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Ex-boxing champ and Mandela favorite Jake Matlala passes away at 51

Photo: Lennox McLendon/AP

'Baby Jake' Matlala celebrates his 1997 TKO over Michael Carbajal to win the IBA light flyweight belt. Matlala passed away on Saturday at the age of 51.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala, a four-time world champion in the flyweight and junior flyweight divisions and one of Nelson Mandela's favorite fighters, has died. He was 51.

The death of the South African boxer Saturday was announced by family spokesman Ray McCauley.

Matlala died two days after Mandela, who attended Matlala's last bout in 2002. At the time, the boxer gave the former president one of his belts.

Matlala's former promoter, Rodney Berman, wrote on Twitter: "Another great fighter has died ... Go well little man, you'll be missed."

Standing just 4-foot-10 1/2, Matlala's disregard for his size and ferocious punching speed made him one of South Africa's favorite athletes. During a 22-year career, he won flyweight and junior flyweight belts for the WBO as well as the IBA light flyweight title and WBU junior flyweight crown.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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