Boxer Baby Jake Matlala

The Legacy of “Baby Jake” – remembering boxer Jacob Matlala

The world’s tiniest boxer fought hard and won big.

In the annals of boxing history, there are figures whose stories transcend the confines of the ring. Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, a legendary South African boxer, is one such individual. While small in physical stature, his impact on boxing and his own community was immeasurable.

Born on November 17, 1962, in Soweto, South Africa, Matlala entered the boxing world in 1980. Standing at a mere 4 feet 10 inches tall, Jacob Matlala shattered the conventional notion of size. While many might have seen his stature as a limitation, Matlala saw it as an opportunity to redefine the sport. He quickly demonstrated that his size was not going to be a hindrance, but rather an asset. He was a guy who knew how to command the ring, take advantage of his height to get on the inside, and skillfully use his on-point footwork and favorite overhand right with left hook combo. He was a natural warrior with a strong chin and he was not afraid to take a punch. Watch Baby Jake work his magic in this fight with Paul Wier in 1996 in Liverpool:

Boxing Achievements and Fighting Spirit

Matlala’s boxing career was marked by his conquest of the light flyweight division, where his talent shone most brightly. His agility, speed, and defensive prowess earned him multiple world titles, including three WBO light flyweight championships and an IBA light flyweight title. More than his physical attributes, it was his fighting spirit that set him apart. He encountered numerous defeats, including four losses to Vuyani Nene, before his first chance at a world title came in 1991 when he fought Davie McCauley for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight title in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Matlala’s greatest victory was his fight against Michael Carbajal in Las Vegas, USA in July 1997. Baby Jake then went on to challenge for numerous titles and minor or secondary championships, and in March 2002, President Nelson Mandela attended his farewell fight. Quite the honor.

His style was that of a two-fisted boxer-puncher who fought on his toes, always taking the initiative and working behind a piston-like jab and a demolishing right cross. His defense was also very impressive, regardless of size.

Matlala’s final record included four world titles in a career of 27 stoppages, 54 wins, 12 losses and 2 draws. 

Death and Remembrance

On December 7, 2013, tragedy struck as Matlala’s life was cut short at the age of 51. He was survived by his wife and two children, and a legacy boxing career that will never be forgotten. South Africa and the entire boxing world mourned the loss of a true icon.

Matlala’s story remains etched in boxing history, not only in South Africa but all over the world. There has never been a fighter quite like him, and perhaps there never will be.

RIP, Baby Jake.