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18 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Columns Paul Upham

Title or no IBF title, Rabah-Ndou will be bitterly fought

Lovemore Ndou (left) and Naoufel Ben Rabah
Lovemore Ndou (left) and Naoufel Ben Rabah

By Paul Upham in Homebush Bay: Leading IBF junior welterweight contenders Lovemore "Black Panther" Ndou and Naoufel "Chocolata" Ben Rabah may or may not be fighting for the IBF world title this Sunday at the State Sports Centre in Olympic Park. Even in the sport of boxing, where unusual and downright wacky story lines are the norm, this one where two boxers will only find out 24 hours before their bout whether they are actually fighting for the IBF world title or not is bizarre.

As reported exclusively at SecondsOut on Tuesday, IBF President Marian Muhammad has given current IBF world champion Ricky Hatton a Friday deadline to commit to fighting the winner of Ndou and Ben Rabah next. While it would seem unfair for Hatton to be stripped of his belt so soon after winning it against Juan Urango on January 20, the Manchester boxer knew going into the bout that he would be required to fight the winner of Ndou-Rabah next. With a lucrative HBO contract in front of him to face Mexican Jose Luis Castillo in June, it would seem unlikely that he will be keeping the IBF title. It is just another example that boxing today is an out and out business and the sporting ethos of winning or losing a world title belt only in the ring has gone forever.

The IBF will make a decision on whether Hatton is keeping his title Friday, USA time and will communicate that decision to their supervisor in Australia at the weigh-in for Ndou and Rabah. Their fight having been originally set down as an official eliminator for the IBF No1 ranking. The extra emotion of not knowing what exactly they are competing for is just something else the two boxers will have to deal with going into such an important fight.

"To me, I want to win the fight and everything that is going to happen will happen," said Rabah. "The title is going to come. If it comes, it comes. If not, I still win. I will not lose. It is like many fights, I've had. It doesn't matter. I just want to fight and not
lose. That's what I know."

"It won't make any difference at all," said Ndou. "I don't really give a damn right now. Even if I was fighting for no title. It has become a personal thing now. When somebody disrespects me, I just want to make them pay. When someone like Justin Rowsell disrespected me, I ended his career. Renato Cornett, I ended up his career."

"Renato Cornett?" asked Rabah's trainer Craig Christian. "You big tough guy. Renato Cornett? We are talking Ben Rabah!"

There is no love lost between these boxers and their teams. Rabah and Christian have waged a three-year verbal war on Ndou, trying to get him into the ring and Wednesday's official pre-fight press conference at the Novotel Hotel in Homebush, Sydney quickly saw a continuation of their verbal battles.

"Who is Ben Rabah?" asked Ndou. "I have been in with some of the best fighters in the world."

"And you got beaten by them all!" replied Christian.

"I took those fights at short notice," said Ndou.

"You knocked out twenty-six taxi drivers!" claimed Christian.

"Who did he fight? Who has he fought?" replied Ndou, pointing at Rabah.

"Twenty-six taxi drivers. You are broken down mate," said Christian.

While Rabah sat quietly with a wry smile, enjoying the exchange, Ndou and Christian continued to debate who has actually fought the better quality of opponents.

"Who has he fought?" asked Ndou. "He fought Juan Urango. Juan Urango is a 'C' level fighter, who couldn't do shit. He was running around."

"You'd beat Ricky Hatton too wouldn't you?" asked Christian.

"I went the distance with Miguel Cotto," replied Ndou.

"Let's see Sunday," said Christian.

"We'll see. I'll punch him right into your stomach," said Ndou, as things became nasty.

"And then I'll cave your fucking head in brother," promised Christian.

Both boxers have had a previous opportunity at the IBF world title. Ndou lost a close twelve round points decision to American Sharmba Mitchell in Atlantic City in February 2004 for the interim IBF world title. Rabah faced Juan Urango in the USA for the vacant IBF world title last June and lost a controversial points decision.

