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World Boxing Federation Champions Of The Past: Thulani "Sugarboy" Malinga

Posted on November 5 2014                                              Bookmark and Share
By: Clive Baum



Since the World Boxing Federation was originally founded by American Larry Carrier in 1988, many of the sport’s biggest names have won a WBF title, and proudly defended the blue, red and gold belt all over the world.

Previously, as part of the WBF Champions Of The Past series, we looked at the careers of former WBF Champions Johnny Nelson, Greg Haugen, Samson Dutch Boy Gym, Angel Manfredy, Carl Daniels, Ricky Parkey, Jeff Malcolm, Juan Lazcano, Jimmy Thunder and Junior Witter.

Now we put the spotlight on former Super Middleweight World Champion Thulani “Sugarboy” Malinga from South Africa, a real throw-back professional who was willing to fight anyone, anywhere, and accomplished more than most during a marvelous career between 1981 and 2000.


From the city of Ladysmith in the KwaZulu-Natal province, where he was born in December of 1955, young Thulani grew up working on sugarcane farms in that area. Not surprisingly, that’s how he earned the nickname “Sugarboy”, which would become very familiar in the world of boxing.

Malinga lost his father when he was only five years old, and his mother when he was twelve, so, while he was doing well in school and aspired to become a doctor, he had to continue to work hard on the sugarcane farms to help support his family of ten younger siblings.

Inspired by cousin Maxwell Malinga, a former two-time South African champion, Thulani found time to embark on a successful amateur boxing career, and compiled an impressive record of 195 victories against only 10 defeats, winning S.A. national championships in three weight classes.

In 1981 he decided to turn professional, relatively late at the age of 25, and won his first thee bouts quite easily. It quickly became obvious that he had no intentions of taking things slow, and while he already lost in his fourth outing, he bounced right back to defeat former South African champion Morris Mohloai (34-9-1), soon after.


In September 1982, at 5-1 (3) and not much more than a year after leaving the amateurs, Malinga captured his first professional title when he knocked out Natal Middleweight champion Shadrack Sithole (6-1-2) in the second round of a scheduled ten.

After one interim bout he won the vacant South African middleweight crown in only his ninth paid fight, when he scored a wide twelve-round unanimous decision over Samson Mohloai (9-3-1), the brother of former foe Morris, in February 1993.

Over the course of the next three years, Malinga made four successful defenses of his middleweight title, defeating good opponents Michael Motsoane (19-3), Kose van Vuuren (12-0-2), Pieter de Bruin (11-5-1) and Gregory Clark (33-4), before moving up to Light Heavyweight to dethrone fellow S.A. champion Sakkie Horn (17-4-1) in October 1986.

After one defense of the Light Heavyweight title, Malinga lost a rematch to Horn by controversial split decision, and was later disqualified, also controversially, in the twelfth and final round of the rubber-match in November 1987. But three straight victories in 1988 put the now 34-year-old in line for his first shot at world glory.

In January 1989 Malinga challenged undefeated IBF World Super Middleweight champion Graciano Rocchigiani (26-0) in Berlin, Germany, but the experience of fighting outside of his home-country for the first time, and the skills of the champion, was too much for the South African, and he lost a clear decision.

After winning seven of his next eight, including reclaiming the S.A. Light Heavyweight title in a fourth fight with Sakkie Horn, Malinga was given a second world title opportunity less than two years on, this time against American Lindell Holmes (42-5), who had picked up the IBF Super Middleweight belt left vacant by Rocchigiani.

Malinga did better against Holmes than he did against Rocchigiani, but again he came in second best and lost on points. But he acquitted himself well enough to be offered a crack at WBO World Super Middleweight titlist Chris Eubank (29-0) in February of 1992.

It was not to be “third time lucky” for Malinga, and after suffering a knock-down in the fifth round he lost a split decision to the charismatic Englishman, despite coming on strong in the later rounds. The brave performance brought him back to the United Kingdom three months later, where he lost a razor thin decision to Nigel Ben (32-2).

