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Opinion

10 of the best South African fighters

South African fighters
Steve Grayson/WireImage
As Conor Benn prepares to welcome South Africa’s Chris van Heerden to the UK, we take a look at the top 10 South African fighters who became belt-holders

1. Brian Mitchell
In 1986, a 10th-round stoppage of Alfredo Layne landed Mitchell the WBA super-featherweight title, which he defended 11 times. He defeated Tony Lopez in a 1991 rematch (having drawn) to claim the IBF belt.

2. Corrie Sanders
A southpaw heavyweight with crushing power, Sanders is remembered for knocking out Wladimir Klitschko inside two rounds to win the WBO heavyweight title in 2003. He later surrendered the belt to Vitali.

3. Mbulelo Botile
Botile knocked out Harold Mestre inside two rounds in 1995 to win the IBF bantamweight title, then defended this belt five times. He later went to featherweight to take the IBF title from Paul Ingle.

4. Thulani Malinga
Awkward and with an eye for an upset, Malinga held the WBC super-middleweight title twice between 1996 and 1998, beating the likes of Nigel Benn and Robin Reid, as well as giving Chris Eubank all he could handle.

5. Vuyani Bungu
Although known for losing against ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed in March 2000, Bungu, before that, had defeated Kennedy McKinney in ’94.

6. Lehlohonolo Ledwaba
Ledwaba won the IBF super-bantamweight title in May 1999 when outpointing John Michael Johnson over 12 rounds. He defended the belt on six occasions before losing against Manny Pacquiao in 2001.

7. Zolani Tete
One of South Africa’s more recent stars, Tete won belts at super-flyweight and bantamweight before a shocking one-round loss to John Riel Casimero sent his career into a tailspin in 2019.

8. Gerrie Coetzee
After losing WBA heavyweight title shots against John Tate and Mike Weaver in ’79 and ’80, Coetzee got it right at the third time of asking by knocking out the unbeaten Michael Dokes in 10 rounds in 1983. Known in the UK for being flattened by Frank Bruno in 1986.

9. Jacob Matlala
‘Baby’ Jake rebounded from a patchy start to his pro career, as well as a loss to Dave McAuley, to lift the WBO flyweight title in 1993. He lost that belt in his fourth defence, then dropped to light-flyweight to win a second WBO title in ’95.

10. Welcome Ncita
Known as the ‘Hawk’, Ncita beat Fabrice Benichou in March 1990 to win the IBF super-bantamweight title, a belt he defended six times before losing against Kennedy McKinney.

Read our Conor Benn vs Chris Van Heerden preview here

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