Prior to fighting Urango, 29 year-old Rabah 24-2 (13) and his team would attempt to bait Ndou 44-8-1 (29) every chance they got in the local media. They even held up large signs before and after his televised fights in Australia calling him 'chicken' and 'Lovemore Will-No-Do"

"I'm not the one who usually goes around and talks trash about fighters, but personally I feel that I have been disrespected," said Ndou. "No man, I'm not scared to fight you, if anything, I've just been scared to hurt you and eventually you are going to get hurt when Sunday comes."

Asked to explain why he was so aggressive in his attempt to get a fight with Ndou, Rabah explained, "I wanted to fight him to show how good I am. I need to fight the top ten and he don't give me a chance to fight the top ten. He say, 'who you are?' I say 'Ok, fair enough', when I get there, you will have to fight me."

"I have always said, if the fight means something, I will fight him and this fight means a lot," said Ndou.

While he feels that he has been disrespected, Ndou says it does not translate into anger.

"One thing. Anger doesn't work in boxing," he said. "If you go to the ring carrying all that anger, it will end up working against you. It makes me feel I want to hurt him more, but I'm not angry. Actually, I'm happy now, I'm getting that opportunity to step into the ring with him and make him pay for what he said to me."

At one stage, Rabah and Ndou even began a religious debate of some sorts.

"No people can hurt me," said Rabah. "No one. God is the one, if he want to make you fall down, he make you fall down."

"You can bring ten Gods with you," interjected Ndou.

"I don't bring ten Gods," replied Rabah, "I believe there is only one God in the world. You're wrong man."

"You can bring twenty," yelled Ndou.

"We don't have twenty," said Rabah. "The world would never be normal!"

Ndou rejected any suggestion that he is way past his best at the age of 35.

"Actually, at 35, I have more hunger," he said. "My old age is my strength. With old age comes more dedication and experience. I have got more will to win. I have got a family to feed. At 35, show me two 35 year-olds that look like me and I will show you fifty 20 year-olds that look like 'Krusty the Klown'. Age is no a barrier. Age is just a number. It makes no difference to me. I haven't lost my reflexes yet. I'm still one of the fittest fighters out there. I've still got my hand speed and all that. I can't see how this guy is going to beat me. He can't even match my fitness."

Asked to make a prediction for the fight, Rabah replied, "For me, I respect any boxer in the world. I don't like to talk."

"Now they're not talking much," interjected an incredulous Ndou. "Who started the talking? It's three days before the fight and now they are not talking because they know we are going to get into business now!"

Rabah tuned around to look at Ndou, looked straight into his eyes and replied, "One thing I'm going to tell you. We'll see what is going to happen."

As the packed press conference continued and those present enjoyed the often comical exchanges, Christian would yell out, "taxi" at the top of his voice at regular intervals in an attempt to rile Ndou.

"He keeps talking about taxi's," said the 'Black Panther'. "How many taxi drivers has his boy fought and he couldn't even knock them out. At least the taxi drivers I fought, I knocked them all out."

"When you step up to the limo, they lock the door," replied Christian.

The heavily tattooed Christian was unable to travel to the USA with Rabah for his world title fight last year with Urango due to legal troubles, but is very confident that the Tunisian 2000 Olympian will learn from the experience of the loss to be even better against Ndou.

"I know Ben Rabah is one of the smartest boxers around," he said. "I know he doesn't like to lose. I know he is too slick, too fast and too smart for Lovemore Ndou who has fought taxi drivers all his life and has stepped up three times and got beaten."

It was no surprise that Ndou would not let that statement slide without comment.

"What about the ones your boy fought?" he asked. "He couldn't even knock them out I told you. Look at his record. Who has he fought? Who is Juan Urango. He is a 'C' level fighter."

Finally, it got to the point where Ndou had said all he wanted to say.

"It's all talk," said Ndou. "They know the reality. That when they step into the ring it is going to be a different story. There is an old saying. If you keep on arguing with fools, people might not notice the difference. Right now I'm just going to shut up and let these two (his fists) do the talking on Sunday."

"We'll see on Sunday Lovemore," said Christian.

"I don't like to talk much," said Rabah. "On Sunday, we will see what is going to happen. Kostya Tszyu is the best boxer in the world. He doesn't talk much. He is all business. Anything that is going to happen will happen."

Paul Upham
Contributing Editor

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