Aged 34, Ryno Liebenberg knows the end is close.
Now in his ninth year as a professional boxer, he’s had his fair share of successes and failures. He’s been cut and hurt and swamped by the punches of other men, but he’s won belts and beaten fighters he wasn’t expected to win against.
Unlike most, he fights not for the money; he fights because he likes being tested. He fights because boxing is a world he loves.
The man they call “The Lion” is no fool, though, which is why he says his next fight might be his last.
In a little over two weeks he will be in Germany for a bout against local puncher Vincent Feigenbutz. Few will give him a chance against a young lion like the German, who is younger, hits harder and is arguably hungrier than the battle-worn South African.
This is the sort of talk Liebenberg has heard throughout his career. Thankfully, he seldom listened, otherwise he might not have fought at all.
Liebenberg knows he has reached the point in his career where he is a gatekeeper to the super-middleweight division, the sort of fighter you must beat if you have championship ambitions. It’s an important role, but Liebenberg still sees himself as a contender of sorts. He yearns to win another belt – the IBF Intercontinental crown will be on the line – after narrow failures against Tommy Oosthuizen, Erik Skoglund and Enrico Koelling.
“Retiring is at the back of my mind,” he conceded on Wednesday morning. “I want a big win at international level first. If I win, I’ll keep at it, maybe get a title shot down the line. If I lose, I don’t need to carry on. I have a family, there’s a new baby on the way . . .
“No, if I lose, I’ll call it quits. There’s no point in fighting on the local stage.”
That isn’t defeatist talk. It’s the talk of a fighter who knows where he’s at and what he is capable of, which is why he’s travelling to Germany with a single mission in mind – to knock Feigenbutz out.[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If he bangs me out, so be it. I’d rather get knocked out than lose on points[/perfectpullquote]
“He can bang properly, but the last guy I fought (Patrick Mukala) also had a reputation as a puncher and I handled him easily. I’m going to Germany for the knockout. I don’t want to box and ‘win’ only to get stiffed. If he bangs me out, so be it. I’d rather get knocked out than lose on points. Let’s see if he can take it.”
Having shifted down a division late in his career, Liebenberg finds the new weight a little harder to achieve, especially having had no such issues at light-heavyweight. But he’s disciplined and knows what must be done, which is why he needs to shift less than three kilograms before fight time.
“I don’t let my weight go so heavy that I suffer later,” he said. “It’s cold in Germany, I don’t want to have to pull weight there.”
He’s doing what he can for sparring, but finds it difficult with so few takers. Local hard man Alfonso Tissen has helped him these past few years and the past weekend he also swapped punches with cruiserweight prospect Chris Thompson. This week he’ll be heading to Peter Smith’s gym for more work, trying to gain the critical edge he needs to make a major statement in Germany.
“I know what needs to be done. I’ll get no favours in Germany, but that’s okay. I expect I won’t need any.”