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Peter Mathebula

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Terror's special place in history

by Ron Jackson 16/08/2012, 12:44

Peter Mathebula earned himself a special place in SA boxing history when he won the WBA flyweight title in 1980.

The date was December 13, and Mathebula beat Tae Shik Kim from South Korea on points in the Olympic Arena in Los Angeles to take the belt.

Mathebula, who was born on July 3, 1952 and spent his early years in the Mohlakeng Township near Randfontein in Gauteng, became the first black South African to win a world title.

Only three other South Africans – Willie Smith, Arnold Taylor and Vic Toweel – were regarded as world champions before “Terror” Mathebula defeated Kim.

Mathebula, sporting a collection of scars that he had picked up in street fights, left South Africa almost unnoticed to go challenge the champion. Only two sports writers went to see him off at the airport.

In a way, he was well prepared for the daunting task. He had grown up in an area where violence was part of life. He became, from the age of ten, a tough street-fighter.

The 23-year-old Kim, from Seoul, was a feared fighter. He had knocked out 11 opponents in his 16 fights. His only loss was in his debut as a professional in September 1977. He won the WBA title when knocked out Luis Ibarra, who had a record of 19-1, in the second round.

After retaining the title against Arnel Arrozal, Kim was the overwhelming favourite when he took on the little-known South African in a fight scheduled for 15 rounds.

At the bell for the first round, Mathebula rushed in and started throwing punches in an effort to stop the champion early. But when it became clear that Kim could take his best punches, trainer Willie Lock told Mathebula to pace himself and stay in close.

Mathebula used his jab to outbox Kim, who soon resorted to using his elbows, butting and even hitting on the break.

In the fourth round, when he head-butted the challenger again, an old cut above Mathebula’s right eye opened. The doctor was called in to examine the damage in the sixth round, but let the fight go on.

In the fourteenth round the desperate Korean launched a vicious attack but Mathebula hung on until the bell.

The courageous South African’s eye was swollen nearly shut but he launched an all-out attack in the final round to earn a split-decision win – 145-143 on two cards against 145-142 for Kim.


Mathebula received his first boxing lesson from Jake Mashigo, who had fought as a lightweight in the late 1960s. Mashigo first saw the youngster when he was taking some members of his boxing club on a training run.

They were passing some shops when a boy of about nine years old joined the group – and stayed with them. The lad soon became a regular at the beerhall where the training sessions were held.

He had his first fight in Roodepoort when he weighed about 21 kg. He beat up his opponent and Mashigo afterwards told him his opponent was nicknamed Terror. But because there was no “terror” left in him, the name was transferred to young Peter.

In 1969, after winning most of his bouts, he teamed up with Theo Mthembu and Ted Khasibe at the Siphiwe Amalgamated Boxing Club in Dobsonville.

He made his professional debut in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, on July 10, 1971 when he beat Sidwell Mhlongo on points over four rounds.

However, he lost two of three fights in 1972 and had only one fight in 1973, when he defeated Joe Ngidi in Durban. But Ngidi stopped him in the fourth round of a return match in June 1974.

Ngidi won the vacant SA flyweight title on August 1, 1975 when he beat William Molatudi, but he lost it to Mathebula, who won by stoppage, in his first defence on May 1, 1976.


Before winning the SA title, Mathebula had beaten William Molatudi to take over the Transvaal flyweight title, which he retained against Johannes Sithebe in the second bout of a seven-fight series between the two.

All were exciting battles that went the full distance, except for their last one in September 1980, which Sithebe was stopped in the ninth round. In four of the fights the SA flyweight title was at stake.

Mathebula also made successful defences against Ngidi, winning both fights inside the distance, before facing his first imported opponent, Freddie Hernandez, in Johannesburg. He was well beaten.

However, he then won ten fights, seven inside the distance. One was for the vacant SA bantamweight title against Leslie Pikoli, whom he knocked out in the eighth round in Port Elizabeth on February 3, 1979.

He retained the title against Vincent Ngcobo but lost if when Welile Nkosinkulu stopped him in the ninth round in December 1979.

Dave Wolpert and Bobby Toll, who had just taken over as his management, felt a lot better when Mathebula recovered to beat Godfrey Nkate and Johannes Sithebe before being matched with Kim.

They were supposed to fight in South Korea in May 1980 but Mathebula and his countrymen Raymond Slack, Willie Lock and Stanley Christodoulou were refused visas and had to abort the trip in Hong Kong.

Mike Mortimer, chairman of the WBA rating committee, then struck a deal with the Korean Boxing Commission for the fight to be held in Los Angeles or Argentina.

