By Ron Jackson
Peter ‘Terror’ Mathebula, the first black South African boxer to win a world title, has died near Johannesburg on Sunday, January 19 according to his family. He was 67. Mathebula, who earned himself a special place in SA boxing history when he won the WBA flyweight title in 1980, passed away three weeks after being admitted to the hospital.
On December 13, 1980, Mathebula beat Tae Shik Kim from South Korea on points at the Olympic Arena in Los Angeles to take the belt. It was a split decision.
Mathebula, who was born on July 3, 1952 spent his early years in the Mohlakeng Township near Randfontein in Gauteng.
Only three other South Africans – Willie Smith, Arnold Taylor and Vic Toweel – were regarded as world champions before Mathebula defeated Kim.
He made his professional debut in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, on July 10, 1971 when he beat Sidwell Mhlongo on points over four rounds and would also go on to win the South African flyweight and bantamweight titles.
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.
He was scheduled to make the first defense 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 and 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.
I was at the fight and it was one of the saddest moments of my boxing life to see Peter surrender his title so easily.
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.
Peter had his last fight on August 12, 1983 at the Mphatlalatsane Amphitheatre in Sebokeng and finished with a record of 36 wins (17 inside the distance) and 9 losses.
After retiring from the ring he trained a number of fighters.
I met Peter on a number of occasions and will always remember his wonderful smile and when I heard of his passing I had cold shivers as I had only placed a story on his career on the Supersport boxing website on Friday January 17.