Bongani Mahlangu on Tuesday finally received the continental belt he won in July last year, the world sanctioning body stepping in to cover the price tag of almost $800 (nearly R14,000) after the promoter had refused.
International Boxing Federation (IBF) Africa representative Andre de Vries, who handed over the strap, said the organisation’s president Daryl Peoples had made the decision after learning about the promoter’s evasiveness when discussing the cost.
“He said ‘no IBF boxer waits six months for a belt’,” De Vries said at the informal handover at Colin Nathan’s gym in Johannesburg.
Mahlangu, 43, knocked out Ayabonga Sonjica in a battle of former Olympians — Mahlangu competed at Athens 2004 and Sonjica at London 2012 — in East London to lift the IBF Africa belt and the SA junior-featherweight title.
The veteran, the third-oldest man to win the SA title after Anton Nel and old-timer Jack Lalor, had held both titles before.
SA titles are handed out by Boxing SA only to national champions who have made five successful defences, but world belts are paid for by the promoters of tournaments.
De Vries said he had no luck in persuading the promoters to pay for Mahlangu’s belt, though they offered to hand over Sonjica’s belt instead.
“I told them that’s not how it works.”
It’s not the first time SA boxers have had to wait for world belts.
The family of Arnold Taylor, who won the World Boxing Association (WBA) bantamweight crown in Johannesburg in 1973, says the boxer never received that belt.
And Dingaan Thobela says he is still awaiting the WBA lightweight belt he lifted from Tony Lopez in 1993.
And in a twist in 1996 Mzukisi Sikali, not realising the protocol, took home the World Boxing Union junior-flyweight belt belonging to the Thai champion he had stopped in Bangkok. His then promoter Mike Segal had to send the belt back and Sikali received his own belt soon afterwards.
“I never thought I can get it,” said a smiling Mahlangu, who was retrenched as a forklift operator in 2021.
He has remained in good condition throughout his career, evidenced by the fact that he moved up only one division from bantamweight since turning professional in 2006.
“I’m still going to beat the younger guys,” warned the fighter, who is set to defend his SA belt in the Vaal in March. “I’m not lazy with anything, and I have this inner strength that nobody sees.”
At least now they can see his belt, which he says is the eighth one in his collection.