 12 1993

As with the majority of Lopez’s fights the bout took place in his hometown of Sacramento (Calif.). Lopez record stood on 41 wins with 29 knockouts, 3 losses and 1 draw. Besides holding the WBA lightweight world title he had had two stints at holding the IBF junior lightweight world title. The Thobela bout in Sacramento was his 12th world title bout.

Thobela’s record stood on 27 wins, 1 draw with 15 knockouts and he had earlier relinquished the WBO lightweight world title following 2 successful defenses.

From the start of the fight it was clear that Lopez was in for a torrid time. Thobela moved swiftly around the ring shooting out razor-sharp jabs and hurting him with his precision placed uppercuts. Lopez tried in vain to come back into the fight in the middle rounds with a fierce body attack, but Thobela kept his composure and shot out a number of telling counterpunches.

“We made sure that I was maintaining a higher work-rate than Lopez was throughout the fight.” says Thobela “I went all out in the first and last minute of each round, so that I could be the aggressor in at least two out of three minutes of each round. If you’re only aggressive for the first two minutes, then while you’re taking a breather in the last minute of the round, that’s when your opponent can come in and pile up some points. What happens in the last minute of a round is often what determines the judges scoring. That’s what Sugar Ray Leonard did in his fight with Marvin Hagler. He ran away for most of the round and then in the last minute of each round he stormed in and threw as many punches as he could. If a fighter does that then when the bell rings, he is looking more impressive. That confuses some judges and they give the round to him.”

In the later rounds of their fight Thobela had Lopez in trouble and backpedaling. By the time the last round came around, Lopez’s face was a bloody mess and he was doing all he could to survive. Thobela drove him to the ropes with a hard right hand and was on the verge of dropping the valiant champion, when the bell ended the fight. It was clear who the winner of the contest was. It was however not his hand which was raised, it was the hand of Lopez.

“I never expected Dingaan to beat Lopez,” says Brian Mitchell “but he really looked good. I was very impressed with the way he handled him and definitely he won that fight. He was just too fast for Lopez.”

“There was only one guy in the media in that arena, plus the officials who thought Lopez had won,” says boxing doyen Bert Blewett. “Everyone else believed that Dingaan had deserved the decision.”

Even though he had suffered a dubious defeat, Thobela proved himself a gracious competitor by congratulating Lopez after the decision was announced in the ring. He did so again at the post-fight press conference. He added, however; “Deep down he knows Dingaan Thobela is the champion.”

There had been an outcry when Mitchell was awarded a draw against Lopez in their first encounter in Sacramento, but it was a divided reaction. Many of the US media present felt that the decision was fair and even that perhaps Lopez deserved a win, while the South African media felt their boy had won. What was different this time however was that the US media sided with Thobela. Some even felt that his “loss” was a more convincing win than Mitchell’s victory over Lopez in their second fight, also in Sacramento.

A few examples of how the Lopez-Thobela fight was seen by those at ringside. Jim Jenkins of the Sacramento Bee, Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle and US TV commentator Bob Spagnola all gave the bout to Thobela by 4 points. Bert Blewett and South African Press Association’s Mark Beer gave Thobela a 3 point win, while Mike Wise of the Sacramento Union gave him a 1 point victory. Veteran US fight manager Ted Walker saw Thobela as a 6 point winner. So it continued.

Back in South Africa news papers were inundated by letters from the public protesting the result and radio stations had their lines clogged by callers, black and white, saying their man had been robbed. Nelson Mandela himself called the WBA to lodge an objection as well as sent a message of congratulations to Thobela on his performance.

Even the WBA fight administrator Joas Icaza approached Norman after the bout and said that he did not agree with the judges’ verdict and that he must lodge a written objection to the WBA.

Never in the history of boxing in South Africa has there ever been such a public and unanimous outcry with regard a bad decision rendered in a boxing tournament and never has there ever been such a unified show of support for any one South African sport’s figure. Although Dingaan had been denied his second world boxing title, he had established himself as South Africa’s number one boxer and more importantly a national sporting hero.

Many fighters in the past have tried to turn back the clock and failed, time as we all find out waits for no man, but as Rodney Berman said prior to Thobela claiming the WBC super-middleweight title from Glen Catley; “It would take a phenomenal effort from Dingaan to win this one. Then again, if there is anybody in the history of South African boxing who was capable of going up against the odds and coming out a winner, it’s Dingaan. If anybody could do it, it would be Dingaan Thobela.”

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