At 36 years of age, and with three failed world title-challenges on his resume, many thought that “Sugarboy” had found his level and would have to be content with domestic opposition and defending his South African title. That assumption was validated when Roy Jones Jr. (22-0) knocked him out in six rounds in August 1993 in Mississippi, USA.

But Malinga had other plans, and no intentions of giving up. In 1994 he defended his S.A. Light Heavyweight crown twice and added the African Super Middleweight title, before winning the S.A. Super Middleweight title in March of 1995 with a stoppage over Soon Botes (11-2).

Climbing back up the rankings, he returned to England for a showcase victory over journeyman Trevor Ambrose (10-15) at the New London Arena the following July, and all of a sudden he was in line for a rematch with Benn (now 42-2-1), who had since won the WBC world title and defended it nine times.


It was another close decision, but this time Malinga shocked the boxing world by beating the heavily favored Benn, and amazingly becoming a world champion in his fourth try, at the tender age of forty, almost fifteen years after his pro debut, and with a spotted record of 40-9.

Malinga underperformed in his first defense, and lost the title four months later by split decision to Italian Vincenzo Nardiello (29-5) on a big show in Manchester that also featured a massive clash between Nigel Benn and Steve Collins.

Nardiello would later lose the championship to Robin Reid, and when Malinga was given a shot at Reid (25-0-1) in December 1997, he didn’t let it go to waste and regained the WBC title by unanimous decision.

With the United Kingdom almost a second home, Malinga was back for the fifth straight time, and seventh time in all, to defend his world title against Richie Woodhall (22-1) in March of 1998. And unfortunately it was another bad night for Sugarboy as defending champion, as he lost a clear unanimous decision at the Telford Ice Rink.

42 years old and a veteran of fifty-three professional fights and 205 amateur bouts, it was easy to believe that Thulani Malinga was done at world class level after the loss to Woodhall, but that was not the case.

Again he showed his admirable road-warrior mentality, and accepted to challenge reigning WBF World Super Middleweight ruler Fredrik Alvarez (26-1) less than three months later in the Swedes adopted home-country of Denmark.

Nicknamed “Tyson”, the hard-punching Alvarez was a big favorite to beat the former world champion, but Malinga put on a masterclass in Copenhagen, and made Alvarez look ordinary before stopping him in the eleventh round to become a three-time world champion.

In November of 1998 Malinga was invited back to Denmark, this time to defend his WBF World title against Peter Madsen (14-0), and again he proved to be a level above the home-man as he stopped the undefeated Dane in nine rounds.

Having made a bit of a name for himself in Denmark, and Europe in general, it was a highly anticipated fight when it was announced that Malinga would make his second WBF world title defense against another Dane in Mads Larsen (28-1) in March of 1999.

Larsen was too young, strong, and skilful for the 43-year-old South African, who fought much of the fight with an injured right hand, and went on to win by tenth-round stoppage. Ten months later, in January 2000, Malinga finished his amazing career by losing to Norwegian Ole Klemetsen (41-4), also in Denmark.

After more than eighteen years as a professional, winning South African titles in three weigh classes, winning the African title and becoming a world Super Middleweight champion three times, Thulani “Sugarboy” Malinga retired at 44 years of age and with a 44-13 (19) record.

He fought legendary names such as Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Roy Jones Jr., and amazingly never fought for a world title in his home-country. His last nine fights were in the United Kingdom and Denmark, and while he started his career at 173 Lbs. (78,5 Kg.), he was only 174,8 Lbs. (79,3 Kg.) in his last bout, all those years later.

A true professional and a true champion, Sugarboy Malinga was inducted into the South African Sports Hall Of Fame in 2007.

  Part 10: Junior Witter
  Part 9: Jimmy Thunder
  Part 8: Juan Lazcano
  Part 7: Jeff Malcolm
  Part 6: Ricky Parkey
  Part 5: Carl Daniels
  Part 4: Angel Manfredy
  Part 3: Samson Dutch Boy Gym
  Part 2: Greg Haugen
  Part 1: Johnny Nelson
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