Posted by George Hanson., Jr Esq. on Dec 15, 2013
Amandla!-The 13th Man

Amandla!-The 13th Man

The Mouthpiece
By: George H. Hanson Jr., Esq. | December 13, 2013

(December 5th – my Facebook post) Nelson Mandela – One of my saddest days! We lost the last of the great, truly great Freedom Fighters! Mr. Mandela was an inspiration and role model. There will never be another one like him. As Muhammad Ali would say, “He shook up the world.” Rest in Peace Mr. Mandela – you are going home. Say hello to Malcolm, Martin and Thurgood for me.

I don’t know if I can ever find the words to express the indelible mark that Nelson Mandela left on my life and what he means to me and millions all over the world. I can only hope that this article will shed some light on my love and admiration for our beloved hero, world changer and role model. I walked into a boxing gym and never left because of Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. Nelson Mandela is the reason I became a lawyer. And it was only fitting— that as a student at Howard University School of Law— I was in the audience when the university conferred the honorary doctor of laws degree on Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa during a special convocation on the main campus. It was the highlight of my law school career and the program bearing his likeness will be handed down through my family for countless generations.

Mandela in 1952 (

Mandela in 1952 (

It is irrefutable that Sugar Ray Robinson is the greatest boxer. But, Nelson Mandela is the greatest fighter in the history of mankind. Fighting professionally for twenty-five years (1940 – 1965) Robinson mesmerized millions with his remarkable skills and personality. Battling to eradicate apartheid—the South African legislated system of racial segregation that bestowed all rights on the white minority in 1948—Mandela spent 27 years in prison convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment. International pressure forced his release in 1990. Upon his emancipation the relentless statesman and boxer delivered a knockout blow to institutionalized racism by negotiating the abolishment of apartheid and the establishment of multi-racial elections in 1994—becoming South Africa’s first Black president.

Before he became the world’s greatest freedom fighter and President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela belonged to us—La Familia del Boxeo—kindred spirits forged in the crucible of the squared circle. Similar to the Sugar Man, he was our pugilistic brother who suckled on the breast of boxing—nurtured on the sweet science as an amateur heavyweight and student in 1936 at Fort Hare University— continuing his training in 1950 at the Donaldson Orlando Community Center in Johannesburg. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom published in 1994 Mandela quipped:

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 to retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking about
his color or social status.

Boxing, the purest form of competition between two human beings has oftentimes been a mouthpiece for social change and justice. On June 6, 1989 Sugar Ray Leonard— for his epic rematch with Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns—entered the ring in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas relishing in his sartorial splendor decked out in a red-and-white ensemble with AMANDLA— a Xhosa and Zulu word meaning “power” and popular rallying cry against apartheid—emblazoned on the back of the robe and the waistband of his trunks. Leonard wanted to use boxing as his platform to show solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement and his abhorrence of racial discrimination and the imprisonment of his hero—Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela Shaking Hands with Muhammad Ali

Ali meeting Mandela – 1990 Los Angeles, California (© David Turnley/Corbis)

Upon leaving prison in 1990 Mandela made his first trip to the United States in June making several stops including the United Nations in New York City. There to greet him were three of his sweet science siblings who had helped in the fight against apartheid—Sugar Ray Leonard, “Iron” Mike Tyson and Smokin’ Joe Frazier. It was Frazier who presented Mandela with the WBC championship belt that he was awarded after he defeated Muhammad Ali handing him his first loss back in 1971. Frazier wanted to let Mandela know that he considered him a champion and the ultimate symbol was his beloved belt. It was indiscernible who was more ecstatic—Mandela or the triumvirate of former world champions.

Mandela and Walter Sisulu on Robben Island in 1966 (Photograph Getty)

Mandela and Walter Sisulu on Robben Island in 1966 (Photograph: Getty)

As an iconoclast, I was taught to be a person of principle and to never vacillate from my beliefs. As a boxer, I was trained to fight until my heart stopped or the final bell rang. Thus, I was attracted to the defiance and unwavering indefatigable spirit of my hero, Nelson Mandela, who in his twenty-second year behind bars rejected an offer for “freedom” by then South African President P.W. Botha. On January 31, 1985, Botha, speaking in parliament, stated that the offer was contingent upon Mandela ‘unconditionally rejecting violence as a political weapon. In his supreme ignorance and glorious arrogance Botha must have had a gross case of senility because five previous offers stipulating that Mandela accept exile in Transkei had been rebuffed. Botha’s overtures were tantamount to a boxing referee asking a noble gloved warrior if he wanted to stop fighting or resume risking life and limb. Nelson Mandela was a boxer and the fight for equality and citizenship wasn’t going to end on a technicality. The struggle would continue and he responded with a public statement read by his daughter Zinzi at a mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on February 10, 1985. Below is part of his response:

I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organization, the African National Congress, which was banned.

