Derek Bonnett documents the story so far on Moruti Mthalane, who has been around for a long time but is making waves right now
At the ripe old age of 37, world flyweight titlist, Moruti Mthalane is finally garnering some overdue attention. The South African boxer is not without fault in this matter as long periods of inactivity have dimmed his star. However, his latest defense in Yokohama, Japan saw him close out the 2019 season with a ninth-round stoppage over three-division champion Akira Yaegashi and maintained his status as one of the best fighters in an increasingly hot flyweight division. The Japanese man got off to an excellent start, using his legs to circle and outbox the champion for four rounds, but Mthalane’s game was long and he took advantage as soon as Yaegashi slowed.
Mthalane’s name is not one that gets raised often by boxing’s leading scribes and television commentators, but if there was ever a buzz for “Baby-Face”, it’s now. Most fans, including myself, were introduced to the South African circa his failed attempt to dethrone then-flyweight king Nonito Donaire in 2008. Donaire commanded the action and dismissed Mthalane in six rounds. Prior to that, ending the career of Hussein Hussein was Mthalane’s most visible work outside of the domestic spectrum. Yet, the defeat did nothing to stall him and instead ignited the contender’s path to glory.
Roughly one year after the Donaire loss, Mthalane defeated Julio Cesar Miranda to win a vacant flyweight belt by wide unanimous decision in Johannesburg. Two crushing KO defenses over Zolani Tete and John Riel Casimero followed. At the time, the wins were credible, but, to use a financial metaphor, they have yielded huge earnings in residual interest since as his victims have gone on to notable success. In total, Mthalane defended his belt three times before he vacated it in 2014. However, as champion he fought sparingly and was inactive for 2013 entirely.
Upon his return, Mthalane picked up a lesser belt at flyweight, but added serviceable victories over Jether Oliva and two other fringe names before disappearing for all of 2016. In 2017, Mthalane saw action three times including a vacant title fight for his old belt. He stopped lightly regarded Ardin Diale in two rounds to become a two-time titlist. He’s fought twice a year since and has improved his reign steadily from an off-the-floor victory over Muhammad Waseem, through widely outpointing Masayuki Kuroda, to his breaking down of Yaegashi. Mthalane also signed with the influential MTK Global in May.
The New Year will see Mthalane, 39-2 (26), in a nice position atop his division along with fellow belt-holders Kosei Tanaka and Julio Cesar Martinez. All three boxers will have seen action before year-end as Martinez won a belt just days earlier by stopping former titlist Cristofer Rosales. Tanaka will close his year out on December 31 in Tokyo against China’s Wulan Tuolehazi. Mthalane and Tanaka make the most sense as Japan has hosted the South African for his last two bouts. Among the three, no clear favorite to rule stands out. A World Boxing Super Series style tournament would be great for the division, but these three should find themselves mixing it up in 2020.