Boxing Snippets

Thulani Mbenge-Jabulani Makhense superfight set to reignite Eastern Cape vs Limpopo rivalry.

In the fine tradition of local rivalries, South African and ABU welterweight champion, Thulani “Evolution” Mbenge will fight WBA Pan African champion, Jabulani Makhense, on the June 19th card at Emperor’s Palace entitled “Generation Next.”
Both fighters have something to prove.
Mbenge is eager to show that his only loss, a disputed decision to Sebastian Formella in Germany, was just a temporary setback and that he can still fulfill the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders. The undefeated 11-0 with five knockouts Makhense, for his part, had a less than stellar outing in his last fight, laboring to a scrappy decision win over Mardochee Kuvesa Katembo, so he too has a few naysayers to silence.
Mbenge, originally from Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, also holds a decision win over the same Katembo but had an easier time than Makhense against the rugged mauler from the DRC. The performance did not escape the notice of Mbenge’s trainer, Sean Smith. “I don’t like to go by last fights but I saw a few holes in Makhense’s armor. Had he walked through Kuvesa, I would have been more concerned. We also had an average outing against Kuvesa but we beat him more convincingly.”
Erik Kapia is another common opponent. Mbenge stopped him in four rounds back in 2016 while Makhense turned the trick inside a round in 2020. Still, with Mbenge sporting 13 stoppages, which is more than Makhense’s total number of fights, “Thulz” is seen as the better puncher of the pair, while Makhense is perceived as the smoother technician.
The 17-1 Mbenge is by far the more seasoned fighter. A former IBO world welterweight champion himself, he sports wins over former world titleholders, Diego Chaves and Miguel Vazquez.
Sean Smith emphasizes the experience factor. “Makhense is a good opponent. In some of his fights, I was surprised. He actually did better than I thought but if you compare the two, Makhense hasn’t had an international (overseas) opponent yet.”
Makhense’s trainer, former WBU and IBO cruiserweight champion, Sebastiaan Rothman, has no illusions about the magnitude of the task at hand. “There is no doubt that Thulz is the favorite. He is a former world champion. Jabu underperformed in his last fight and Thulz has been longer at the weight as well, we only moved up for the last two fights. Mbenge is good with distance. If he gets his distance and rhythm right, it is very hard to stop his momentum.”
Still, Team Makhense relishes the challenge. “That is why we are taking this fight. My boxer always does better when he is thrown in at the deep end. We respect Mbenge and Sean Smith but because he is the underdog, my guy is working harder. He is the most talented fighter since Mzukisi Sikali in my opinion. What people should know is that Jabulani will be in the best condition of his pro career, no doubt about it. To take Thulz somewhere he has never been before, into the deep waters, will take a very special effort, but I believe he can do it.”
There is also a long Limpopo vs Eastern Cape rivalry that Rothman draws attention to. “You can look at Mbulelo Botile fighting Cassius Baloyi, Jackie Gunguluza against Phillip Ndou. Jabulani wouldn’t have started boxing if it wasn’t for Baloyi, he started in that gym f theirs. He must now become that guy that, over years, will inspire the next group of youngsters to box instead of playing soccer.”
It is a fight that has tongues wagging and seems like one of those stylistic matchups that cannot fail to deliver. Both trainers agree.
“You got to believe in your boxer, and I am not disregarding Makhense but if I can get Thulani on his A game or even B minus, I think he will be too much for Makhense,” says Smith. “It is the right fight at the right time for both fighters. It should be a great fight. The timing is right, the platform is right, the build-up is right.”
Rothman concurs and emphasizes the importance of leaving a lasting impression on the sport. “Both fighters are peaking. We, and I am sure them as well, want to make a statement that we are the best on the continent. In eighteen months or so we want to fight a top twenty guy, someone like a Conor Benn, but if we can’t beat Thulz, we can’t look at those fights. Boxing is also about legacy, not just business. In the end you want to fight the best. Like Phillip Ndou fighting Mayweather, Corrie (Sanders) fighting the Klitschkos and (Lehlohonolo) Ledwaba fighting Manny Pacquiao.”
With Lodumo Lamati challenging for the IBO junior featherweight world title, the Johnny Muller-Akani Phuzi rematch, as well as Brandon Thysse and Roarke Knapp in separate international bouts all on the same card, June cannot arrive fast enough!

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