What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?

Twenty-seven years is a long time behind bars. It is hard to imagine how Mandela kept his uncompromising will to win, his spirit intact and his capacity for compassion. Boxing remained an integral part of his daily routine as he continued to exercise and shadow box while serving his sentence. He gained inspiration from world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali’s defiance and refusal to be inducted in the United States Army in 1967 on religious grounds. Ali was immediately stripped of his title, convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years—avoiding prison during the appellate process. Ali was his hero and Mandela listened in the confines of prison to Ali vs. Frazier I—The Fight of the Century—on March 8, 1971. The two met twice, once in Los Angeles on his first trip to the United States and again three years later in South Africa.

Later, I was amazed to discover that Mr. Mandela used to listen to my fights when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. That humbling revelation moved me to tears. There he was, a king in exile, being lifted up by my ring exploits. Had I known he was listening to Ali-Frazier I, I probably would’ve beaten Joe that night. I was always the greatest when I was fighting for something. (Muhammad Ali – Tribute to Nelson Mandela – November 26, 2013)

The goal of almost every fighter who ever laced on a pair of boxing gloves is to win a world title. Despite his unbelievable accomplishments and place in the annals of history Mandela is no different than the young kid fighting a four-rounder at a club show whose quest is to one day have his name etched on a world championship belt. No surprise when the universally recognized icon and father of the new South Africa stated, “There is one regret that I have had all my life–that I never became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”

(Pretoria, South Africa – Dec. 6, 1997)  Michael Spinks, Mandela and Joe Frazier AFPGetty Images

(Pretoria, South Africa – Dec. 6, 1997) Michael Spinks, Mandela and Joe Frazier AFP/Getty Images

I am sure the religious zealots reading this article are hoping that blasphemy is a prosecutable offense for what I am about to say, but defiance is in my DNA so I will say it anyway. Had there been an International Carpentry Hall of Fame, the voting members would have convened and immediately nominated Jesus Christ to the incoming class of inductees upon hearing of his crucifixion and definitely before his resurrection and ascension. The ultimate miracle worker, Christ healed lepers, the blind and walked on water. Despite these marvelous feats, his roots were deeply rooted in the art of building—carpentry. Mandela is undoubtedly the world’s greatest freedom fighter and father of a nation. But before he joined the African National Congress to eradicate the system of apartheid, he faced a gloved opponent in the squared circle. He will forever be our brother in the art of pugilism.

Twelve people including former world champions Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (“the Hall”) during Hall of Fame Weekend, June 5 – 8, 2014. I hope this article serves as the impetus for the Hall to seize the time and make Nelson Mandela the 13th man on the list of inductees. It is the only righteous course of action given his love, dedication and usage of boxing as a foundation to keep his body and mind in sync while fighting for our humanity.

It is ironic that actor Sylvester Stallone, who never boxed but profited immensely from “stealing” from the boxing experience, was inducted in the Hall on June 12, 2011. His fictional Rocky Balboa of the Rocky movies was immortalized in bronze in 1980 and donated to the City of Philadelphia. That statue or “piece of junk” as it’s aptly called by award winning long-time Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist—Stan Hochman— one of my journalist role models— stands outside of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It took Philadelphia over twenty years to remove Smokin’ Joe Frazier from pugilistic purgatory to finally honor him with a nine-foot statue which will be unveiled in 2014. I can only hope that Mandela doesn’t suffer the same fate at the hands of the Hall.

Fightkingsgloves (1)Rest in Peace Madiba. “You shook up the world!” and will live forever in our hearts, in our minds and in our stories. Your contribution to humanity is immeasurable.

Continue to support the sweet science, and remember, always carry your mouthpiece!

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Photo Credits: 1) Mandela in 1952 ( 2) Ali meeting Mandela – 1990 Los Angeles, California (© David Turnley/Corbis) 3) Mandela and Walter Sisulu on Robben Island in 1966 (Photograph: Getty) and 4) (Pretoria, South Africa – Dec. 6, 1997) Michael Spinks, Mandela and Joe Frazier AFP/Getty Images

About George Hanson., Jr Esq.

George Hanson., Jr Esq. has written 106 post in this blog.

Hailing from New Forest, Jamaica, Hanson started boxing as a teenager in Philadelphia under the tutelage of former welterweight contender, Dick Turner. He excelled, capturing four Pennsylvania State Amateur Championships—his last while a junior at Drexel University studying Accounting. According to most who have seen Hanson fight, “He is the best fighter never to have turned professional.”

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