There is no name in the annals of South African boxing which resounds louder than that of the “fighting Toweels”; even the redoubtable Steyn family would doubtless concede that.
Willie, the last of the original brothers, failed to answer the final gong, passing away at 83 at his Johannesburg home on Christmas evening.
It was in a sad way a fitting time to go for the doyen of the Toweel family, “Papa Mike” had been a confirmed churchgoer and attended daily mass at his local church throughout his life.
He had seven children: Jimmy, born in 1926; Victor in 1928; Maurice in 1930; Alan in 1931; Willie in 1934; Fraser in 1936; and a daughter Maureen in 1939 – all of them staunchly religious and the sons as deeply embedded in the fight game as their father.
Jimmy, the oldest of the brothers, won the South African lightweight title in 1949, beating Fanie Bushney on a TKO at the old Wembley Stadium, a venue where he lost the title the following year to Gerald Dreyer – winner of gold and the Val Barker Cup at the 1948 London Olympics, where Papa Mike trained four of the eight SA Olympians.
But it was Viccie, the “Benoni Woodcarver”, who won South Africa’s first universal world championship, still the only SA fighter to have won an undisputed crown when after only 13 professional fights he beat Manuel Ortiz on points.
Willie, the fifth brother, won the British Empire lightweight title from Smiler van Rensburg on May 19, 1956. But two months before this, the heart fell out of his career when he knocked out Hubert Esakow in the 11th round and Esakow, hospitalised, never recovered.
Although Toweel had fought a draw for the world bantamweight title against France’s Robert Cohen, he was never the same again.