Undiscovered Boxing Icons: Mandela, Miles Davis and Steve McQueen

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Boxing
More famously known for his involvement in rugby and cricket, when it came to boxing his love for the game stemmed from the admiration of its fighters and the sheer mental fortitude and perseverance they required.  Mandela notably once wrote “I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match”. For Mandela, the idea of boxing was far removed from the violent connotations of the game, instead it taught him mental discipline and respect. The sport offered the boy from Soweto escapism from the testing fight of taking South Africa to a new age of liberating politics and breaking down apartheid. “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour, and wealth are irrelevant …” In Johannesburg a 5m sculpture now stands of a young Mandela in a boxing stance. It serves as a reminder of his mental triumph to keep fighting ‘one more round’ during his 25 years in prison for the belief that freedom would finally be handed to black South Africa

Miles Davis 

Miles Davis Boxing

Legendary Jazz trumpeter and composer, Miles Davis famously once said ‘Boxing is like music. You keep adding to it’.  At the time the sport offered inspiration for the young boy from St Louis. He grew as the sport grew and witnessed pivotal changes in the game. His adolescence was influenced by Joe Louis, whose career peaked during the same time. Joe Louis become heavyweight champion and arguably the most prominent African-American sportsman of his decade. Miles aspired to the game and the heroism that came with it “I like it when a black boy says ‘Oohh! Man, there’s Miles Davis.’ Like they did with Joe Louis”.  It was in fact boxer Sugar Ray Robinson who inspired Davis to take up the sport and even trained at the same gym as the legendary boxer. When he wasn’t watching his idol, the gym kept his mind sound and his body healthy. The boxing ethic transpired to his music, he would famously avoid sex and food before a performance as if he were preparing for a fight. As written in his biography by John Szwed “For many years afterward, he skipped rope, did floor exercises and worked the speedbag with bebop phrasing and triple-tongue rhythms, and for breath and endurance he threw himself into the heavy bag with bass drum explosions.” 

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen Boxing

Steve McQueen epitomised all things awesome during the sixties, earning him the nickname ‘King of Cool’. On and off screen he was popular as the ‘anti-hero’, a reformed delinquent with a passion for all things rugged. His off-screen exploits were of intrigue to many. At the brink of his celebrity super status, LIFE Magazine famously captured the actor’s most candid moments. A racing car enthusiast, the series of images captured by LIFE photographer, John Dominis showed him zipping around Los Angeles, shooting guns in the California Desert but the photo which remains cemented in the minds of his fans showed him boxing in a Hollywood Gym, a sport he remained hugely passionate about until his early death from cancer in 1980.



Image Credits: LIFE Magazine, Vice Magazine & Bailey's African History Archive 

 By Ami Gujral