By Peter Lerner: In the first part of our look back at South African boxing in 2011, Pete Moscardi told us about his choices for Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year and Fighter Who Most Deserves a Break. In this concluding part he looks at prospects and disappointments, improved fighters and foreign fighters, and the general situation in the country.
Best import in South Africa in 2011: Dennis Tubieron (12-1-1), Philippines
Tubieron was of course a participant in one of Moscardi’s choices for Fight of the Year, the twelve-round battle with Lubabalo Msuthu. That all-southpaw fight pitted the pressure of Msuthu against the incredibly composed southpaw countering of Tubieron, who gave in outstanding demonstration of his quality in the second round when he slipped a Msuthu jab and floored him with a beautiful left uppercut. Amazingly, according to the television commentary, Tubieron arrived in South Africa without boots and a groin protector and had to borrow them before the fight.
Moscardi says, “He’s a good little fighter. He was unknown to me until he came here but I looked up his record and you know it wasn’t the most impressive record I’ve ever seen but it made me kind of sit up and take notice. He’d had a few good wins and I expected a really good fight from him and I got more than I expected.”
Most improved fighter: Hekkie Budler, IBO strawweight champion (19-1)
23 year-old Budler turned pro back in 2007 and his rise up the strawweight ranks was accompanied by a fair amount of fanfare from his promoter Rodney Berman. However, he struggled when he stepped up against wily veteran Juanito Rubilar in 2010 and at the start of 2011 picked up his first loss. Since then he has come back with two wins.
Moscardi: “Although he held the IBO title he was still fighting very much in his old amateur style. He was an outstanding amateur but he took his amateur style and mindset in the ring with him and he found it very difficult to get rid of it. It was enough to allow him to beat a couple of tough little Filipinos and then he came up against a guy called Gideon Buthelezi who is a very slick boxer. Gideon literally took him to the cleaners by outboxing him. His trainer, Colin Nathan, said “Gee, we better work on changing his style because this Hekkie Budler is not going to go anywhere.” Then he came back with a tough number in another Filipino, Michael Landero. I’ve got two tapes of his knockout wins in Japan and you don’t go over there and knock over the Japanese unless you are really good. This guy was a tough fighter but Hekkie Budler was a revelation. He shed his skin like a python – he shed his amateur style and was vastly improved from a technical point of view. The fight was a war but he wouldn’t have won in his old style. This was a new Budler and he came through with flying colours and got a deserved victory.”
Landero went into that fight with a 15-4-4 record but he was unbeaten in his last nine fights, including those two impressive stoppage wins in Japan for the OPBF title.
Prospect of the year: Luzuko Siyo, light flyweight (10-0), Joey Stiglingh, super featherweight (14-1) and Ryno Liebenberg, light heavy (6-0)
Moscardi: ”I haven’t seen Luzuko Siyo but let me tell you why I chose him. He has been voted here as prospect of the year. He is from the Eastern Cape, in a particular town called East London. Now East London is where all the tough Eastern Cape boxers come from. It’s produced Joyi, it’s produced Botile. I could reel off the names all night. Anybody who comes out of the Eastern Cape, particularly at the lower weight divisions, you sit up and take a lot of notice because you can bet your life they’re going to be good. This guy has won ten out of ten and eight by knockout. In about his ninth fight he won the South Africa title and he’s since defended it. The only way for him to go now is to match him internationally.
“With Stiglingh it’s still early days. He’s a work in progress. He’s a neat boxer. He lost (on points over eight rounds to Jasper Seroka) but he was up against a much more experienced fighter and he put up a very good performance. He would have learnt a lot that night. He shows a lot of promise at this stage of his career but whether he can take it through and improve is yet to be seen. At the moment all you can say is he’s a very promising prospect and a neat little boxer.
“Now, Liebenburg is a guy with a wicked punch. Until he fought the South African champion light heavy champion Tshepang Mohale (Mohale had also been national super middle champ)in a non-title fight, nobody really knew how much he had. That fight was considered by everybody, including myself, as an absolute total mismatch. It should never ever have happened on paper. It came far too soon (Liebenberg had fought a total of seven rounds in four fights and had never fought an opponent with more than one fight’s experience). Liebenberg was still a novice four-round fighter and it was madness on paper matching him against a guy like Mahale. He took a lot of stick for the first four or five rounds. He was down in the first and in a lot of trouble, came back and stuck to the fight. He never showed signs of quitting, although arguably the ref could have stepped in at anytime during the fight and stopped it. Then, during the sixth, Mahale was beginning to run out of steam and Liebenberg came back and he whacked him with one of the best punches seen in this country this year. Down and out, good night sweet prince. It was all over.”
Fighters who disappointed in 2011: Flo Simba, heavyweight (11-2); Isaac Hlaatshwayo (CHECK), welterweight (RECORD)
Young Simba, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had won ten out of ten before taking a big leap up in June and taking on veteran Frans Botha.
