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Nelson Mandela, ex-fighter who KO'd apartheid, remembered by countryman Kushner

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To say that Nelson Mandela, the man who led the fight to crush the racist system of apartheid in South Africa, was a great boxing fan is an understatement.

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By all accounts, boxing was the freedom fighter's favorite sport with soccer perhaps being a distant second.
Mandela, age 95, died on Thursday and the world is mourning.

Perhaps no boxing personality, at least no white boxing personality, appreciated Mandela's revoluntionary success than veteran promoter Cedric Kushner.


Kushner was born in Cape Town and grew up thinking that apartheid, the almost complete separation of the races, was normal. He, like President Mandela, was born into the apartheid system. In his home, they had a black servant who always carefully referred to little boy Kushner as "Master Cedric."

"He was a wonderful man, a great leader, and he belongs to the world history books," Kushner told me. "I was privileged to be in his company not once but five different times."

One of those social occasions was a relaxed luncheon at Mandela's home. Kushner sat back and listened in as President Mandela chatted with some of his ring idols, Roberto Duran and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

"I sat back and marveled at how the president was in awe of the two great champions and how they were also in awe of him. It made think that even your hero has his own heroes," Kushner said. "The president referred to me as 'the Boxing Ambasador,' something like that."

At another time, Kushner was in Mandela's company along with Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis before Rahman's shock KO upset in South Africa over heavyweight king Lewis.

Kushner and his South African partner of many years, Rodney Berman, developed a black SA fighter named Welcome Ncita into a world champion. While some boxing governing bodies spurned the apartheid pariah nation, Kushner and Berman influenced the American based International Boxing Federation into permitting the country's fighters to compete for its world title belts. IBF leader Bob Lee, an African American, also met Mandela.

Before Mandela, there was a time when blacks and whites were not permitted to fight an opponent of different race.

Before Mandela, they once had a fight between two white South Africans which was billed openly as being for "the Caucasian Heavyweight Championship."

I know because I have a press kit which says so.

RIP Nelson Mandela, a survivor of 27 years in prison who detailed his in jail boxing regimen in his book "Long Walk to Freedom."

Great boxing fan, for sure. More importantly, a great man who knocked out apartheid.