Former champion Jaji Sbali puts on the gloves in Philippi

Former South African Boxing Champion Jaji Sbali puts Aphiwe Myoyo through his paces in Philippi. Photo by Siyabonga Kalipa.

Siyabonga Kalipa

23 May 2014

Former champion flyweight and junior bantamweight Jaji Sbali from Mdantsane - the home of so many champion boxers - is determined to teach young boxers in Philippi the sport he loves.

Sbali started boxing at eleven years old in 1975, after growing up in a township where this was the most popular sport. But he didn’t take the sport seriously until 1986 when he turned professional.

Sbali says, “After my seventh fight, boxing promoter Mzi Mnguni came to me and told me I would be fighting Johannes Miya in a week in 1988. That is the fight that made people aware of Jaji because I knocked him out in the 9th round.”

He went on to win his first championship, the flyweight, in 1989 and he defended his title against Baby Jake Matlala whom he beat by points. He kept the belt for three years until 1992.

“I lost my title in 1992 against Andrew Matyila. But I did not stay without a title for long because in the same year a new division was introduced called the Junior Bantam Weight. And I became the first champion since the title was vacant.”

Most boxers retire when they get old and out of shape and lose most of their fights, and some stop as a result of health problems. Sbali continued fighting with a cut above his left eye - inflicted when he was defending his flyweight title against Daniel Waard - which would bleed whenever he fought.

He says, “My last title defence was in 1998 but unfortunately I lost when I was knocked out. And because of the cut above my eye I decided to stop boxing.” He started coaching amateurs in Mdantsane and started giving professional boxers pointers.

In 2006 he moved to Cape Town where he joined Umanyano Boxing Club in Philippi.

“When I joined Umanyano I was tasked with training young boxers for a tournament that was known as Baby Champs and two of my boxers, Simphiwe Tom and Thanduxolo Gatyeni, won the baby champs.”

Simphiwe Tom, now 26 says of his coach, “You get motivated even before coach trains you, because you know he is a former champion. One thing I’ve learnt from him which is very important in boxing is discipline. He doesn’t teach it, but you see how disciplined he is and you want to be just like him.”

This very soft spoken divorced father of one said he couldn’t live off boxing anymore and he had to look for work.

“Since I have been involved in sport all my life I managed to get a job with the Western Cape Department of Sports, which is where I work even today.”

He teaches soccer and netball to school children at Isiphiwo Primary in Khayelitsha and everyday after work he puts up and coming boxers through their paces in Vuyiseka High School where Umanyano Boxing Club is based.

“We are not getting support from anyone. We do everything ourselves,” he says. “If our boxers can get many fights - a tournament every month - we would once again have more champions from the Cape. Boxers don’t want to just train and get no action, they are hungry for fights.”