The shortest world champion boxer in history was the late Jacob Matlala, affectionately known as ‘Baby Jake’, who died on December 7, 2013, from complications related to pneumonia, at the age of 51. Born in Soweto, South Africa on August 1, 1962, Matlala stood just 4′ 10½”, or 148cm, tall, had a reach of 59″, or 150cm, and weighed in at no more than 110lb, or 50kg.
Nevertheless, despite obvious disadvantages, in terms of stature, he made his professional boxing debut at the Centenary Hall in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth on February 2, 1980, and went on to enjoy an illustrious, 22-year career. Indeed, his final fight, a successful defence of his World Boxing Union (WBU) World Light Flyweight title against Juan Herrera at Carnival City in Brakpan, East Rand on March 2, 2002 – which took his career record to 53-13-2 – was watched by Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, to whom he presented his championship belt.
Renowned for his ferocious punching speed, with both hands, and his unique, over-arm style, Matala won his first world title, the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) Flyweight title, with an eighth round technical knockout of Pat Clinton at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow on May 15, 1993. After four successful defences of that title, he added the WBO Light Flyweight title on November 18, 1995, beating Paul Weir by a fifth round technical decision, following an accidental head-butt, at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. Later in his career, Matala also won the International Boxing Association (IBA) World Light Flyweight title and the aforementioned WBU World Light Flyweight title, with the best performance of his career coming at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on July 18, 1997, when he stopped former world champion Michael Carbajal in nine rounds.