We should have been at this bill a fortnight ago, but it had been postponed and so we ended up staying the weekend in a ‘resort hotel‘ with nothing more to see an ELO tribute act. The upside of the delay though was that the re-scheduled show was moved to a smaller nine hundred capacity venue and with the tickets having to be re-sold, we managed to get seats in Row A of Block A.
From what I can see, there are a couple of dozen or so boxing promotions a year in South Africa, although cage fighting seems to be more popular. Shame really, as I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to twatting someone in the chops.
With the boxing not starting until the evening, we were free to go for a hike earlier in the day and so we headed to Groenkloof, a nature reserve in Johannesburg. We had been there last year and had a good time despite losing the trail on occasions and having to make our way through the bush.
On this visit we stuck to the path but despite clocking up close to up twelve miles we still didn’t manage to spot the giraffes. How does something the size of a giraffe keep itself hidden? We did have a few close encounters with zebras though and also stumbled across a few different types of antelope.
There were six bouts on the card at the Marcellus Theatre, with the first one scheduled to start at 7.30pm. Our Row A seats were pretty good, with only one row of ‘celeb‘ seats between us and the ringside commentators and officials. The venue was so small though that you’d still have had a decent view from the very back rows.
The opening pairing was a featherweight contest between two fellas who were both having their third fight. One of them, Ricardo Hiraman, had won on both of his previous outings whilst the other, Phumudzo Monyai, stepped into the ring with a record of one win and one loss.
A few minutes later and Mr. Monyai was coming to terms with his second career defeat, or at least he would have been if he hadn’t been spark out on the canvas. He spent longer recovering than he had boxing.
Next up were a couple of junior flyweights. It was all going well for the house fighter who looked to be well ahead after three rounds only to get knocked over in the fourth. It went to the scorecards after six with Sibusiso Twani’s better later work getting him the nod by a point over Thabang Ramagole on all three judge‘s cards.
Third fight of the night was at light-welterweight. There’d been a late withdrawal, which was a shame as the bloke who didn’t show had been described in one newspaper as being aged forty-nine. Maybe he’d been gardening and stiffened up. I’ve no idea how old his replacement, Jeff Otimbio, was but he was a good eight hundred places in the world rankings below the fella he was fighting, Adam De Moor.
A quick look at De Moor’s record suggests that he is usually very carefully matched, with the majority of his opponents having far more defeats than wins, at least in their recent fights if not in their career overall. The difference in class told and Otimbio was put down twice in an easy points win for De Moor.
Next up was the first of the evening’s title fights. Sort of. It was a light-heavyweight bout for the vacant WBC Silver International belt. The what? I had a check online and the International title is for boxers ranked between 10 and 30 by the WBC. As the two contenders were ranked 52 and 82 respectively by Boxrec, it seemed that the WBC weren’t too fussy as to who gets a place in their top thirty.
And the Silver part of the title? That’s because it’s an interim title apparently, although one that can be defended and that doesn’t entitle the holder to be upgraded to proper International Champion. It was just as well really as the Gold International Championship was being contested on the same bill later that evening.
So, it’s as contrived a title as anything the WBC has ever come up with, perhaps with the exception of their ‘Diamond belt’ which, for an appropriate sanctioning fee, can be contested whenever a couple of ‘big name’ boxers temporarily without titles feel the need for one of them to take a prize home at the end of the fight.
Local boy Johnny Muller had been matched against Namibian Wilberforce Shihepo for the not so prestigious title. Mr Shihepo was the higher ranked of the pair at 52 in the world and, somewhat less gloriously, second rated of the only two light-heavyweights in his own country. I imagine that with just the two boxers competing in the light-heavyweight division then the domestic title fights in Namibia will get a bit stale after a while.
The main news story in the week leading up to the fight had been speculation as to whether or not the Namibian would make the weight. Apparently with six days to go he had still been thirteen pounds over the twelve and a half stone limit. That takes some doing when you consider that his last fight was at super-middleweight.
Johnny Muller has a reputation as a bit of a brawler. He has rarely fought outside of Emperors Palace and his style had attracted in a fair few fans. Shihepo wasn’t going to be intimidated though and he gave as good as he got with both boxers wrestling each other to the floor at times whilst neither was too careful where he put his head.
The WBC announce the scores after four and eight rounds, with Shihepo holding the early advantage before Muller edged ahead at the two-thirds stage. In the end Muller took a split decision. I thought Shihepo was marginally the better fighter but I couldn’t have disputed the decision whichever way it had gone.
Top of the bill was a WBA/IBO minimum weight fight between champion Hekkie Budler of South Africa and the Columbian challenger Karluis Diaz. Minimum weight is seven stone. Seven stone! It was lucky that Budler had plenty of tattoos or it would have looked like a couple of nine year olds knocking hell out of each other for the amusement of the watching grown-ups.
We had Budler’s future Mother-in-Law sat behind us proudly mentioning the family connection at every opportunity and screaming advice to her daughter’s fiancée. She was fairly new to boxing and her instructions to “Give him an upperhand” probably didn’t help the fella much.
I’d noticed that one of the judges was Dave Parris. Oddly, this was the only fight that he was officiating in, which seemed a bit of a waste of such an experienced judge. As it turned out he’d flown in from the UK for nothing as Hekkie Budler despatched his opponent in the opening round before Mr. Parris had needed to hand in any score whatsoever.
The speedy conclusion meant that Hekkie’s Mother-in-law-to-be could clear off to check out hats and frocks for the big day, leaving us to watch the final bout in peace.
The last fight of the night featured Joey Vegas, a Ugandan currently living in Tottenham, against unbeaten local Ryno Liebenberg for the WBC Gold International Light-Heavyweight belt. Vegas (I don’t think that it was his real name) had a couple of dozen supporters in the crowd, waving what I presumed was the Ugandan flag rather than one representing Tottenham.
As you might have expected, Ryno Liebenburg had a lot more supporters, with many of them wearing official tee-shirts. They were quickly rewarded with another win for the South African as he put Vegas on the canvas twice before stopping him in the opening round.
I’d like to think that Joey Vegas and Dave Parris got to sit next to each other on the flight back to London so that they could marvel at travelling all of that distance for less than three minutes work each.
Overall, it was a decent bill with maybe just the one fight that wasn’t well-matched. I was particularly impressed by the way in which the timings of the bouts weren’t dictated by broadcasting requirements. As soon as one fight finished the next pair of boxers were lining up ready to go. It doesn’t always work like that in the UK where I’ve often had to wait an hour or so between fights just to suit the telly timings. So, all in all, a good evening.