After beating Kim in Los Angeles, Mathebula received a hero’s welcome in Johannesburg. He was named SA Boxing World/King Korn Fighter of the Year and his trainer, Willie Lock, received the Man of the Year award.


Mathebula was scheduled to make the first defence of his title against Shigo Nakajima of Japan, but negotiations broke down and he was matched with Santos Lacier from Argentina.

They fought at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on March 28, 1981. Laciar began to dominate after a slow first three rounds and knocked Mathebula down in the fourth and fifth.

With his left eye cut, a tired-looking Mathebula came out for the seventh round. Laciar pounced and dropped the champion again.

Mathebula beat the count but soon afterward indicated to referee American Stanley Berg that he was unable to see through the blood flowing from his eye. The fight was stopped two minutes and two seconds into the round.

Some local supporters were so disappointed that they turned against Mathebula, whom they felt had let them down. “He drank and ate carelessly and forgot his responsibilities as a world champion,” one fan was quoted as saying.

As WBA champion, Mathebula had indeed attended many functions. He had to dance to the tune of sponsors and did not train hard enough. He also probably underestimated Laciar.

It was later revealed that he was 3 kg over the weight limit on the eve of the fight. He spent two hours in a sauna, which left him drained and weak.

As a former WBA champion, he was still in demand and was offered a fight against another former WBA flyweight champion, Venezuelan Betulio Gonzalez. They met in Maracaibo in June 1981 and Mathebula as stopped in the tenth round.

In a return match in Maracaibo three months later was knocked out in the sixth round.

Fighting as a bantamweight in 1982, he beat Joseph Ngubane,who later won the SA bantamweight title, and knocked out Welile Nkosinkulu, lost to Matata Plaatjies and outpointed Siphiwo Fuma.

On April 16, 1983 he outpointed Mandla Booi and in his last fight, on August 12, the same year he won the Transvaal bantamweight title by stopping Jacob Molefe in the tenth round to finish with a record of 36 wins (17 inside the distance) and 9 losses.

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vs Tae Shik Kim Part 1/5

vs Tae Shik Kim Part 2/5

vs Tae Shik Kim Part 3/5

vs Tae Shik Kim Part 4/5

vs Tae Shik Kim Part 5/5

vs Santos Laciar

April 1, 1981

By JOSEPH LELYVELD, Special to the New York Times
JOHANNESBURG, March 31— He was called Terror, and for the heady 15 weeks he reigned as the first black South African to hold a world championship, virtually all sides in this starkly divided country, with the exception of a fringe of black political activists, were ready to claim him proudly as their own.

Peter (Terror) Mathebula was little known in South Africa before last December, when he won the World Boxing Association's flyweight title from a Korean named Tae Shik Kim in Los Angeles. Then suddenly even the Afrikaans-language press, which caters to the dominant white group and has little or no black readership, was proclaiming him excitedly ''Ons Wereldkampioen!'' - ''Our World Champion!''

Actually there was some question whether, under the country's laws, Mathebula was a South African at all. He is of Tswana tribal origins, and, with the supposed independence of the Tswana homeland - known as Bophuthatswana - all Tswanas have been theoretically shorn of their South African citizenship, even if they continue to live in South Africa. But Mathebula said he regarded himself a South African, and the Government gave him a South African passport. Only the opposition press was churlish enough to raise the question.

Portrayed as Invincible

In practice, he was fast becoming a citizen of the land of hype. He endorsed automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of sharp clothes. ''Peter Mathebula says, 'Mayfair apparel packs plenty of punch!' '' the hoardings declared.

When Mathebula signed for his first title defense, against the Argentine flyweight champion, Santos Laciar, South African boxing writers laid down a barrage of training-camp bulletins pointing to the invincibility of the champ, just as they had when they picked two home-grown heavyweights, Kallie Knoetze and Gerrie Coetzee, to flatten John Tate and Mike Weaver, respectively, in W.B.A. title bouts here. When Knoetze and Coetzee both faded before the unbelieving eyes of their Afrikaner fans, the black townships rejoiced riotously over the victories of the two black Americans.

The Laciar fight was to be held in Soweto, Johannesburg's sprawling black annex. Orlando Stadium, the promoters predicted, would be packed by more than 60,000 fans.

