Premium Journalist
2 minute read
23 Oct 2018
7:56 pm

Wheelchair-bound boxing champ still oozes charisma


Former Transvaal middleweight champion Leo Simelane's positive approach to life is an example to all who meet him

Leo 'Ali' Simelane at home. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng.

Leo Simelane, whose slick ring moves used to delight spectators, is now confined to a wheelchair.

But the former Transvaal middleweight champion’s positive approach to life is an example to all who meet him, and he still attends tournaments and always comes up smiling.

Simelane was a popular and charismatic boxer in the 1980s when his fans cheered his flashy moves, which were styled on those of his hero, Muhammad Ali.

But the man who fought the likes of Bushy Bester, Gregory Clark and Bruce McIntyre all South African champions ended up in a wheelchair.

Both his legs had to be amputated well above the knees because of diabetes.

Like many other sports stars, Vikinduku Leo Simelane who was born on November 9, 1959, was brought up in Soweto.

He was 14 years old when his father, Lot Simelane, started teaching him the basics of boxing.

Lot, who boxed as a professional from 1955 to 1964 and challenged for the Transvaal featherweight title, twice drew with the highly rated Levi Madi, who was regarded as a legend of SA boxing.

After winning 48 of about 60 amateur fights he made his professional debut in May 1979, with Reg Nkosi as his trainer.

In his first fight, Simelane stopped Bonginkose Buthelezi in the first round at the KwaThema Civic Centre in Springs.

He also won his next six fights in style before losing on a hotly disputed decision over six rounds to Nathan Tefo Moloi in Sebokeng in November 1980.

On October 3 the next year they met again, with the vacant Transvaal middleweight title at stake.

The tournament was held at the Portuguese Hall in Johannesburg and revenge was sweet when Simelane knocked out Moloi in the second round.

The result set him up to challenge SA middleweight champion, Bruce McIntyre, only four weeks later.

They clashed at the Ellis Park tennis stadium, where Simelane took a beating. Referee Jules van der Hoogen counted him out in the fourth round.

The likeable Simelane never really recovered from that defeat. He seemed to have lost his confidence and was beaten in six of his next nine fights before he retired.

Simelane retired with a record of 12-10, including 10 wins inside the distance, which is not a true reflection of his talent.

For more sport your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.