The story of Odwa “Old Bones” Mdleleni

By Malibongwe Tokwe

In South Africa the topic of boxing somehow carries no weight without mentioning the township of Mdantsane, the Mecca of our beloved sport, boxing. It is indeed the area that has produced exceptional fighters that have gone across the globe and represented our country winning multiple world titles in different weight classes. 

If I was to dwell without mentioning the names of the forefathers of  boxing from …entsane, abaphantsi (boxing Ancestors) might question my integrity, perhaps they would bless the article less not to be in your glance as it is now… 

You are reading it, I guess you are blessed…

The chants started years ago, fans cheering for Monde Mbhaxa, Simon Sali, Thabo Moloko, Andile Tywabi (awee…Jumbo Jet), Nkosana Mgxaji (Magxelesha), Welile Nkosinkulu (Ali), Loyiso Mtya (The Black Messiah), Mveleli Luzipho (Sugar Ray) and many more great fighters like our two consecutive former  IBF world champions,  Welcome Ncita (Hawk) and Vuyani Bhungu (Beast).  

Hold on right there, who remembers Cyril “Old Bones” Adams ? 

That is the original “Old Bones” right there, the real makoya, aw’mathambo hlanganani…

In the early 1970’s Cyril was the man to watch in the ring, on the 16th May 1970 he squared but came shot on points against the formidable former South African non-white bantamweight and featherweight supreme champion Bashew Sibaca. From the summer of that very same year 1970 , he was on a winning streak, he fought and defeated 8 opponents in a period of 12 months (he was fighting every 6 weeks instead of the current fighting frequency of 6 months…ningandibethi bantu bawo andilwi ndithethinyani…)

Later in his career, Cyril “Old Bones” Adams gave instructions as a trainer to ugqira (Dr) Loyiso Mtya who became a great boxing trainer achieving a number of SA championships and world titles. 

Odwa “Old Bones” Mdleleni uDlamini, iZizi, Solanga, Jota, uSandlulube, earned that name when he joined the Zama boxing club founded by Loyiso Mtya in the 1970’s in Mdantsana NU1 (Mzomhle). 

Odwa “Old Bones” Mdleleni post-fight interview with Dr Loyiso Mtya on the background

The agreement between the retired legend Cyril Adams and Mtya was to give the name “Old Bones” to the first reasonably equipped skinny boxer that would join the newly opened gym. 

They did not have to wait long, on the 2nd day after the gym doors opened, a young boy with blazing eyes and broad shoulders walked in and jaw dropped everyone by his displays of athletics and natural fighting skills. 

“I knew right there he deserved amathamb’amadala (old bones) and Cyril Adams was in full agreement” Loyiso Mtya proclaims. 

Mr Mathemba Mdleleni the father of Odwa was a boxing fanatic who was good friends with Wilson Bill Banguxolo Mtya, the late father of Loyiso Mtya. Mr Mathemba played a critical role to Loyiso Mtya when he was the active fighter, he mentored him and instilled incredible discipline to always focus on the sport of boxing and be its ambassador, and oh dear Mtya did just that, didn’t he?

Mathemba Mdleleni posing with his son Odwa Mdleleni

Unfortunately, Mr Mathemba Mdleleni did not live long enough to see his son crowned as a national champion, he died 10 days before Odwa challenged for the South African junior flyweight title against Mveleli Luzipho on the 10th May 1986.

Prior to the fight, after the sad news broke, many boxing fans and family members told Odwa to pull out of that fight and ask for postponement to grieve for his father’s passing, however Odwa’s mother ordered Odwa to go to the fight and fight for the title, regardless…

She told Odwa, “your father loved boxing so much and if there was a way to ask him right now what should be done about this situation, he would want you to go fight and win the title”

I had no choice but to go and put on a great show for my late father, and I did just that, stopping Luzipho in round 7 of our 12 round title fight. I did that for my old man, I got him the brand-new title, pity his time was up before I could hand it over to him. I wish he was there by ringside wearing the suit I bought for him for the fight night, what can I say? Everything happens for a reason

Predominately fighting from the south pole stance (switching with ease when needed), Odwa Mdleleni went against the best of his time, his style was crowd pleasing, he was a rare breed, he could box, punch and had instant traps that could not be avoided even by the great Mveleli Luzipho, Thamsanqa Sogcwe and even Vuyani Nene (Wonder boy), another crafty and special lefty we ever produced in South Africa.

When Cyril Adams was training Loyiso Mtya, who was preparing for Cameron Adams, he wanted the second opinion to double check how ready Mtya was and would call Andile “Jumbo Jet” Tywabi to observe. Odwa was there as a young boy and took full advantage of Tywabi’s presence and learnt all the tricks to slide off the robes when cornered in a fight.

Later in his career they even tried to dethrone Odwa by the hungry, talented and young prospect, Ndoda Mayende, a great charismatic fighter  that had a killer punch, did he do it? not a chance, Old Bones stopped Mayende in the 7th round of their 10 rounds scheduled non-title bout. Mayende could not pin Odwa that night, he was too elusive yayinguphuncuka bemphethe, throwing combinations in all directions.

Dr Loyiso Mtya believes Odwa is one of the most talented fighters he ever worked with, 

He just got everything right the first time and sometimes he would surprise me and do things better. He was too smooth; ohh my goodness,,, he will come with all the excuses not to come to gym. He did not like to put the effort to go into the heat, but once he got  inside, he trained more than anyone else there, he was a rare breed;  think about it,,, he hated to start but once he got started, we could not stop him, he went on and on… he was such a rare breed, period

I truly believe in boxing you need both the commitment and consistency, because if you don’t have the commitment you will not start and if you do not have the consistency you will not finish…with Loyiso Mtya in his corner,  he didn’t have to worry much about the commitment because he was on his back  committed to get him going , all Loyiso Mtya ever wanted was for him to finish, hence the consistency and that was in abundance in Odwa’s side…

On the 8th May 1988 Odwa went on to fight the elimination bout for the WBA title losing a majority decision against the WBA number two rated, Tony DeLuca. 

Loyiso believes that Odwa was robbed by the judges that night. He believes that the fight was not even close,,, “the fight must have been won by the margin of 7 rounds in the 10 rounds decision we lost” 

If there was justice in that fight on that night, the first world champion from the EC could have been Odwa Mdleleni, but they robbed us. Maybe it was not supposed to happen, I guess

I believe many young South African people can learn from Odwa’s story, he remained focused in his youth days and continued with his studies whilst he was a boxer. His trainer Loyiso Mtya kept him close all the time as he was the teacher at Hlokoma & David Mama high schools, ensuring that kids were focused in education as much as they were in boxing. 

Odwa has served the country as a South African Defence Force Soldier in multiple roles. He became the captain and was deployed to Lesotho in 1998 as logistics officer during operation Maluti.

He was then promoted to the rank of the lieutenant colonel in 2005. Between 2005 and 2017 he was placed and ranked as a log control officer, transport officer, verification officer and the facility manager in various platoons.

Late in 2017 he completed one of the most senior courses in the South African army force, the joint senior stuff diploma, and that contributed to his 2018 promotion to the position of the Commanding Officer (Full Colonel), the role he is currently doing.

Today Odwa is a family man who is grateful to be healthy and alive,

I am enjoying life with my family and very soon I am planning to go back to the sport of boxing and contribute to the youth, including girls,,, The plan is to equip young girls not to be easy victims for gender-based violence (GBV). Amathamb’amadala (old bones) are still there, I can share with a few young girls, and good luck to the perpetrators…

Catch the live interview of the Champion below as he tells his story about his incredible and adventurous life as a fighter and post the fighting game.

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