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Family History

My grandfather Mike, late dad Alan, Uncle Vic, Willie, Jimmy, Fraser, Maurice and cousin Patrick are South Africa’s “Fighting Toweels”, who together, represent almost a century of boxing experience and achievement. They gave this country its first pair of brothers to fight for the same World Title (Vic and Willie), produced the first South African to head the bill at boxing Meca: Madison Square Garden-in New York. They also gave boxing its youngest trainer to train a fighter for world title honours and gave South Africa its first ever multi racial tournament. I am proud to say the Toweels were holders of 11 professional boxing titles.

It all started back in 1924 when Mike, originally from Lebanon, was selected to fight for South Africa in the Olympic trials. Unfortunately his mother would not hear of it, so he lost his chance to represent his country at the games. Due to his poor eyesight he was unable to continue his boxing career, so instead he raised 6 sons who would lift the sport of boxing in South Africa to unprecedented heights.

He trained his sons Jimmy and Vic to box, whereas Jimmy was a quite unassuming fighter who wanted to enter the Catholic Monastery. However though lack of funds to finance his education, Jimmy had no alternative but to join the paying ranks. On the road to fistic fame and getting their names in bold letters, Jimmy and Vic made South African history in 1949, by two brothers winning national titles at the same time (Jimmy the lightweight title and Vic the bantamweight). Vic’s greatness as a fighter is expounded by the fact that he fought in an era where there were only 8 divisions and 8 world champions, compared to today’s 17 divisions and 68 world champions. Uncle Vic in only his fourth fight as a professional won the SA Bantam Weight Title, in his ninth fight he won the SA Feather Weight Title and his eleventh fight he captured the British Empire Bantamweight Title. On 31 May 1950 in only his fourteenth fight he won the World Bantamweight Championship and holds the record for being the only undisputed Universal Champion in South Africa. Vic beat the great Manual Oritz, who was recognised as one of the greatest bantamweight champions of all time. It was a night that made the Toweel family proud, a night that made South Africa proud and placed the Lebanese community into the limelight.

During his reign as World Champion, Vic had 13 fights: consisting of 3 successful title defences and 10 successful non-title fights against world rated contenders. Unfortunately Vic had to go the route of non-title fights due to the painful weight problems he endured. Eventually the dramatic weight loss which plagued his career had caught up to Vic and after 2 years and 8 months he was defeated as World Champion. Undoubtedly Vic was the greatest fighter ever to be produced in South Africa.

After Vic’s amazing talent, came Willie. Vic was an accurate two fisted boxer/fighter, who would throw an array of punches dazzling his opponent, whereas Willie was regarded as a gracious and flawless orthodox boxer. Alan was the only member of the family that was able to handle and discipline Willie as a fighter. Alan made history on 3 September 1955, by becoming the youngest ever trainer to train a world title contender at the ripe old age of 24. Willie came within hairs-breath of emulating his brother Vic, by earning a hotly disputed draw with Robert Cohen. He went on to win four National Titles in 4 weight divisions (bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight) and went on to win the British Empire Lightweight Title by beating the great Dave Charnkey in London. When Willie boxed in England he was heralded as the most popular fighter to visit British shores. In 1959 Alan, Willie and Maurice, headed for New York where Willie topped the bill at Madison Square Garden. Willie defeated the number one lightweight contender, Len Matthews with gracious style. The American press compared Willie to the great Sugar Ray Robinson and the Toweels were claimed by the American boxing media as the greatest boxing family.

The Toweel family boxers did not end there and along came Fraser, a quiet spirited fighter who was claimed to be the best combination puncher of the Toweels. Unfortunately he never made the limelight like Willie and Vic as an eighth title eluded the Toweel family when Fraser lost to the awesome South Paw Willie Ludick. However it was short lived, as yet another Toweel arrived on the boxing scene, Patrick Toweel, a cousin shrewdly managed and trained by Alan. Patrick went on to do the Toweel family proud when he went on to defeat Willie Ludick on the 7th of September 1968 capturing the National Welterweight Title and laid claim to the eighth national title for the Toweel family. There were other Toweels that entered the paid ranks, namely Johnny and Tony brothers of Patrick in the late 60’s early 70’s and Paul the son of Fraser in the late 80’s who carried on the boxing tradition.

Moving into the 70’s was an exciting decade for the SA boxing, as Alan produced one of the most masterful boxers of our time, Pierre Fourie. Pierre Fourie under the astute guidance of my dad Alan, was steered to the number one position in the middleweight division and challenged 4 times for the World Light Heavyweight Title against the divisions greatest champion Bob Foster and Victor Galindez. The Foster/Fourie fight on 1 December 1973 at the Rand Stadium will always remain a landmark in SA’s sporting history. For the first time since professional boxing was placed under legal control in 1923, a multi-racial tournament was held. The influence of Maurice (the promoter), Willie and Alan to produce this historic event will always be a benchmark in South African sporting history. Subsequent to that event a great black fighter like Norman Pangaman Segapane were given the opportunity to climb the international boxing ladder under the promotional guidance of Maurice and eventually challenge for a World Title. The face of South African boxing and sport had eventually changed.

Maurice who was paralysed through polio from the age of 5 months, was to become one of South Africa’s most accomplished boxing promoters. He promoted the Galindez/Fourie and Foster / Fourie flights under the banner of Springbok Promotions. In May 1976, South Africans witnessed the bloodiest brawl ever staged in our country – Victor Galindez/Richie Kates. Maurice Toweel was responsible for the negotiating and promoting of this epic battle.

In December 1984, Willie and Alan were in the corner of Piet Crous when he defeated Ossie Occasio to win the World Junior Heavy Weight Championship. In August of 1990 South Africa’s biggest money spinner was billed at the Sun City Super Bowl as “Once and For All”, when SA Heavyweight champion, Pierre Coetzer knocked out Johnny Duplooy. Pierre as masterfully guided by Alan to a World Heavyweight Title eliminator against Riddick Bowe in 1992.

Alan who was undefeated as a professional boxer in 10 fights, was recognised as the most accomplished manager and trainer in South Africa. As his assistant trainer I was privileged to witness the respect that great trainers such as Eddie Futch, Angelo Dundee and Emanual Steward had for Alan as a manager and trainer. Alan has a proud record of producing 17 national champions, 2 British Empire champions and 9 World Title contenders.

Sadly in June 1995 Fraser passed away, and then 6 months later, in November 1995, Alan passed away and 6 months thereafter Maurice left this world.

If one analyses the great names in boxing, whether past or present, Gerrie Coetzee (former WBA) World Heavyweight Champion), Sugar Boy Malinga (former Super Middleweight World Champion), Brian Mitchell (former Junior Lightweight World Champion), Nick Durandt – South African Trainer – and Rodney Berman (SA’s top promoter), each one of these accomplished individuals have passed through the expert hands of a Toweel.

I thank God for giving me the opportunity for having been part of this rich heritage. The knowledge and experience that I have gained under the tuition of my late dad Alan, will allow me to maintain the legacy for many years to come and God willing to produce a champion.

As long as South Africans play sport and gather together to talk of it, the name Toweel will live, and in the world of boxing it is doubtful if this great record will ever be matched.