Top 6 South African Boxers Who Won World Titles As Kevin Lerena Aims to Join Talented List

Top 6 South African Boxers Who Won World Titles As Kevin Lerena Aims to Join Talented List

Byron Pillay
updated at November 24, 2023 at 4:58 PM
  • Gerrie Coetzee became the first South African boxer to win the heavyweight title
  • Brian Mitchell won the WBA and IBF Super Featherweight titles and never lost either
  • Jacob 'Baby Jake' Matlala was the smallest boxer to ever become a world champion

Kevin Lerena aims to emulate some of his famous countrymen by winning a world championship.

Two Guns will take on Senad Gashi at Emperor’s Palace, looking to win the WBC’s Interim Bridgerweight title.

With the South African fighter on the verge of history, Sports Brief looks at six boxers from the country who have won world titles, and which professional boxer holds them now.

Gerrie Coetzee, Baby Jake Matlala and Thulani Malinga.
Gerrie Coetzee, Baby Jake Matlala and Thulani Malinga are three of South Africa's boxers who have won world titles. Image: Eamonn McCabe/ Howard Boylan/ @tawallah23 (Twitter).
Source: Getty Images

Editor note: These are only fighters who won world titles sanctioned by one of the sport’s four major governing bodies, the WBA, the WBC, the WBO, and the IBF.

South Africans who won boxing world titles

Corrie Sanders

One of the most recognisable names on the list, Sanders made boxing history when he knocked out Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBO Heavyweight title in 2003.

The powerful South African then vacated the belt to fight Vitali Klitschko but came up short.

Known as a power puncher, Sanders ended his career with 42 wins and just four losses. 31 of his wins came via knockout.

Sadly, his life tragically ended in 2012 when he was fatally shot during an armed robbery while celebrating his nephew’s 21st birthday. He was only 46 at the time.

Current WBO Heavyweight Champion: Oleksandr Usyk

Dingaan Thobela

Boasting a record of 40 wins and 14 losses, Thobela won world titles in two weight divisions.

The Rose of Soweto not only won the WBO and WBA’s Lightweight title, but he also moved up in weight later in his career and won the WBC Super Middleweight belt. He was the last South African to win a WBC world title.

As noted by City Press, he has shown support for Lerena in his quest for gold.

Current WBO Lightweight Champion: Devin Haney

Current WBA Lightweight Champion: Devin Haney

Current WBC Super Middleweight Champion: Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

Gerrie Coetzee

Known as The Boksburg Bomber, Coetzee made history by becoming the first South African to become a Heavyweight world champion in 1983.

The New York Times reported that Coetzee, who was 28 at the time, knocked out Dokes to win the WBA title. It was third time lucky for Coetzee, as he lost to John Tate and Mike Weaver in previous title shots.

He lost the title during his first defence on home soil, but the fight was not without controversy. Coetzee ended his legendary career with 33 wins and six losses, with 21 wins coming by way of knockout.

Current WBA Heavyweight Champion: Oleksandr Usyk

Thulani Malinga

Sugar Boy was a South African champion in two divisions but won a world title at Middleweight.

With a record of 44 wins and 13 losses, Malinga fought some high-calibre fighters, including the likes of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.

In 1996, he beat Benn via split decision to win the WBC Super Middleweight title. He lost the belt during his first defence but beat Robin Reid a year later to recapture the title.

Current WBA Super Middleweight Champion: Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

Brian Mitchell

Another two-time world champion, Mitchell ended his career with 45 wins and just one loss.

Mitchell was a two-time Super Featherweight champion, winning the WBA title before capturing the IBF belt.

He held the WBA title for five years, made 12 defences, and never lost the belt. He eventually retired as world champion. SuperSport reported that The Ring will retroactively honour Mitchell with a prestigious championship belt on December 8.

Current WBA Super Featherweight Champion: Hector Luis Garcia

Current IBF Super Featherweight Champion: Joe Cordina

Jacob Matlala

Baby Jake was the true definition of the phrase ‘Dynamite comes in small packages.’

Only 1.47 meters tall, Matlala was the shortest world champion ever.

With 53 wins and 13 losses, Baby Jake made a big impact in the sport and became one of the country’s most popular fighters. Matala won the WBO title in the Light Flyweight and Flyweight divisions during his lengthy career.

Matlala eventually retired because he could not find anyone small enough for him to fight. Matlala died in December 2013, a few days after former state President Nelson Mandela, Sowetan LIVE reported.

Current WBO Light Flyweight Champion: Jonathan Gonzalez

Current WBO Flyweight Champion: Jess Rodriguez

Kevin Lerena to fight for WBC title

Kevin 'Two Guns' Lerena will fight Senad Gashi for the WBC Bridgerweight title at Emperor's Palace.

With victory, he will become the first South African boxer to win a WBC title since Dingaan Thobela.

Lerena is the favourite going into the title fight against the German, Sports Brief previously reported.

Byron Pillay photo
Byron Pillay
Byron Pillay is a sports writer and Head of the Department at Sports Brief (joined in 2022) with over 10 years of experience in community journalism and a degree in journalism from Caxton's Cadet School.
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