By Peter Lerner: Andrea Sarritzu’s come so close before. Almost nine years ago he lost a split decision to Omar Narvaez for the WBO flyweight title. The following year he went closer still, holding the champion to a draw. Both fights were at home in Sardinia and the decisions were desperately tight. Since then it’s been eight years of slogging away, winning, losing and regaining the European title, coming through a riot in Corsica, bills called off at the last minute, and a seemingly unending cycle of dogged, undying Frenchmen - Alain Bonnel, Christophe Rodrigues, Rodrigues again, and again, Bonnel, Rodrigues, Rodrigues.
And now here he is, at 35 years of age, finally back in the position of challenging for the world title again. On Friday he gets his big moment - a challenge for the IBF flyweight title in Cagliari, Sardinia.
He has the home advantage in his favour and surely those years of waiting - every year thinking, and being told, that there would be a title shot - will have stoked his fire to an incredible intensity. However, he will be facing a fine champion. Moruti Mthalane’s last loss was in six rounds against Nonito Donaire, but he wasn’t beaten up, he didn’t go down and the fight was stopped on a cut. In fact his insistent, measured pressing and ready countering was proving difficult for (the admittedly one-handed) Donaire to solve. Since then he has won the IBF title and defended it twice, both times by stoppage. He has all of those qualities which many of the better South African fighters tend to possess: a good engine, a fluid style, hardy, accurate and chopping punches, and very sound basic technique. In short, he’s the type of boxer that would be too much for all but the most exceptional of fighters.
Is Sarritzu one of those? Maybe not but he is certainly a very capable fighter. It must be remembered that, apart from an early points loss to Giuseppe Laganà (a fighter he beat on two other occasions), he has only lost in European or World title fights in compiling a 32-4-4 record. One of those losses was avenged (by twelfth round stoppage against Ivan Pozo), and he also managed to draw with the other two fighters who beat him (Narvaez and Bernard Inom). Both Inom and Pozo also challenged Narvaez but neither were able to push him as hard as Sarritzu.
This is a hard fight to call. Mthalane seems to have the edge in overall quality - a little bit faster, harder hitting and just that little bit cuter. But it’s a slight edge. Sarritzu is very canny, experienced, works hard all fight and has never been lacking in grit. This could also be his last roll of the dice. The hometown crowd, all that waiting and the sense that this must be the night which defines his career - all these things make him a very live challenger. Mthalane will be considered the favourite but it wouldn’t be surprising if the little Sardinian pulls it off.
Another fascinating aspect is the duel between the two trainers. Franco Cherchi and Nick Durandt are two proven, world class trainers who have consistently taken fighters to the top level but rarely seem to get a mention or more than a mere nod of recognition in the international boxing press. It will be interesting to see which of these two sharp, grizzled readers of the game comes out on top.
The undercard features a women’s world title fight, with Simona Galassi taking on Nadege Szikora for the vacant IBF super flyweight title.
October 26, 2011