“Flo Simba is a lovely kid, a really nice boy. He studies civil engineering at university so one asks the question ‘Why box when you have a career like that ahead of you?’ He’s built like a real Adonis, he was very carefully matched in his early fights and looked good against absolute non-opposition. There was a lot of hype about Simba. When he went into his fight with Botha it was expected that Botha was over the hill and this young strong upcoming prospect would take him apart. That didn’t happen. Firstly, Botha is still an experienced and reasonably good fighter, secondly he’s got a punch, and thirdly we discovered that Simba doesn’t have a chin. He gave a good account of himself for five rounds but then in the sixth round Botha saw his chance, opened up and the fight was over. That shattered Simba’s confidence. They decided to bring him back slowly, against a guy called Danie Venter who was a one-time prospect who never made it and was on the comeback trail himself. They thought he was the absolute ideal fall guy but Dannie Venter never read the script. He punched him out in one round and that was it. So much was expected of Simba but I was more cynical. I thought, ‘Hang on, let’s see how he goes.’”
Hlaatshwayo beat an impressive cast of fighters as he moved up first the lightweight rankings: Kaizer Mabuza, Martin Jacobs, Phillip Ndou, Cassius Baloyi, Aldo Rios and Nate Campbell amongst others. After a light welter loss to Kendall Holt, he moved up to welter and had a couple of fights with Delvin Rodriguez, finally emerging with the IBF title.
“Well, he’s a strange case. He had a couple of fights with Delvin Rodriguez. Rodriguez came over to fight in a final eliminator in late 2008. The fight was given to Hlaatshwayo but at midnight they found that one of the judges had made a mistake and they were called back into the arena and were told it was a draw. They wouldn’t show us the scorecards and they wouldn’t allow IBF officials to be interviewed at the press conference. They had a return in America. This was a title fight. Isaac went out there and handed out a real boxing lesson to Rodriguez. He was on top of his game when he did that. He came back here and fought an absolute unknown in these parts of the world called Jan Zaveck (Hlaatshwayo met the Slovenian ex-European title challenger in December 2009). Zaveck came with a reasonable looking record but not against fighters you wouldn’t know anything about. Well, he came over here and he absolutely destroyed Hlaatshwayo, knocking him out in 3 rounds. Isaac looked a shadow of the fighter that beat Rodriguez. Apparently he only came to the gym once a week and was unmotivated. Last year he went over to Australia and fought a guy of Moroccan descent, Naoufel Ben Rabah (who of course had that controversial loss to Juan Urango a few years ago). He can fight. He’s a terrific fighter and Hlaatshwayo lost in three rounds and got knocked out absolutely stone cold. I saw the tape of the fight and he did ok in the first round, he did ok in the second round but you always felt he wasn’t going to win the fight. In the third round Ben Rabah unloaded and that was it, he was down and out. He’s finished as a fighter. So that’s a disappointment to go from hero to zero basically overnight.”
Positives and negatives of 2011
South African state television, SABC, used to air a weekly boxing programme called Blow by Blow and most weeks they would show a live fight (of at least national title standard). Moscardi estimates that they would show something in the region of 45 live bills a year. However, since two years ago they have stopped covering boxing. That means that the vast majority of boxing in South Africa, apart from Rodney Berman’s promotions (he has a deal with a rival outlet, SuperSport), goes untelevised and doesn’t benefit from TV money.
“The fact that SABC don’t show boxing anymore has killed a huge amount of boxing, especially in the area of the Eastern Cape, where our best fighters come out from. The SABC gave up for economic reasons: they got absolutely nothing out of covering boxing and it cost them a fortune to do it. They pulled the plug. It’s an organisation which has been bankrupt for years and years. The only way to watch boxing is via Super Sport. They show fights from all over the world so we get a lot of the big American fights. They also do every one of Rodney Berman’s shows so he’s sitting pretty. Branco Milenkovic (South Africa’s leading promoter, together with Berman)very much had the backing of SABC but of course now that’s gone, which gives him a problem. If SABC don’t start televising fights again – and we’ll only know their decision at the end of the financial year, though at the moment they’ve given no indication of coming back – then the status quo will continue and boxing will continue to die and be dead. Not only in the Eastern Cape but throughout the country.”
One positive note has been the arrival of Showpony on the promotional scene. This new group staged its first show back in November, featuring five WBF title fights and headlined by Frans Botha vs Michael Grant.
“Showpony absolutely came out of the blue,” says Moscardi. “The man behind it is a young guy in his thirties called Damian Michael. He’s a whizz-kid type businessman who has a media company. He was a boxing fan who decided to become a promoter. He got backing but didn’t get TV coverage, so he said ‘Stuff it, I’m going ahead anyway,’ and he promoted this absolutely extraordinary tournament with five title fights, all of them were WBF but they were all a high standard. He managed to persuade a casino to be the host venue. They’d never been involved in boxing in their lives before but both he and the casino did an amazing job to put it on. He lost an absolute fortune but it doesn’t seem to have deterred him, he says he’s going to be back this year. He’s signed very good fighters, which is quite a thorn in Berman’s side. He’s got Msuthu, Ali Funeka, Zolani Marali and several others”.
January 27, 2012