|Competitor for South Africa|
Willie Michael Toweel (born 1934-04-06 in Benoni, South Africa) is a former boxer from South Africa, who won the bronze medal in the flyweight division (– 51 kg) at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
Willie is the brother of Alan,Jimmy,Fraser,Vic, Maurice, Maureen Toweel and Antoinette Moussallem; and uncle of Paul Toweel.
As an Amateur, Willie had won Junior and Senior South African Titles and won a bronze medal at the 1952 Olympic Games.
He began his professional career in 1953. After notching up a few wins, Willie fought Matthew Raaff for the vacant SA Bantamweight Title at Feather Market Hall, Port Elizabeth, and knocked him out in the seventh round. On 22 May 1954, he out-pointed Tony Lombard over 12 rounds to win the vacant SA Featherweight Title. Winning his next ten fights, Willie was in line to challenge Robert Cohen for the World Bantamweight Title. They fought on the 3 September 1955, at Rand Stadium in Johannesburg. Toweel was knocked down twice in the second round and once in the tenth, but fought back courageously over 15 rounds.The bout was called a draw.
Moving up a division to Lightweight, he was soon to face rival Johnny ‘Smiler’ Van Rensburg for the British Empire and SA Lightweight Titles. In their first fight Toweel lost to Van Rensburg having to retire in the 9th round with a hand and ankle injury. Over the span of their careers they would meet another 4 times! Willie winning 3, and 1 ending in a draw over 15 rounds!
But Willie was soon to be affected by tragedy when he fought the 21 year old South African Hubert Essakow, on the 19 March 1956, in defence of his SA Featherweight Title. Essakow sustained fatal brain injuries in the fight and died 52 hours later after the 11th round knockout. Willie, being a religious man had lost something, and seriously considered retiring from boxing. He often held back his attack on many of his future opponents in fear that he might hurt them. Later in his career, in the same venue where he fought Essakow, he was Disqualified in a bout against Jannie Botes for a low blow. Afterwards he said that during the fight the memories of Essakow came flooding back and he just wanted to find an excuse to get out of the ring.
With his management team behind him he continued to box and racked up another seven wins, and a third meeting draw against ‘Smiler’ Van Rensburg. He then began to campaign in England, and defeated Dave Charnley on points over 15 rounds to defend his Empire Lightweight Title. Toweel won his next eight fights before losing to Frenchman Guy Gracia by TKO in the seventh round on 23 April 1958, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. Willie had unfortunately been suffering with bad sinusitis before the fight but got his revenge 10 months later by facing off against Gracia in Cape Town, and won on points. After defeating ‘Smiler’ Van Rensburg for the final time in Zimbabwe, he faced Dave Charnley again. But struggling to keep his weight inside the Lightweight limit, weakened himself and lost his British Empire Lightweight Title by getting knocked out in the tenth round.
Moving up to the Welterweight division, he fought Len Matthews at Madison Square Garden on 20 November 1959. He was the first South African to top the bill there. Despite being knocked down twice in the eighth round, Willie fought brilliantly and won on points. But his brothers Alan and Maurice suspected that Willie had lost something and this was confirmed when he was beaten on points for the first time by Wally Swift in Nottingham on 7 December 1959. Following the Swift fight, Willie had two more wins in South Africa against Julio Silvo and Fred Tiedt before beating Benny Niewenhuizen for the vacant SA Welterweight Title to win his fourth national title. On the 17 September 1960 in the very next fight he was DQ against Jannie Botes and lost his title. Toweel then received an offer to fight the outstanding young Emile Griffith at Madison Square Garden on 22 October 1960. Willie started off well but was stopped in the eighth round. This was his last fight and bowed out of boxing at the age of 26 with a record of 46-6-2 (KO 23). Emile Griffith went on to win the Welterweight and Middleweight championships of the world. Willie Toweel was undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters ever produced in South Africa.
- Defeated Kornél Molnár (Hungary) 3-0
- Defeated Al Asuncion (Philippines) 2-1
- Defeated Han Soo-An (South Korea) 3-0
- Lost to Nate Brooks (United States) 0-3
Life After Boxing
Willie became a boxing trainer following his pro career and currently resides in Randburg, South Africa.