As the world starts to slowly open, country by country and region by region, there are various approaches to boxing cards, ranging from reduced crowds to studio boxing to simply riding out the wave until all restrictions are lifted.
World-wide travel restrictions are the next headache. The British Boxing Board of Control has recently brought up the topic, suggesting that their promoters will have to make do with matching UK fighters against each other for the time being.
With the final leg of 4@War and the “Who will Prevail?” cruiserweight tournament waiting to receive a green light from government, Golden Gloves is ahead of the curve, but they are not alone. Most trainers, managers and fighters feel that using our local talent to boost boxing is the way to go and are enthusiastic about reviving this rich South African boxing tradition that turned certain local fights into timeless classics.
While the very top talent who have significant international options, like Moruti Mthalane, Kevin Lerena, Junior Makabu and Thabiso Mchunu, do not wish to cash in their chips locally just yet, others do not have the choice of waiting too long.
South African and IBO All-Africa super middleweight champion, Rowan Campbell is one of the fighters put in a difficult position with the travel restrictions. He was scheduled to fight unbeaten Ukrainian, Evgeny Shvedenko, in Germany for the vacant IBO world title. Although everything will be done to reschedule the bout, it is starting to look less and less likely.
Before the IBO world title opportunity came, there was a lot of interest in a crossroads bout between Campbell and seasoned veteran, Ryno Liebenberg. The two even had words in the ring at Emperor’s Palace.
It is a fight that makes sense. Liebenberg is a lot better than his record indicates, having been at the wrong end of several controversial scorecards. He has held various belts of the regional and international variety but at the very top level, his limitations were exposed against Eleider Alvarez and a prime Tommy Oosthuizen. Win or lose, Liebenberg is a crowd-pleasing warrior and he brings a raucous fan base with him.
Campbell is the younger, undefeated fighter and looked like a million bucks in his last fight, taking out SA lightheavyweight champion, Nic Radley, in four rounds. He has done very well for a boxer with almost no amateur background, developing into a calculated pressure fighter with a solid jab and big right hand. It does, however, remain to be seen how well he will deal with adversity if he is dragged into an extended war, something that is somewhat of a Liebenberg trademark.
A win over Shvedenko and an IBO world title would admittedly do more for Campbell’s career at the moment but there is no better Plan B than a bout with Liebenberg and it might just do more for Campbell’s development as a fighter.
The bottom line is this: If you are going to do anything big on the international stage, then you have to get past Ryno Liebenberg. Campbell might as well bite the bullet and Liebenberg would love to close out an eventful career with a final big sendoff.
Then there is the open question of where the winner of the 4@War tournament, be it Brandon Thysse or Boyd Allen, goes from there. For the loser there may be the winner of the bout for third place between Roarke Knapp and Tristan Truter but the tournament winner will have to look wider.
A bout with undefeated South African based Emmany Kalombo would be an intriguing matchup that is sure to create interest among the hardcore fans. Kalombo has stopped all 14 of his opponents so far. Part of the Damien Durandt camp, the heavy-handed fighter is a dangerous option for anybody, but he is also someone who still needs to be dragged into deep water to see whether he will swim or drown.
Top junior featherweight prospect, Ayabonga “Jay Jay” Sonjica, trained by Sean Smith, also needs to get busy. Sonjica impressed in his last fight, winning the South African title with a wide decision over Innocent Mantengu. The smooth boxing Sonjica is 9-0 with seven knockouts but where does he go from here? There is only one other local fighter in the division in South Africa who would represent a serious challenge and that man would be IBF Intercontinental champion, Ludumo Lamati. Nicknamed “9mm,” Lamati has been on the international campaign, beating veteran Richie Mepranum in his last fight in September, running his record to 16-0-1 with ten stoppages.
Lamati will represent a big step up for Sonjica, perhaps more than is needed. What is in it for Lamati is also an open question. Then again, what other options are there for either in the absence of overseas competition?
On the subject of stepping up, junior bantamweight prospect Ricardo “Magic Man” Malajika, was scheduled to take a huge leap up in class against Jonas Sultan before lockdown. With that fight now seemingly something of the past, there are tentative plans to match him with 13-2 Sikho Nqothole. Malajika is still only 6-0 with 5 knockouts as a pro and Nqothole, a former WBA Pan African champion and South African title challenger seems a much more manageable step up.
Nqothhole’s trainer, Alan Toweel jr, does not view his fighter as an underdog. “I really think Sikho has got this one. Sikho has got the style to take him. Although Malajika is quick and flashy, the real Sikho hasn’t come out yet. It will be an exciting fight with contrasting styles, a southpaw against a good, orthodox boxer.” Let us hope to see the two in the ring at the first opportunity.
Another Toweel fighter is 35-year oldd veteran Tshifiwa Munyai who has staged a solid comeback, upsetting Siphosethu Mvula for the vacant South African lightweight title. A former Commonwealth and IBO world champion at lower weights, Munyai looked to a the end of the road after back-to-back stoppage losses at the hands of Azinga Fuzile and Rofhiwa Maemu in 2017 but he has wn four in a row since and time is not on his side.
“We are trying to get Nomeva,” says Toweel. He is of course referring to Xolisani Ndongeni by his nickname of “The Wasp.” That would represent a solid matchup. Ndongeni, a former IBO and WBF world title holder, has won everything there is to win on local and fringe world title level. He stumbled for the first time in his career when he dipped his toe into the elite pool, getting outpointed by current WBC world lightweight champion, Devin Haney. He was scheduled to fight another top international opponent at junior welterweight on a big US card but that fell through.
Toweel also has a Plan B in mind. “If we can’t get him, we would like to fight Ayanda Nkosi.” Nkosi is another young up-and-comer who won the WBF lightweight title last year, stopping Mexican veteran Emanuel Lopez. Munyai would be the kind of solid test that Nkosi, nicknamed “Greyhound,” should not run from.
Jabulani Makhense has established himself as South Africa’s top junior welterweight but the division does not have any interesting local names that he is yet to beat. In his last fight against South African based Congolese fighter, Marios Matamba, he was forced to dig deep, and the fight was close. It was an action-packed encounter with contrasting styles, so perhaps a rematch might be in order?