In a high-quality fight that topped the bill at Emperors Palace on Saturday, Simphiwe Khonco put on a master class against whipper-snapping challenger Siyabonga Siyo.
While many believed that Siyo would have too many moves and too much energy for the older Khonco, it was the teacher who showed the pupil the way on his way to claiming the vacant IBO strawweight championship against the undefeated Siyo.
Scores were 116-112, 116-112, 118-110.
Large chunks of the fight were nip-and-tuck, but Khonco’s fast, accurate right hand worked a treat as he outhustled and outworked Siyo. The youngster fought with great confidence and ambition and certainly belongs at this level, but Khonco shaded him in the areas that counted.
He set a furious work rate, picked his shots well and waged a fierce tactical battle that paid dividends as he pocketed one round after the next,
Siyo was keen to engage, but he picked the wrong man in Khonco, who responded in kind with the sort of artillery that champions possess.
Aware that he was down on points, Siyo pressed the action hard in the 10th, but Khonco’s superb movement and defence served him well. He rocked Siyo in the 12th, but he was happy to leave it there, coasting to an emphatic win that ought to open doors for him against a range of top quality opponents at the weight.
Meanwhile, in the first Super Four cruiserweight bout of the night, Kevin Lerena emerged victorious after being put through the mill by wily veteran Roberto Bolonti of Argentina.
Scores were 97-93, 97-93, 96-94.
Lerena began like a house on fire, but he dropped the pace in the last third of the fight, seemingly spent of ideas against an opponent who shook off his attacks and was willing to mix.
Lerena appeared to shake him up from time to time, but Bolonti cleverly feigned being hurt, only to rouse himself back into action. He wasn’t averse to using his head or tying Lerena up; old tricks he’s learnt from a lifetime on the international fight circuit.
Lerena fought solidly, but only in short bursts, leading many to wonder how he might do if he adds better consistency to his fight game. He was very effective behind the jab, but when he forgot to use it, the awkward Bolonti took the openings.
However, there wasn’t a single moment when Lerena looked in trouble and he will do nicely if he absorbs the lessons of a fight against a veteran who had more than a few to share.
He will need to do so if he is to overcome heavy-handed Micki Nielsen in the Super Four final in October.
As expected, Nielsen advanced to the final, but only after overcoming tough resistance from Johnny Muller.
Muller shipped some powerful punches from the Dane, proving that he has one of the most dependable chins in local boxing.
The southpaw Nielsen was a sight to behold as he teed off with big right hands, but Muller is nothing if not durable. He shook them off and looked useful when he found his rhythm, often flustering Nielsen with combination punching. The Dane simply covered up and took a lot of shots on his arms, but the South African’s attacks frequently quelled his enthusiasm.
The trouble was that Muller never sustained the work rate that would enable him to steal rounds. He had his moments, but the visitor was just too big and too strong as he plodded forward, digging shots to the head and body.
Nielsen was easy to hit, so when Muller was in the mood the action turned into a slugfest in which Nielsen had the edge. To confirm his dominance, the Dane dumped Muller in the tenth for an eight-count, confirming a unanimous points win: 95-94, 96-93, 98-91.
Meanwhile, the Joshua Studdard freight train came to a screeching stop after bewildering scoring from the judges saw him lose his unbeaten record to Ayanda Nkosi via majority decision.
Despite struggling to get inside the range of the long-limbed Nkosi, Studdard always appeared to be well in control. He teed off nicely with his right hand and rocked Nkosi on occasion.
Nkosi had his moments, but it was difficult to fathom how the judges saw anything but a Studdard win.
It was Studdard’s first fight at junior-featherweight and although he looked comfortable, he might be better fighting at bantamweight.
Earlier, Chas Wasserman and Fiston Kabamba were a closely-matched pair and so it proved as they banged away for a four-round draw at light-heavyweight.
Wasserman took a while to settle down, but when he did he found a game opponent in Kabamba. The southpaw seemed to turn the fight in the third, but the judges saw it differently – 39-37 (Kabamba) and 38-38, 38-38.