Boxing Snippets

Spicy Mexican holds no fears for SA’s Tulz

A big 12 months awaits Thulani Mbenge, who fights tough Mexican Miguel Vasquez next month. Pic: N-Squared

These are heady days for world-class boxers.

Catch the eye of a big-name boxing executive or rattle the cages of a significant number of fight fans, and your life might change quickly.

This is the potential facing Thulani Mbenge, the gifted and unbeaten welterweight who puts his IBO belt on the line at Emperors Palace on December 8. If he gets past Miguel Vasquez, he’ll be shipped to the US where the depth at welterweight is as good as it’s ever been. It’s a fertile market for a dazzling talent like Mbenge, but it’s also ferocious and difficult – he’ll get eaten alive if he can’t handle himself.

And this explains why he must do a number on Vasquez, a gnarled pro who fights hard and smart and with the cunning of an old fox. The Mexican has fought 46 times and mixed with some of the best, among them Canelo Alvarez whom he dropped a decision to when he was just 21.

Miguel Vasquez.

Fighting Vasquez is a calculated risk for the South African’s camp. Mbenge must continue to test himself, climbing the ladder to where the likes of Errol Spence and Terence Crawford reside, but he can’t afford being matched against the wrong opponent; not after just 14 outings.

“It’s not a case of throwing him to the wolves,” says Rodney Berman, the canny promoter who oversees Mbenge’s trajectory. “He demonstrated in his last fight, against Diego Chavez, that he is a special talent. If he’s going to crack the truly big fights, boxers like Vasquez must be beaten. Mbenge has the ability, now he must get out there and deliver.”

If that sounds like an endorsement, it’s more than that. Berman has negotiated with Lou Di Bella to feature Mbenge on a New York show next year. The influential US promoter is interested, but that interest will evaporate faster than a Highveld rain puddle on a hot summer’s day if Mbenge slips up in December.

Sean Smith, Mbenge’s trainer, knows what they’re up against. “This guy is a bit of a spoiler and only been stopped once, by a Josh Taylor shot to the body. For Tulz, the key is to implement his game plan. He mustn’t try and overpower him. The guy moves a lot, closes the distance. It’s hard to find your rhythm against a guy like this.

“Tulz must establish his jab and movement, go to work on the guy from early on. Tulz can hit the body; he has long levers and the confidence of stopping Vasquez.”

It’s the sort of talk you hope to hear about Mbenge, especially as the welterweight division is brimming with bangers at elite level.

Smith points to division boss Spence as an example of this, citing the American’s ability to break down opponents. He works them out and roughs them up before finishing them.

“That’s the strategy for Tulz: be clear and aggressive to the body. This guy is cheeky, he can use his head, that sort of thing. But Tulz is up for this. His hunger drives him, which is why he’s so well-conditioned. A tough fight awaits, but Tulz is up for this one.”

As he will need to be.



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