The gate seemed a sure thing. How could it possibly fail with the first black South African champion, a man with the scars to show for his scramble up from the back alleys of a South African township, fighting for his title in Soweto itself? Group Urges Boycott

The only discordant note came from a militant political group known as the Azanian People's Organization, which called for a boycott of the fight on the ground that international sporting events in South Africa are a propaganda boon to the Government, leaving an impression that racism is being overcome here as a factor in sports and the society at large. The Azanian People's Organization appeared to know from the start that a call to boycott the Mathebula fight would not be popular, but it was campaigning at the same time for a boycott of a concert by the O'Jays, the American soul group, and got trapped on the issue of consistency.

The boycott was promptly endorsed by the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid, which called on the Argentine Government to keep the challenger home. The South African Nonracial Olympic Committee, known as Sanroc, which is drawing up an international blacklist of athletes who compete here, was said to be adding Laciar to its list; also on the list was Floyd Patterson, the former heavyweight champion, who has become something of a fixture at big fights here, providing commentary for a radio station.

Then there was the controversy over which national anthem to play for the champion. Perhaps to show he was no ''sellout,'' he insisted on a hymn called, in translation, ''God Bless Africa,'' which is intimately associated with black freedom movements that have been banned here. As a compromise, it was determined that the black anthem and the official anthem, an Afrikaans hymn, would both be played. Disappointing Gate

On the morning of the fight, last Saturday, the local newspapers all had the champion's picture on their front pages in color. ''A Black Superstar,'' proclaimed the banner headline of a special supplement in the Rand Daily Mail. '' 'Terror' Set for Triumph.''

The boycott call had faded, but so had the gate, a victim of economics. The most expensive seats cost $130, more than many, possibly most, Soweto blacks earn in a month. And the number of whites prepared to pay that price to go to Soweto - prepared to go to Soweto at any price - remains small. Even the cheap seats, at a little more than $9 apiece, were more than twice what they are for a championship soccer match.

So Orlando Stadium was less than half full Saturday afternoon. But it rocked with cheers as Mathebula's entourage swept into the ring, passing the seat the white Minister for Cooperation and Development, Piet Koornhof, was occupying after much speculation in the press over whether he would dare attend, and close to the seat occupied by Dr. Nthato Motlana of the Soweto Committee of Ten, one of the township's most prominent anti-Government figures, who was defying the boycott call.

Mr. Koornhof, who has a kind of vice-regal authority over South Africa's black majority, was mildly booed when introduced by the ring announcer. Dr. Motlana was mildly cheered. Asked if he regarded Mathebula a South African, Mr. Koornhof replied: ''As far as I know, he's a South African. But look, please, I'm here to see a fight.'' A Remarkable Moment

Moments later, Mr. Koornhof found himself standing to attention for the black anthem. So did the high police officers in his vicinity. It was a strange and remarkable moment, for it was something, almost certainly, that no South African minister had ever done before. The crowd sang with passion, thrusting clenched fists into the air, in the traditional revolutionary salute.

If only Terror had then lived up to his name, there might have been a small but measurable surge of a new kind of national feeling in this country, one that was not racially defined. But the champion was tense, awkward and apparently not in shape. He seemed reluctant to use his right hand, and circled only to his left. The little Argentine, the kind of boxer who is usually called scrappy, missed regularly with flurries of looping left hooks and fierce right crosses in the early rounds, but gradually came closer to his mark.

A right to the head sent Mathebula to the canvas in round five for an 8-count, and moments later the groggy champion tumbled through the ropes and out of the ring. The referee said Mathebula had been pushed. It looked almost as if he had found a way out from a place he didn't want to be any longer. Mournful Crowd

The end came in the seventh when, rising after another 8-count, Mathebula - a terror no more - -hollered to his white trainer, ''Willie, I can't see.'' There were whoops and cries in Spanish from the Argentine contingent at ringside. But otherwise the stadium was silent as the technical knockout was announced.

The crowd filed out mournfully. No one stopped to notice Mr. Koornhof, who was standing quietly outside his car, waiting to share the new champion's motorcyle escort back to the city.

Suddenly everyone seemed to know what had gone wrong. Whites and blacks put it slightly differently, but the conclusion was the same. A white motorcycle policeman said, with no apparent satisfaction, that the black champion had started living too high too fast. ''They shouldn't have put him in a fancy hotel in Johannesburg,'' he said. ''They should have kept him in the condition he was in.''

A black from the township outside Randfontein where Mathebula lives said it was too many parties. Others wondered whether Mathebula had known all along that he couldn't live up to the expectations that had been generated in his name.

Soweto was vanishing behind its nightly haze of coal smoke as the new champion came out to board his bus. He blew kisses to the crowed. ''Argentina, Argentina,'' his handlers chanted, as if it was a football cheer. Then, as the motorcycle escort turned on its siren and the bus started to move, they switched cheers. ''Soweto, Soweto,'' they cried. The former fans of the former terror waved back.

