‘Baby Jake’ Matlala was larger than life

Mourners reflect the life of four-time world boxing champion Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, 11 December 2013, during his Memorial Service in Nasrec, Johannesburg. Former president Nelson Mandela, who died two days before Matlala, shared a historical moment when after his last bout in his career he handed Madiba his belt. Picture: Alaister Russell

Size was never an issue in Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala’s illustrious boxing career, mourners were told at a memorial service held in his honour at the Nasrec Expo Centre near Soweto yesterday.

Matlala died at 51, just days after the death of former President Nelson Mandela last week.

Speaker after speaker spoke of their fondness for Matlala.

Former boxer Dingaan Thobela described him as a great athlete and an inspiration. “I always looked up to him,” Thobela said.

Former welterweight champion, Jan Bergman, could not hold back his tears as he spoke of Matlala, who was also his son’s godfather.

“Jake was a brother, a friend and everything to me,” Bergman said. “He was a go-getter who never gave up, even when he lost some of the fights he was involved in.”

Another legend, Brian Mitchell, said Matlala would never let fame go to his head. “Baby Jake was a humble people’s person who would never mind if he was asked for an autograph,” Mitchell said.

Yesterday’s memorial service for the four-time world champion was held inside a boxing ring and was attended by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Gauteng MEC for sports and recreation Lebogang Maile.

“He was profoundly full of life,” Maile said.

Mbalula said Matlala would always be remembered.

Peter Ngatane, president of the Commonwealth Boxing Council and former chairman of Boxing SA, said Matlala was a humble and spiritual man who took education seriously. “He also used to encourage other boxers to do something to improve their education,” he said.

Matlala had 68 fights in his career, winning 53, 26 of them by knockout, drawing two and losing 13. He is survived by his wife, Mapule and two sons.

today in print

today in print