A week ago in Portland, legendary boxing referee, Edward “Eddie” Marshall celebrated his 68th birthday alongside his family.
Plainsman paid a visit to the Marshall family on Saturday when the Athlone-born boxing stalwart reminisced of his early days in the ring.
Despite boxing being a long-time activity in his family, with his father, brothers and sons being involved, it was by chance, during the summer of 1965, that Marshall took up training for the first time.
His childhood friend, Cheslin Zyster, invited Marshall to accompany him to a boxing gym in Alicedale.
After a couple of training sessions, he had his first fight, and suffered defeat.
His parents started to notice that he was coming home late two to three times a week.
He opened up to his father about his new found love for boxing. The following day, his father invited him to the garage to assess his son’s straight punches.
“This is a serious sport. You’ve got to be serious about your training. I would do runs from Athlone to the airport,” said Marshall.
A few things had to be tweaked and soon he was on a winning streak.
Two years later, Marshall became the Western Province bantamweight champion.
After 297 amateur fights, including 13 losses, Marshall hung up his gloves and transitioned into officiating.
In fact, Marshall recalls, it was by accident that he became a judge. He was at an amateur boxing tournament and they were short of judges. He offered to assist. One of the officials spotted his good work and invited him to a refereeing camp.
He joined the provincial officiating board and the rest became history. A few years later, Marshall became a founding member of the South African National Boxing Organisation (SANABO).
He is associated with the World Boxing Organisation (WBO), International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Union (WBU) and the World Boxing Federation (WBF). He has officiated numerous international champion titles, in 27 countries.
Marshall was also good friends with the late world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. Marshall and Ali, happen to share the same birthday, on January 17 — Marshall was born in 1955 and Ali in 1942.
They met briefly when Ali visited the country in 1993. Marshall says, Ali was talkative, had a positive energy and made a joke out of every situation. He believed he was “the greatest before anyone else did”.
“Being with Muhammad Ali and sharing a birthday with him is basically an honour and he would say ‘happy birthday Eddie’ back. It was a great feeling, just being in his presence alone was something special. These are moments I will never forget. Those are some of the privileges I have in life,” he said.
The last time they met was at the airport when Ali visited the country a couple of years back. Marshall could not hold his tears as Ali’s hand was assisted by Alan Busack to shake his hand. The news of “The Greatest’s” passing was even worse to bare for Marshall.
Over the years he has become good friends with many boxers, officials and promoters, including former heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and promoter, Don King.
Over the years there have been many fights that stood out for Marshall. But out of all, he remains humbled by the discipline and tenacity the late Baby Jake Matlala showed in and out of the ring.
“Baby Jake, being as small as he was, always surprised me. Baby Jake was one of my idols in the ring. He did extremely well. He was a very disciplined fighter. Derrick Whiteboy, Nika Khumalo Victor Sonaba were also good guys. These are the guys I enjoyed refereeing,” said Marshall.
In March 2023, the WBF will host a boxing convention, followed by a championship event, in Cape Town.
While holding the title belt in his Portland’s house, Marshall said four-time major world title holder (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO), Claressa Shields will be touring the Mother City during the WBF convention.
Marshall’s sons, Elroy and Marlin, are officials and trainers in city.
Elroy has a history as fighter and a trainer, however, he has also followed in his father’s footsteps as a referee. He has over five international title fights that he has officiated.
“Travelling with my father is quite exciting. My dad wasn’t feeling well of late. It was quite a quiet celebration. But we hope to start this year and end it off with a bang,” said Elroy.
Marlin, who is a trainer at Marshall’s Boxing Experience, said his father has been a huge inspiration to him, his family, friends, community and boxing fraternity.
“He is my role model. He travels a lot and that is my goal in life. He does bring in a lot of names to the country like Evander Holyfield and Claressa Shields. I would love to follow in his footsteps and meet these people. I too started training women in self defence and youngsters from our community. We have six professionals,” said Marlin.
Marshall said the future of boxing in South Africa looks bright, especially when people who understand the sport become part of its administration.
Marshall there is a documentary that is being created about his life journey in boxing, in the documentary, he shares the hard work it took for him to be where he is today.
“If you put in the hard work, you can make it, if you have a dream, you can reach it. Others notice your achievements,” said Marshall.