Birthday dinner ends in tragedy for world champion

South Africa's former world heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders died of wounds sustained in a shooting at a Pretoria restaurant where he was celebrating his nephew's 21st birthday, police reported on Sunday.

Three men burst into the restaurant on Saturday evening and fired randomly where the family were dining, shooting Sanders in the stomach and hand as he dived in front of his daughter to protect her.

The 46-year-old died from his injuries on Sunday morning.

Police had originally said that Sanders had been there for his daughter's birthday but the owner of the restaurant clarified that later.

"Michael's (the brother of the victim) son was turning 21, and Corrie was also there when they (the robbers) came," Johan Bejager told the Sapa news agency.

Sunette Sanders, the ex-wife of the former champion, told radio station 702 that he had died heroically.

"I think he died a hero," she said.

"He was just protecting his girl because they were shooting. He was hit by the two bullets, one in the arm and the other one through part of the stomach."

Sanders retired in 2008 with an impressive record of 42 wins against just four defeats, with his most famous vicory being in 2003 when he won the WBO world heavyweight title by knocking-out Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko in the second round after putting him down four times.

It was hailed as one of the greatest upsets in boxing history but Sanders was to find his brother Vitali a challenge too far when he challenged him for his WBC heavyweight title a year later with the fight being stopped in the eighth round.

His death was greeted with shock by sportspeople round the world and provoked glowing tributes from former boxers as well as fellow South African sporting icons.

South Africa's 2007 World Cup winning rugby captain John Smit echoed many of the tweets at the senseless waste of life.

"Just woke up to news of Corrie Sanders having been murdered last night, what another senseless waste of life in SA. RIP Champion," wrote Smit.

South African 400 metres hurdler Alwyn Myburgh, an Olympic finalist in 2004 and a former Commonwealth Games silver medalist, couldn't resist aiming a sarcastica barb at South African President Jacob Zuma over his claims the crime rate was declining in the country.

"Corrie Sanders murdered but don't worry, crime stats are down. Thank U Mr President for such a safe safe country," tweeted the 32-year-old.

South African cricketers presently on duty at the world Twenty20 in Sri Lanka also chipped in their reactions.

"Shocking news about Corrie Sanders' death, gonna miss u Corras," commented ace batsman and Twenty20 skipper AB deVilliers.

Pace bowler Albie Morkel said his joy at beating hosts Sri Lanka in Saturday's Twenty20 game had been soured by the news.

"Went to bed as a happy man last night only to wake up to the tragic news of Corrie Sanders death.. Another senseless murder in SA!! RIP"

The ordinary boxing fan too chipped in with Terry Dooley, who was present on the night that Sanders experienced his greatest moment giving a touching eye witness account of it.

"RIP Corrie Sanders. Sad news. I'll never forget Wlad coming out to the ring like a Roman Emperor then getting chinned by Sanders in 2003."

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