Ryno Liebenberg makes the point that he’s more than friends with Alfonso Tissen.
“We’re very good buddies, I like him a lot.”
Even so, Liebenberg will be going for the knockout when the pair square off at Emperors Palace on September 1.
“We’ve probably sparred a thousand rounds,” said the former light-heavyweight contender, “and we’ve built up a solid friendship.”
Indeed, when the fight was proposed by Golden Gloves, Tissen phoned Liebenberg to ask if he was okay going through with it.
“He told me it was for a lot of money, more than he’s ever earned. I couldn’t deny him that opportunity. I told him I respect and love him, but we must fight,” said the straight-talking Liebenberg
It’s a major opportunity for Tissen. Beating Liebenberg would establish him as a viable fighter to put on the international road. But for Liebenberg, there is no upside.
“I’m expected to beat him, and I will. But if I lose, that’s it. Bad decision or not, I’ll retire in the ring. If I can’t beat Alfonso, I have no business being in boxing. It’s a much bigger risk for me. It’s like every fight is my last. I’ve had some bad decisions, I’m still trying to make it.
“For Alfonso, who has a few losses, there will be no shame in losing to me. He can come again, he’s young enough. I’m not. We’ve sparred maybe 1000 rounds and I’ve buckled him plenty. They see opportunity, I see an easy fight.”
Gert Strydom, whom Liebenberg worked with early in his career, is taking charge of Tissen’s preparation, so there’s plenty of needle.
Liebenberg reckons they believe they’ve found a way to upset him, but he can’t imagine Tissen will have a means to keep out of harm’s way for 12 rounds.
“He’s gonna run and try fight on the outside with his fast hands. But when I step it up, it will be over; I don’t expect a long fight.”
Even though Liebenberg largely bossed their sparring sessions, he isn’t the sort of fighter who draws too much from those sessions. His policy is to treat sparring as a training resource. It’s all business and, unlike many, he doesn’t take liberties.
But those sessions have given him the confidence that he can produce a knockout, which would be his first in three years.
Aged 34, Liebenberg believes he can still have a run at a title, not least because he started his pro career late, at the age of 28. He reckons he might continue boxing to the end of 2019 and perhaps seek a shot at the IBO super-middleweight belt, which is vacant.
“It’s hard to be motivated for a fight like this,” he admits, “but I can’t be complacent, like I was for the second fight with Enrico Koelling. If I lose, I’ll call it. It’s been a fun career and I’ve only had three legitimate losses: to [newly-crowned world champion] Eleider Alvarez, who moered me properly, Tommy Oosthuizen, and Koelling in the second fight. The others were kak decisions, everyone saw. I don’t think I’ve done badly, but I’d really like to win something like the IBO belt, to be able to call myself a world champion.”
It’s a goal not beyond the realms of possibility. But a hiccup come September 1 would destroy all such ambition.
The way Liebenberg tells it, he’ll be on song.