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Legends Corner: When Peter 'Terror' Mathebula ruled the ring


PETER Mathebula grew up dreaming of becoming a professional soccer player but ended up in the boxing ring.

NATIONAL HERO: Peter 'Terror' Mathebula throws a punch at an opponent in one of his clashes.

STILL GOING STRONG: Peter Mathebula with one of his treasures. Photo: SIBUSISO MSIBI

Names: Peter Moleko

Surname: Mathebula

Nicknames: Terror, The Champ

Date of birth: July 7 1952

Age: 59

Place of birth: Mohlakeng on the West Rand

Family: Married to Emma since 1975. They have three grown up children

Favourite boxers: Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather

Favourite local football club: Orlando Pirates (I was wearing black and white colours and my gums were in the same colours when I won the world title)

Favourite overseas club: Barcelona

Favourite drink: Black Label (It defines me as it is the beer of the champs and I'm a champion)

First cars: Chevrolet Firenza and Chevrolet 4.1

Current car: None

How does he relax? Reading a lot of boxing magazines and listening to jazz and reggae

Honours: WBA world flyweight champion and SA flyweight and bantamweight champion

Pet hate: People who are provocative and look down on others

This week we visited the man nicknamed "Terror" because of his reign of terror inside the ring.

Can you take us through the night of December 13 1980 at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, when you captured that historic WBA world flyweight crown?

I thought I was dreaming. The reality of me being the first black South African world champion did not sink in immediately. I did not believe that I beat an incredible boxer like Tae-Shik Kim. I won on a split decision and you can imagine my anxiety before the final announcement. But I remained hopeful about my chances because I believed I did well (enough) to convince the judges. When the ring announcer paused a bit before making the final verdict, I nearly stopped breathing . But seconds later the announcer screamed 'and the new WBA flyweight champion of the world, Peter Terroooooor Mathebulaaaaaa!' I nearly collapsed with joy. It was unbelievable.

How did you celebrate the victory?

I had drinks with my trainer Willie Lock, manager Bobby Toll and Dr Labuschagne until the wee hours of the morning at the hotel. I couldn't sleep, though, because I was overwhelmed by excitement. I went to the dining room and stood in front of a world map and boasted, 'this world is now aware who Peter "Terror" Mathebula is'.

How much did you earn?

It was $7500.

How was the reception back home?

Unbelievable! I've never seen so many people overjoyed by one's victory. Their celebrations at the airport just reminded me how important the title was. I was given a hero's welcome. I was humbled to see white people welcoming me. My wife and children were there screaming my name. We were driven as a family through the streets of Johannesburg up to my house in Mohlakeng. The party continued throughout the weekend, or was it a month?

How did winning the world title change your life?

I learnt to appreciate life more than before and embrace people. Sometimes I used to cry for what people were doing for me and my family. We received groceries from local shops and my children also received school uniforms and books free of charge. I was given the freedom of Mohlakeng.

You failed in your first title defence against Santos Bengino Laciar at home over three months after you became a hero. What happened?

Too much celebrating cost me my title, perhaps. To be honest, though, Santos was not in my class but I lost that fight (a seventh-round TKO) because my mind was not in that fight. There was a serious family matter that was bothering me.

Were you also not focused when you lost against Betulio Gonzalez in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on June 21 of that same year?

I was fit as a fiddle because I knew the type of a boxer I was facing, a three-time world champion. I dominated most of the rounds and somebody realised that I was winning and he decided to cheat in the final round. I heard the sound of the bell in round 10 and decided to stop fighting. The referee interpreted that as a retreat. He declared Gonzalez the winner. I was very upset to have lost in that manner and my camp immediately called for a rematch, which took place four months later.

Again the fight was staged in Gonzalez's home town and the same thing happened, but this time he stopped me in the sixth round. He hit me from behind as I was walking to my corner as I thought the round was over after hearing the bell. But the referee insisted that there was no bell. I could not stand up.

You quit after winning your last fight - a 10th-round TKO against Jacob "Killer" Molefe in Sebokeng on August 12 1983. Why did you quit then, especially after you seemed to have rediscovered your form?

I was 31 when I quit and you guys from the Sowetan were starting to poke fun at me. You called me madala. But I wanted to quit on a high considering that my win over Molefe was the third in a row. I'm happy that I'm not lost to the game as I'm currently training aspiring boxers in Mohlakeng.

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