Thulani Mbenge’s march towards stardom will continue in earnest on June 23 when he headlines the “Bombs Away” tournament at Emperors Palace.
The WBC International champion will contest the IBO’s vacant welterweight title against heavy-handed Diego Gabriel Chaves (26-3-1) of Argentina in what amounts to a significant step up for the South African.
Chaves has mixed with major names like Keith Thurman, Tim Bradley and Brandon Rios.
Three other international fights pack the undercard with Thabiso Mchunu in a 10-round cruiserweight fight against Latvia’s Ricards Bolotniks and WBC International minimumweight champion DeeJay Kriel defending his title against Toto Landero of the Philippines.
Rowan Campbell also takes a serious step up: he fights his first eight-rounder against once-beaten Malkhaz Sujashvili of Georgia at super-middleweight.
Adding to the excitement, crowd-pleasing Wade Groth and former amateur star JJ Sonjica will open the show.
“It’s been to and fro with various agents and managers around the world over some months, and now I’m satisfied we have a top-class tournament,” said promoter Rodney Berman at the media announcement north of Johannesburg earlier today. “Thulani is earmarked for the top and I expect we’ll know even more about his ability after the Chaves fight. The Argentine is strong and tough; Thulani must be at his best. And Thabiso is someone I’m planning to bring right back. Bolotniks might beat him, though . . . I’ve been told he will present problems. I’m excited about the rest of the talent featuring. SA boxing is in good shape.”
Before turning pro, Chaves represented Argentina in the 2007 Pan American Games where he won bronze in the welterweight category. He also participated in the Americas qualifying tournament for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The former WBA interim welterweight champion achieved his best result four years ago, drawing with former world champion Bradley in an entertaining bout that saw him unloading bombs throughout. Mbenge, then, must be wary of the challenger’s power and ring smarts. Anything less than a prime display will see him surrender his unbeaten record to the most dangerous of opponents.
Bolotniks (11-4-1), who fights Mchunu, recently lost a narrow decision to 24-1 Micki Nielsen and is well-known on the European circuit for fighting hard.
Landero (10-2-2), meanwhile, is fresh off a WBA title shot and represents the most challenging opponent of Kriel’s 16-bout career. It will be Landero’s first fight outside South-East Asia and Kriel will be looking to make a statement given how strongly he is poised with the major organisations.
Campbell, too, looks to have a tough night ahead of him. Sujashvili (10-1) carries a big dig, eight of his wins coming inside the distance. The pair meet over eight rounds.
In separate four-rounders, Groth and Sonjica will hope to underline their credentials at the Palace of Dreams.