Lehlohonolo “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba (35-2-1- 22ko’s) is an angry man. The former IBF and WBU junior featherweight and WBU featherweight world champion takes on the WBA International featherweight champion, Spend Abazi (29-1-0 - 10 ko’s) this Friday night in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the winner has been promised an official WBA eliminator bout against former champ Derrick Gainer, Ledwaba hopes it will take him a step closer to avenging his defeat 3 years ago at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
“I can beat Pacquiao,” insists Ledwaba, who feels he was set up for a loss against the flashy, big hitting Filipino fighter. When the two met in June 2001 for Ledwaba’s IBF crown, the South African was on top of the world having defeated a host of credible opponents in; Carlos Contrerras, Arnel Barotillo, Eduordo Enrique Alvarez, Ernesto Grey, Edison Valencia Diaz and John Michael Johnson in a space of two years. He was widely acknowledged as one of the best in the division and seemed to be improving with every bout.
Then came the Pacqiao fight. Ledwaba was scheduled to make a routine defence against Mexican Enrique Sanchez in Las Vegas. Two weeks prior to their fight Sanchez withdrew due to injury and Pacqiao, who was training in LA at the time for another bout, stepped in as a replacement. “We were training for Sanchez, who we did not regard as a threat,” says Ledwaba’s trainer Norman Hlabane. “We never knew much about Pacqiao and were not sufficiently prepared to face a man of his calibre.” The fact that bookmakers were hesitant to offer odds on the Ledwaba – Pacquiao bout illustrates the uncertainty around the Pacman at the time. “I’ve been watching his fights,” says Ledwaba, “and can see he has grown since facing me. But I feel confident that given time enough to prepare I can defeat him.”
With Pacquiao in negotiations for a rematch with WBA/IBF champ Juan Manuel Marquez, Ledwaba has at least two fights he needs to win in order to earn a shot at the winner of Marquez – Pacquiao II, the first being this Friday against Spend Abazi. “I am focusing on each fight as it comes,” says Ledwaba, “but I crave to get back in the ring with Pacquiao.” The Yugoslavian born Abazi, who now calls Norway home, has never fought a man of Ledwaba’s ability, but having said that “hands of stone” has fought only twice since his loss to Pacquiao. He decisioned former IBF junior featherweight king and now IBO featherweight world champion Vuyani Bungu (33-3) to claim the WBU featherweight title in 2002 and Choi Tseveenpurev (15 –2) in March this year.
“He’ll be fighting a hometown favourite in his own backyard,” says former 3 time world champion Dingaan Thobela. “Given that Denmark is notorious for their decisions, to be sure of a victory Ledwaba will have to knock Abazi out. It would be very difficult for him to get a points win. I’ve seen both men fight and feel that Ledwaba is in a higher league. He will be too strong for Abazi.”
Also on the Copenhagen bill Mikkel Kessler (33-0 25 ko’s), who is in negotiations to fight Danny Green for the WBC interim super middleweight world title, defends his WBC International title against former Commonwealth champion Andre Thyse (15-3-0 - 9 ko’s). Thyse lost a points decision to Markus Beyer for the WBC crown, prior to the latter losing the title to Cristian Sanavia this past weekend.
“Kessler is a clever boxer,” says Thobela, who lost on points to the Dane in an IBC super middleweight title fight two years ago. “He’s fast, very busy, and has a powerful punch. The only weakness I picked up was that he doesn’t like to get hit. Whenever I landed a hard blow he would grab me and hold on. Unfortunately I was not well enough conditioned to capitalise on that so he beat me. I can’t see Thyse negotiating Kessler for 12 rounds, the only hope that he has is that Kessler underestimates his punching power. Thyse has a voodoo punch. You can’t see the power, but he can wear an opponent down.”