After just 13 pro bouts, exciting Thulani Mbenge faces the biggest gut-check of his promising career when he fights big-hitting Diego Chaves of Argentina at Emperors Palace this weekend.
The IBO’s vacant welterweight belt will be on the line, but so too will Mbenge’s reputation. He’s had a fairly seamless ride to prominence, but in Chaves he’ll be meeting a man who won’t be cowed by the occasion and will consider Mbenge little more than a prospect who has met his match.
Chaves is rugged and won’t think twice about fighting rough, which is how he got disqualified against Brandon Rios several years ago.
It’s been a few years since he was in against the like of Tim Bradley, but he’s been successful on the local circuit, knocking out promising Jean Carlos Prada and Luis Pablo Zarate.
He will likely try and pull Mbenge into a war, although if the South African relies on his range and effective jab, he ought to have the measure of Chaves. More combination punching is also in order as he seeks to claim his first major crown.
Stablemate Thabiso Mchunu, meanwhile, has a big test against little-known Richard Bolotnik. The Latvian isn’t here on holiday and is determined to prove he belongs at elite level by travelling to SA and claiming the scalp of a man who has fought for the championship.
There’s nothing mysterious about Bolotnik: he is big and strong and aggressive, nothing Mchunu hasn’t encountered before.
The question is which Mchunu will pitch on Saturday? The one who dominated Johnny Muller so thoroughly last year? Or the one who subsequently fell asleep against Constantin Bejenaru?
What Mchunu must know is that fans won’t tolerate a lethargic performance, especially with the promise of a big-money fight against Tommy Oosthuizen down the track.
At his best, he’s a slick southpaw who can trouble the very best. It’s the form he will be expected to reproduce on Saturday night.
There will be plenty of eyes on super-middleweight prospect Rowan Campbell, who is pitched against Malkhaz Sujashvili of Georgia. It’s a calculated risk by Golden Gloves, who are betting on Campbell moving fast through the division. There’s a SA title fight on the horizon, but it would be dangerous to look past Sujashvili, who can punch.
The middleweight six-rounder between Wade Groth and Andile Mntungwa of KZN could be very entertaining given Groth’s aggression and power.
The purists will need look no further than Ayabonga “Jay Jay” Sonjica, who gets the action started at 7pm against Tumelo Matsane.
Sonjica is a smooth-hitting fighter who can bang. Fans will be hoping he provides an explosive start to what promises to be a fascinating night of boxing.
TV: SUPERSPORT 7 & 9, from 7pm.