BY DROEKS MALAN
In a fight that had South African boxing aficionados split down the middle, 37-year-old gatekeeper Ryno “The Lion” Liebenberg proved at least half of them wrong. He became the new South African super middleweight champion when referee Tony Nyangiwe had seen enough and rescued the aptly nicknamed Rowan “Braveheart” Campbell from himself, waving the fight over at the 1:19 mark of the eighth round at Emperor’s Palace, Gauteng on March 14.
It was a rough affair from the start, with Liebenberg charging out of his corner, bullying a nervous-looking Campbell around the ring. He tried to hold and grabbed Liebenberg around the legs several times, eliciting a warning and a point deduction. To top it off, Campbell emerged out of a clinch with a cut over his left eye when the bell ended the opening session.
Campbell, a pressure fighter who is not used to fighting on the back foot, was being forced to do just that when Liebenberg drove him across the ring behind a solid left jab to start the second. Campbell dug in his heels and started fighting back, landing some hooks to the body and head. But even though he may have a slight edge in hand speed, it was clear that Liebenberg, who fought as a light-heavyweight for most of his career, had the much heavier hands.
A thudding left hook deposited Campbell on the canvass in a delayed reaction towards the end of the second round. He rose quickly without his legs under him and went down again on one knee before clambering to his feet, steadying himself in the corner. The bell came as a welcome reprise, ringing just as the eight count was completed.
Campbell was hurt again in the third by another left hook, just as he seemed to gather his wits. Whenever they clinched, Liebenberg kept punching with whichever hand he had free.
In the fourth Campbell started using his jab more, trying to get some distance between himself and Liebenberg, who appeared to take his foot off the gas ever so slightly. Campbell also brought a left uppercut into play and gave his fans a slight glimmer of hope that he might be getting out of the fog.
It was short lived. They continued exchanging combinations in the fifth with Liebenberg landing the harder shots on an increasingly wobbly Campbell, with plenty of rough stuff mixed in up close. Campbell was now bleeding from another two cuts, this time over his right eye. After a break in the action when the referee called the doctor onto the apron to inspect the cuts, Campbell launched a desperation attack, wailing away at Liebenberg’s body. Ryno simply responded by hitting him back, harder.
Campbell came in the young gun, 12-0, in ascending mode.
An overhand right by Liebenberg when he backed Campbell to the corner at the start of the sixth had the loser holding on and later in the round, another one of those almost sent Campbell with his back through the ropes before he steadied himself. He got a brief reprieve when the referee stopped the action to take a point from Liebenberg for head butts, but it now looked like a lost cause and was becoming hard to watch, if you were a Campbell fan.
It was Campbell’s turn to be docked a point for using his head in the seventh, but he was taking shot after shot from Liebenberg to both the head and body. Battered and bleeding, he had the look of a spent fighter. He somehow stayed on his feet, throwing the odd ineffective punch but he had nothing left except courage.
There seemed no reason for the eighth round and when more of the same followed, it came as a relief when the referee agreed with the ringside sentiment and waved it over.
Campbell, who suffered his first defeat, drops to 12-1 with eight knockouts, while Liebenberg, who donated his entire purse to children in need, improves to 21-7-1 with 14 stoppages.
Rowan Campbell had good career momentum coming into this fight but even though he showed championship heart and conditioning, he will have to rebuild. There were simply too many holes in his arsenal. To his credit, he stepped up to the next level, but Ryno Liebenberg simply slammed the gate in his face with a resounding clang.
It was not a good night for undefeated prospects.
Ricardo “Magic Man” Malajika (below left) could not find the right potion to vanquish South African champion Sabelo “Saint” Ngebinyana in a junior bantamweight eight rounder and dropped a split decision by two scores of 77-74 with the third card favoring him by an identical margin.
Malajika came to the ring unbeaten. He left knowing he has more things to learn about pugilism.
The southpaw Ngebinyana came to fight, dropping Malajika with a right hook in the opening round. Ngebinyana kept pressing in the second round, landing hard hooks to the head and body but Malajika seemed to regain some composure towards the end of the round, countering with uppercuts and hooks.
By the third, the switch hitting Malajika settled into the orthodox stance and began boxing from a distance. For his part, Ngebinyana continued to pressure the quicker Malajika, landing the harder shots to the body with the occasional head blow mixed in, while Malajika landed the odd quick eye-catching shot.
That effectively set the pattern of the fight. Ngebinyana was slightly busier landing some good straight lefts and body shots, whereas Malajika had some success with his straight right and uppercuts to the body which made the rounds hard to score.
Malajika closed strong, knocking Ngebinyana into the ropes with a straight right in the final round but it was too little too late and he now drops to 7-1 with five knockouts. Malajika has raw talent, but despite a change of trainers, still struggles to settle on a fighting style. Certain fundamentals like proper balance and a dependable jab, are still lacking.
Sabelo Ngebinyana, who improves to 13-4 with 10 knockouts, can be a bit of an in-and-outer but he is as tough as they come and perhaps this win could be just the shot in the arm that his career needs.
Undefeated 17-0-1 junior featherweight Lodumo “9mm” Lamati returned to action, posting a shutout decision over eight rounds with identical scores of 80 – 72 over Said Mohamed Hassan, who dropped to 16-8-2. Hassan was gutsy but completely outclassed. With swelling under both eyes, all he could do was see out the distance, while Lamati dissected him with a crisp jab and combinations to the head and body.
Shervontaigh Koopman TKO 3 Junior Makondo (junior middleweight)
Nthethelelo Nkosi UD 4 Hafeni Gerhard (junior welterweight)
Nelson Mbhele KO 2 Ndumiso Musawenkosi (middleweight)