By Robert Brizel, Head RCM Boxing Correspondent
Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala, the shortest professional boxing champion ever at 4’10″, has died at age 51 on December 7, 2013, in his native Soweto, South Africa. Matala compiled a professional record of 53-13-2 with 26 knockouts during his 22 year professional career between 1980 and 2002. He held the IBA and WBO World Light Flyweight titles, and the WBU and WBO World Flyweight titles at various times.
Baby Jake Matlala rounds eight and nine versus Michael Carbajal, July 1997 in Las Vegas
www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGXmb0cv9Ls YouTube commentary by George Foreman
Maltala gave his world championship belt to Nelson Mandela after his farewell title defense in 2002. Matlala said in an interview after retirement from the ring he had stopped boxing because there were no big names left for him to fight. Matlala later earned a Bachelor of Communications degree at the University of South Africa (UNISA).
Matlala was never put bothered by being the shorter fighter in the ring.
“Height is not an issue. It’s in the mind,” he said.
Matlala’s ring strategy was very simple but most effective, the same strategy which Marcos Rene Maidana used to wear down Adrien Broner and win the WBA World Welterweight title this past weekend-though Broner did not get knocked out he almost did twice. Matala constantly threw punches at his opponent’s body until his opponent got tired, and eventually let his head down, setting up the knockout by Matala who used this technique to overcome substantial height and reach disadvantage by punch count volume and accuracy.
“I work the body (and) then the head will come (down and set it up),” said Matlala.
After retirement, Matlala was involved in a fast food business venture, Jake’s Diner, which suffered severe financial losses. He later turned to physical conditioning training, motivational speaking, and work as a boxing commentator. Matlala and his wife Mapule also tried unsuccessfully to market a unique DVD and CD package of his best fights combined with jazz and gospel songs by his wife.
In 2010, Golden Gloves boxing promoter Rodney Berman arranged a black-tie charity fight called ‘The Night of The Little Big Man’ to raise funds for Matlala to cover his medical costs after he was hospitalized for weeks, reportedly with double pneumonia. At the time of his death, he was said to be financially down and out. Matlala is survived by his wife, his childhood sweetheart, and his two sons. The official cause of death was not disclosed, but it came only two days after the death of his friend and fellow boxer Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who greatly admired Matlala’s boxing prowess.