by Ron Jackson 

Most critics and fans who complain about boring bouts probably don’t know about the night a champion retained his title in a non-fight.

The champion failed to beat the challenger and neither did they draw in a tournament that was held abroad because they were not allowed to fight in their own country.

The result was one of the strangest in the long history of Commonwealth boxing. The referee was so frustrated by the lack of action that he sent both boxers to their corners and declared their “fight” a no-contest.

It happened in 1961 in what is now Zambia, where two South Africans, Dennis Adams and John Mthimkulu, were supposed to fight for the Commonwealth flyweight title.DENNIS ADAMS EMPIRE CHAMPION

Adams, known as a devastating puncher, was from Johannesburg. The challenger, who held the “non-white” version of the SA flyweight title, was from Vereeniging. But because of the SA government’s laws at the time the fight was held at the Luanshya Welfare Grounds in what was then Northern Rhodesia.

The irrepressible Adams had travelled to Scotland in 1957 to challenge the British and Empire flyweight champion, Frankie Jones, in the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow on October 23.

Adams went after the champion from the start, swinging wildly until one of his punches landed, knocking the Scot out in the third round.

The new champion retained the title against Warner Batchelor and Les Smith before a defence was arranged against Mthimkulu. Most boxing enthusiasts expected an exciting clash and the spectators were waiting for fireworks.

Adams had his right hand cocked from the start, waiting to trigger the punch that had brought him 14 knockouts in his previous fights. But Mthimkulu, well aware of the danger, kept back-pedalling and tied Adams up in clinches.

As the fight progressed, the clearly unfit Adams had to resort to holding to prevent his opponent from landing scoring punches.

‘STEP BACK AND FIGHT; STOP HOLDING’

Referee Duggie Miller, a former leading SA middleweight, kept asking the boxers to break out of the clinches, to step back and fight. Time and again he told them to stop holding on to each other.

By the sixth round, Miller had had enough. He sent both fighters back to their corners and signalled that he had called off the “fight”. However, with just about everyone pleading with him to let the boxers carry go on, Miller reversed his decision.

The bout resumed, and so did the holding and clinching. It turned into a farce and in the ninth round Miller stepped in again and declared it a “no-contest”.

The partisan crowd accepted Miller’s decision although many felt Mthimkulu would have won had the fight gone the distance.

According to newspaper reports, Miller explained: “I warned both boys for repeated clutching, holding and pushing in the clinches. I tried to keep them apart, as the public came to see boxing, not wrestling.”

Two undercard fights produced interesting results. Levi Madi was reported to have been extremely unlucky not to come away with a draw against SA lightweight champion Charlie Els and Young Sebela stopped former SA welterweight champion Benny Nieuwenhuizen in the fifth round.

In the last bout, Spider Kelly, who later held the SA welterweight title, beat Katanga lightweight Marcel Tumba. It was Kelly’s third professional fight.

Only days later, on May 31 1961, South Africa became a republic and SA boxers were no longer eligible to hold or fight for Empire titles.

Adams, a real character, delivered a memorable response to questions about losing his title as a result of political changes. “Yes, it took a heavyweight called Hendrik Verwoerd to do it,” he said, referring to the SA prime minister who led South Africa out of the Commonwealth.

FASCINATING HISTORY

Boxing for Empire and Commonwealth titles has a fascinating history, going back more than 125 years.

According to Barry J Hugman’s British Boxing Board of Control Boxing Yearbook the first Empire champion was heavyweight Peter Jackson from Australia in 1889.

In those days, Empire title fights were rare and limited to tournaments in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

An organisation with the unwieldy name of the British and Commonwealth and Empire Boxing Championship Committee was formed on October 12 1954.

Before that, British and Australian promoters unilaterally arranged fights for Empire titles, more or less ignoring other members of what was then known as the British Empire.

In 1972 the committee was reconstituted and renamed the British Commonwealth Championships Committee. The “British” was later dropped and the titles became known as Commonwealth Championships.

THE DISTINGUISHED DOZEN

After the political changes in 1994, SA boxers were again eligible to compete for Commonwealth titles. Four have followed in the footsteps of Adams and the 11 other South Africans who held Empire or Commonwealth titles. (Johnny “Smiler” van Rensburg claimed two.)

The distinguished dozen are, with the dates on which they won their titles:

Laurie Stevens, lightweight – January 11 1936
Ben Foord, heavyweight – August 17 1936
Vic Toweel, bantamweight – November 12 1949
Jake Tuli, flyweight – September 8 1952
Gerald Dreyer, welterweight – December 8 1952
Johnny van Rensburg, lightweight – February 12 1955
Willie Toweel, lightweight – June 16 1956
Dennis Adams, flyweight – October 23 1957
Johnny van Rensburg, welterweight – May 17 1958
Daniel Ward, flyweight – March 6 1995
Johnson Tshuma, middleweight – October 31 1997
Andre Thysse, super-middleweight – March 1 2003
Tshifhiwa Munyai, bantamweight – June 22 2006

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