By Ron Jackson
The former SA lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight champion passed away at the Lesedi Clinic in Diepkloof, Soweto, on Sunday night. He was 80 years old. As a schoolboy, Nhlapo boxed under the guidance of Richard Legoale before making his professional debut on February 6 1953. His won his first pro bout by stopping Ezekiel Mogotsi in the third round of the fight at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Eloff Street, Johannesburg. In only his fifth fight he won the Transvaal featherweight title, stopping Game Chicken Richards in the sixth round.
On March 15 1957, he lost in Durban to another outstanding SA fighter, Elijah Mokone, in a challenge for the national featherweight title. In a return title bout less than three months later he again lost on points over 12 rounds.
Nhlapo then moved into the lightweight division and won the SA lightweight title when he outpointed Joas Kangaroo Maoto on June 8 1957. He defended the title nine times before losing it to Richard Borias on February 4 1967.
Five months later he regained the title by beating Borias but he lost it when he came in overweight against Eric Mahlo. The fight went on and Nhlapo won on a ninth-round technical knockout.
He again regained the belt on February 3 1968 when he outpointed Borias in a clash for the vacant title.
Nhlapo then knocked out Gabriel Dlamini in the eleventh round on December 6 1969 to win the vacant SA junior welterweight title, but in his next fight lost the lightweight title to Anthony “Blue Jaguar” Morodi.
He was still the junior welterweight champion when he won the SA welterweight title on May 6 1972 by beating Mackeed Mofokeng on points.
In his last fight, on February 17 1973, three weeks short of his 40th birthday – he was born, as far as can be ascertained, in Soweto on March 7 1933 – he retained the title in a return match with Mofokeng.
Nhlapo, one of the most popular SA boxers of his generation, retired as SA junior welterweight and welterweight champion. In a career spanning 20 years he fought in 24 national title fights.
He also fought world-class fighters such as Percy Lewis, Roy Jacobs, Paul Armstead, Rafiu King and former world lightweight champion Joe Brown to finish with a record of 100-15-3, with 1 no-contest and 32 knockouts.
Nhlapo was a truly excellent boxer but the government’s apartheid policies prevented him from fighting the best. He would easily have won at least one version of the “world” titles had he been active now.
I once had the privilege of interviewing this legendary but humble fighter on the popular Punchline programme on SuperSport.