By Ron Jackson
One of the legends of the South African ring Nkosana “Happyboy’ Mgxaji passed away in Durban on Thursday. He was 61. Happyboy was probably the best of the many outstanding fighters from the Eastern Cape. He was certainly one of the best South African boxers who never won a world title. Mgxaji had lost only once in 73 fights when, at the age of 30, he challenged Samuel Serrano of Puerto Rico for the WBA junior lightweight title.
They met before an estimated crowd of 6 000 at the Cape Show Grounds in Goodwood, Cape Town, on April 14, 1979.
Mxaji’s “go-go gyrations” gave Serrano problems at the start. However, the SA Boxing World reported that there was no happiness for Happyboy, who “clowned” his way through the bout.
Serrano, defending his title for the ninth time, tagged Mgxaji with a whiplash left hook to the jaw and a rasping right to the body in the eighth round.
The force of the blows sent Mxaji backwards. He staggered to his feet at the count of eight but was in no condition to continue. His chief second, Ronnie Madinda, threw in the towel and referee Larry Rozadilla stopped the fight 1 minute 34 seconds into the round.
However, the South African had enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the fifth round when he dropped the champion with a cracking right to the jaw.
Instead of following up, he stood back and allowed Serrano to recover.
He eventually retired with a record of 88 wins, 9 losses, 4 draws and 26 knockouts.
Mgxaji, a slim Xhosa, was born in Tsolo Location, which later became Duncan Village, near East London, on September 18, 1949.
He began boxing at the age of eight when he learnt the game in the Peacock Hall. He called himself “Blueboy” but later switched to “Happyboy,” which referred to his late brother.
On June 24, 1972, Mxaji had his first crack at a national title when he took on Anthony Morodi for the SA junior lightweight belt at Jabulani, near Johannesburg.
Morodi was too experienced and Mgxaji suffered his first loss, beaten on points over 12 rounds.
When Mxaji beat Moses Mthembu on points over eight rounds on September 2, 1972, it was the first time that boxing had been staged at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane. He regularly attracted crowds of more than 25 000 to the venue later in his career.
No other fighter from the Eastern Cape, including world champions Welcome Ncita, Mbulelo Botile and Vuyani Bungu, ever attracted crowds of that size.
On June 30, 1973, he fought Morodi in a return match and won the SA title. In December that year retained the title with a points win over Alfred Buqwana, who is still one of the top SA ring officials.
From 1975 to 1978, he won 16 fights, beating highly rated imports such as Antonio Amaya (Panama), Hyun Chi Kim (Korea), Norman Goins (US), Antonio Jumao-Es (Panama), Langton Tinago (Rhodesia) and Willie Rodriguez (US).
Among the local fighters he defeated were former or future SA champions such as Norman Sekgapane, Thomas Sithebe, Manuel de Paiva and Eddie Mileham.
He won the vacant “Supreme” SA junior lightweight title when he stopped De Paiva in the eighth round.
His first fight against Norman “Pangaman” Sekgapane, in August 1976, ended in a draw after six rounds when the police stopped the fight because of rioting among the spectators.
However, in a return match three months later, Mgxaji won convincingly over ten rounds.
The year 1979 started badly for Mxaji when he was stopped by Serrano in his first and only crack at a world title. In June the same year he was outpointed by Tsietse Maretloane.
In August, he lost his SA junior lightweight title when he failed to make the weight for a fight against Evans Gwiji, even though he won on points over 12 rounds.
In May 1980, he faced the same situation when he was stripped of the Cape Province lightweight title because he failed to make the weight for a bout against Bramley Whiteboy.
Aged 31, the good life and increasing weight problems were beginning to take its toll and the popular boxer was reduced to fighting in six and eight-rounders against local fighters.
On December 21, 1985 in his favourite fight town, Mdantsane, he beat Joseph Madonsela on points over eight rounds to end his career on a winning note.
He beat 15 fighters who at some time or another held a SA title.