Leroy Brown, Sunday Gleaner Writer
As the world mourns the passing of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, I recall with a great deal of nostalgia, meeting the great man in person in South Africa in February 1992. Mandela was well known as a great sports fan, but without doubt, boxing was the sport closest to his heart. I can say this because he told me so.
In 1992, after apartheid had been dispensed with in South Africa, sporting ties that were once banned, were now being re-established, and I was a proud participant in the first world title fight to take place there that was open to people of all races. It was an International Boxing Federation (IBF) title fight between John John Molina of the USA and Jackie Gunguluza of South Africa for their vacant super featherweight title. The fight took place at the Superbowl, in Sun City, a magnificent venue, and Molina won by a fourth-round technical knockout, after dominating the African fighter.
I well remember the thrill I had when I was told by the IBF that since this was the first world title fight taking place in South Africa, now that the sporting ban had been lifted, they wanted a good team of officials to participate, and wanted to know if I would be available.
It took me about two seconds to make up my mind, and I now remember in retrospect the excitement that I felt and the disbelief that I had to overcome that I was being afforded this honour. It was truly one of the great moments in my boxing life.
no airs about the man
What I will also never forget is the day before the fight seeing the great man, and a small entourage enter the dining room of the hotel at which we were staying, to meet us. We had been warned that he would be coming at a certain time, and what was impressive to me, was how he entered quietly without fanfare, and greeted us all with a broad smile and a hug. There were no airs about the man. He came in, and after warm greetings he then sat down to have a chat with us.
He told us of his love for the sport, how he had once had aspirations of becoming a boxer, and how he had used boxing for a long time as part of his training regimen. He confided that when he was imprisoned at Robin Island, boxing helped him to retain his sanity and was an integral part of his daily life for some time.
There was no doubt that he had a special place in his heart for Jamaica, because, when I told him that I was from Jamaica, his eyes sparkled and his smile got broader, and he briefly recalled his visit here the previous year. For me it was a memorable experience and one that I now recall with a great deal of satisfaction.
In his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela described his love for boxing and said among other things "I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match."
He went on in the book to say, that " I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not a struggle."