By Ron Jackson
Photo: Jeff Ellis
Charlie Els, one of a select group of boxers who held three SA titles, has died in Durban. He was 74 years old.
Charles William Els, who was born in Boksburg on October 5, 1937, died last Saturday. His fights against Ernie Baronet, Bennie van Nieuwenhuizen, Mickey Pretorius, Bill Dollery and Fraser Toweel were part of a golden era in SA boxing. Els made his professional debut on June 24, 1957 when he knocked out Steve Evenwell in the second round. The tournament was held at Modderfontein, near Johannesburg. In his fourth fight, Els lost on points to Pat van Biljon but he soon stopped Louis Klopper in the ninth round to win the vacant Transvaal featherweight title. On February 2, 1959, in only his twelfth fight, Els outpointed Baronet in Durban to take the SA featherweight title. However, on May 1 the same year he lost the title to Baronet. Els was knocked out in the second round when he fought Dave Stone at the Empire Pool in Wembley, London. And when he returned to South Africa, Pretorius beat him on points over six rounds. But he got his career back on track by winning five of his next six fights.
After impressive wins against Ken Moller and Rudy van der Westhuizen, Els outpointed Van Nieuwenhuizen over 12 rounds to win the vacant SA lightweight title. The bout, held in the Drill Hall in Johannesburg on March 27, 1961, was a classic exhibition of the art of boxing. I still treasure the memory of that wonderful fight between two brilliant boxers. In June the same year, Els and Pretorius met again. This time they fought for the vacant SA welterweight title.
In one of his best performances, Els won by knockout in the eighth round, avenging the points loss to the man who had represented South Africa at the 1954 Empire Games in Canada. Els never defended the title. The SA Boxing Board, after first sanctioning the fight, changed the decision and did not recognise the bout as a title fight. However, most record keepers have always regarded it as a legitimate title fight.
Switching between divisions, Els retained the SA lightweight title in a fight against Dollery before losing it in a return match on March 17, 1962. He challenged Dollery again, but lost once again. However, in July 1962, Els regained the title from Dollery – and then lost it to the same opponent in December the same year. In 1963, Els won only one of his six bouts, losing three in a row to his nemesis, Fraser Toweel. In 1964 he lost to Portugal Nunez, Sammy McSpadden and Joe Horn before retiring with a record of 31-15-2, including 12 knockouts.
Els was a better fighter than his record suggests because eight of his defeats came in his last ten fights. Willy Locke, who trained Els for most said he was one of the best fighters he had ever handled.