The fight had experts split down the middle when asked to predict the outcome, but no one called an early round stoppage. Yet, that is exactly what Thulani Mbenge delivered when he handed Jabulani Makhense his first defeat by dominating third round TKO at Emperor’s Palace in South Africa on Saturday.
In a scheduled ten round welterweight bout on this Golden Gloves Promotions/Rodney Berman card, Mbenge started the first round by stalking Makhense, who was trying to box on the fly as expected. Mbenge won the battle of the jabs, as he clearly had more on the left stick than the quicker Makhense, who flurried every time Mbenge got close. Makhense’s punches had no effect on Mbenge, though, who got in a hard left hook as the bell sounded.
In the second, Mbenge started mixing in a straight right to the body to follow his power jab. Backed against the ropes, Makhense shoe-shined his way out of trouble and threw some body shots but Mbenge kept up his rhythm of a jab, followed by a straight right to the body and a thudding left hook moments after that.
Sensing his opponent’s unease, Mbenge went after him in the third round. He landed a snapping right uppercut at the start of the round and a straight right moments later had Makhense on the retreat. Another one of those knocked him back towards the ropes, which was the last place he needed to be. A huge Mbenge left hook slammed home, hurting him badly. Two hard rights and a glancing left hook had a helpless Makhense out on his feet, leaving referee Simon Mokadi no choice but to wave the fight over at the 2:43 mark as Makhense sagged towards the canvass.
Mbenge, who also holds wins over Diego Chavez and Miguel Vazquez, moves to 18-1 with 14 knockouts while Makhense drops to 11-1.
If the main supporting bout had all the attention in the build-up, junior featherweights Lodumo Lamati and Jose Martin Estrada Garcia showed why they were indeed the main event.
If a live crowd were allowed to attend, there would not have been a seated spectator in the house. The fight was that good!
Lamati edged the 12-round majority decision by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 with a third card even at 114-114 but almost did not make it to the final bell.
The rap on Lamati has always been that he is talented but coasts to victory in cruise control, rarely moving out of second gear. Well, this time he had to go through all of them when he was faced with a warrior in the finest Mexican tradition.
Lamati started off well behind a busy, stiff jab followed by laser-like straight rights to both the body and head, one of them swiveling Garcia’s head just before the bell.
An energized Garcia charged out of his corner in the second, landing a hard right uppercut that bloodied Lamati’s nose. He followed that with vicious short right hooks to the body. Lamati roared back with quick combinations, upstairs and downstairs, showing the punch variety that he lacked in the past. One of those had Garcia tapping his gloves and nodding at the end of the round.
A protracted two-way exchange of vicious body blows followed in the third before Lamati took a step back and landed some straight rights down the pipe, taking advantage of his better hand speed. Then it was back to trading blows at mid-range.
In the fourth, Garcia found the mark with a short, chopping right to the head. Whenever he landed those, Lamati responded with combinations of his own before Garcia would rip in those classic hooks to the body Mexican fighters are known for. Every one of them prompted return fire from the South African.
That set the pattern of the fight. Lamati had the slight edge in volume, landing the more eye-catching blows whenever he could create some space between them. Still, he paid a heavy price for his success. Garcia kept working the body and landed his own punches whenever he could.
Lamati tried to box more in the sixth, stepping around Garcia, making him miss and pay but that would only last for so long. Garcia had a knack of dragging the fight into the trenches with Lamati not unwilling to engage him.
Garcia landed an eye catching double left hook to body and head followed by a right uppercut to end the seventh. Lamati responded with his wow moment in the eighth, sending home a straight left-right-left punctuated by a right uppercut to send the spray flying. Some of the snap seemed to leave Garcia’s punches in the ninth when Lamati landed some fast combinations and a hard straight right, but the lapse was only temporary.
Garcia got his second wind in the tenth. He had Lamati looking unsteady on his feet after landing a series of left hooks, opening a cut under the South African’s right eye. Garcia came storming out of his corner in the eleventh, landing several left hooks. Lamati tried to quell his momentum by launching his own body attack, but a right uppercut from
Garcia had him holding on, as he was now also bleeding from a cut over his left eye.
Bleeding from the face and nose, Lamati got on his bicycle, intent to make it to the final bell. Garcia was hell-bent on scoring a come-from-behind stoppage and almost succeeded but Lamati showed incredible resolve to make it to the final bell.
It was a fight that did not deserve a loser. Garcia who, incredibly, stood in his corner between rounds all the way to the end, can hold his head high. His record may drop to 12-2-1 but underestimate him at your peril.
Lamati, now 18-0-1 with ten stoppages, edged enough rounds to overcome the late surge of Garcia on the cards. More importantly, he showed the heart of a champion in what turned out to be a baptism of fire, the blood-soaked shirt of referee Deon Dwarte (below) bearing testament to their war.
Junior middleweight Brandon Thysse had another impressive outing, handing Tomi Silvennoinen of Finland his first defeat inside the distance, getting the knockout at 1:00 of the tenth round when his opponent was counted out on his knees.
Silvennoinen, strong and sturdy, pushed hard throughout the fight but only had sporadic success with the odd clubbing right and hook to the body. The much quicker Thysse racked up the rounds, boxing behind a steady left jab while constantly banging in a hard right hook to the body. He also walked his opponent onto some ripping uppercuts and made good use of angles.
Just as it looked like the visitor was on his way to lasting the distance, Thysse jumped on him with a left and right hook to the body followed by a right uppercut. Silvennoinen dropped to his knees in the corner. He got up but Thysse kept punching, a final right hook to the body sending his opponent down for good.
Thysse improves to 14-2-1 with 12 knockouts, while Silvennoinen drops to 9-4.
In the other junior middleweight bout, Roarke Knapp had too much power for Benoit Makangila Vela, handing him his first defeat after Vela failed to answer the bell at the start of the third round. Knapp kept steady pressure on his opponent, landing hard left hooks and straight rights for as long as the fight lasted.
Knapp, whose only defeat was to Thysse, moves to 12-1-1 with ten knockouts while Vela drops to 12-1-2
Cruiserweight Johnny Muller proved that his first upset win over Akani Phuzi was no fluke, when he repeated his victory. It was closer this time, Muller wining a split decision by two scores of 97-93, with a rather odd dissenting card of 96-94 for Phuzi.
This time, Phuzi boxed on his feet. He landed the odd, eye-catching jab and straight right but his work rate was simply not high enough. He clinched whenever an exchange ensued and seemed gun-shy. That approach allowed Muller to be the aggressor throughout. The veteran simply outworked Phuzi every time he got close. Muller moves his record to 23-9-2 while Phuzi drops to 11-2.
Shervontaigh Koopman UD 6 Jacques Tshikubu Muvud (Junior Middleweight)
Wilhelm Nebe KO 1 Jean Pierre Steenkamp (Heavyweight)
Nelson Mbhele UD 4 Thando Mali (Middleweight)
Phikelani Khumalo UD 4 Chris Gouws (Middleweight)