Stanley of Africa
Renowned South African boxing historian Ron Jackson had set up our meeting in the Cresta Shopping Mall, Johannesburg in January 2018. He warned me “Stanley likes to talk”.
Talk he does; about his sixty years in boxing and his passion for our sport, which oozes from his every pore. He starts by talking about his experiences of ‘hospitality’ in Chechnya as a World Boxing Association (WBA) official. He then moves onto a who’s who of boxing personalities he’s acquainted and fights that he’s been involved in. “It’s all in the book !” he tells me. This, the book he’d been working on for the last five years and would soon be out. It was finally published in April 2019. For any boxing aficionado, or even the casual boxing/sports fan it’s a must read.
As an eventual International Boxing Hall of Fame referee, Stanley was the third man in the ring at the Orange Bowl, Miami in 1982 for Aaron Pryor – Alexis Arguello I (one of the greatest fights of all time), for ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler v Roberto Duran in 1983, Eusebio Pedroza v Barry McGuigan on that famous night at Loftus Road, London (1985) and a judge in the first Evander Holyfield v Lennox Lewis fight (him scoring it correctly 116-113 to Lewis). He’s been involved in officiating in some shape or form 242 world title fights and counting, up to December 2018.
In between insisting to the waiter in the local Mug & Bean coffee shop to make sure his coffee is hot, “with milk but hot“, he speaks at machine-gun pace. His stories take you from the South African townships in the early 1960’s to the meccas of Caesars Palace and Madison Square Garden. En-route his first world title fight in Johannesburg in 1973 – Arnold Taylor v Romeo Anaya – for the WBA world bantamweight title. A fourteen round war in front of 20,000 spectators in which the South African, Taylor, famously KO’d the teak-tough Mexican champion. In 1997 The Ring magazine ranked this the 15th greatest championship fight in boxing history.
Stanley was born in Brixton, Johannesburg into a Cypriot family. A proud South African, but this European heritage would be Stanley’s key to travelling the world to officiate in the hard years of apartheid and South African sporting and cultural isolation. As a prominent official of the WBA, Stanley would get the opportunity to represent his country with integrity in the most difficult of times.
‘The Life and Times…’ is a wonderful story, laced with anecdotes and recollections from the four corners of the boxing world. He has met kings, presidents and military leaders. Stanley became a personal friend of Nelson Mandela. There is a wonderful story where he is invited to the African National Congress office of the then President Mandela. ‘Madiba’ asks Stanley “What is your opinion of the Springbok emblem for the national rugby team ?”. This is a loaded question as the President is seriously considering removal of this perceived symbol of the apartheid regime from the national shirt.
“The Springbok doesn’t symbolise apartheid Mr Mandela…It is a sporting symbol that is held dear by rugby supporters and players…It is their inspiration, it gives meaning to them. The players will die for that jersey”. Though Stanley takes no credit for this, claiming all prominent SA sporting administrators were asked, history would show that the badge was retained and it became a symbol that represented new possibilities for all South Africans.
It is stories like this from Soweto to Russia, via Monte Carlo, South America and the Far East that have embellished Stanley’s life, and that of his loving wife Mary and his extended family. Buy it while you can, you won’t be disappointed.
‘The Life and Times of Stanley Christodoulou’ is published by Staging Post and available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon, Exclusive Books in RSA and other good book stores. It is co-wrote by Stanley with Graham Clark and David Isaacson.