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The Panther, Hands of Stone and the Hitman

BY Deon Potgieter ON April 16, 2006
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Takalani “The Panther” Ndlovu, who put up an impressive performance in defeating Armando Guerrero in New York last year to win the IBO super bantamweight world title, returns to the US to make the first defense of the title on April 21.

Ndlovu takes on Argentinean Fabio Daniel Oliva at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Delaware. The champion showed such fine form in the Big Apple that many including myself thought he should have been awarded South Africa’s boxer of the year 2005. The primary reason why he didn’t get that honor is because the Guerrero fight was the only one he had in the year. IBO lightweight world champion Isaac Hlatswayo, who is coming off a recent win over Nate Cambell, got the nod as SA’s boxer of the year.

With the positive international reaction Ndlovu received last year there will be a lot of interest to see whether he can build on it against Oliva and hopefully we’ll get to see him in action on a more regular basis from here on out. Ndlovu, 24-3 (15), is one of those boxers whose talent attracted attention early on and there was initially too much pressure placed on him. When pitted against former IBF super bantamweight kingpin Vuyani “The Beast” Bungu in an IBO featherweight world title eliminator 2003, it was clear that he was carrying too much arrogance brought on by believing the hype his followers were pumping into him.

Except for one mental blow out against Naseem Hamed, Bungu was an exceptional boxer with tremendous skill who defeated a who’s who in the junior featherweight ranks of his day and approaching him with disdain was a very dangerous mistake. To this day Bungu is still a credible foe and always comes well conditioned and ready to fight.

A more composed and relaxed Ndlovu could well have upset “The Beast” and the fact that he didn’t weighed heavily on him. In their return a few months later for the vacant IBO featherweight title, it was that very fact which prevented him from finding his stride. His disbelief at losing the first time caused a mental roadblock from focusing on the fight at hand and he again lost on a split decision.

While he lost both encounters against a man who stood tall and is a living legend in South African boxing, these bouts are probably the ones which have contributed to Ndlovu’s current success more than any of his other fights. Ndlovu is now a much more settled, mature and composed boxer. Whether he realizes it or not, those losses prepared him for the future much more than a win ever would have.

Boxers have often lost fights before entering the ring due to pressures placed on them by outside influences. Ndlovu has learned to deal with these and he has shown a readiness to now start his fistic legacy.

A former national featherweight champion with five successful defenses, the Guerrero bout was Ndlovu’s first at the lower weight division.

Oliva, 25-3 (12), a former South American and Argentinean super bantamweight champion, unsuccessfully challenged Joan Guzzman for the WBO super bantamweight crown in Wales 2002. He was stopped in the third round. That was the one and only time he has fought outside of Argentina.

He does hold a second round KO win over Eduardo Erique Alvarez, who I saw in action against Lehlo Ledwaba in an IBF super bantamweight title fight a few months before Alvarez was stopped by Oliva. Although Ledwaba stopped Alvarez in 8 the Argentinean boxer looked good and certainly looked as if he had potential going forward.

Speaking of Ledwaba, 36 -5 (23), the former IBF super bantam and WBU featherweight world champion returned to the ring earlier this month stopping Epharaim Nangenda, 8-1-1, in 6 rounds to claim the WBA Pan African super featherweight title. Always a hard worker in the gym, Ledwaba still looked good, albeit against an opponent who was never going to test him. Ledwaba is a boxer who lives for and breathes the sport and at 33 he could still well claim that elusive third world title he has been seeking.

Ledwaba’s previous fight was a year ago when he suffered a second controversial points loss to IBO super featherweight kingpin Cassius “The Hitman” Baloyi. Baloyi was himself a victim of a controversial points decision four months later when he lost to Isaac Hlatswayo in a bid to claim the IBO lightweight world title. Baloyi returns to action on May 27 at Carnival City in Brakpan, when he makes the fifth defense of the super featherweight crown.

The South African, 31-2 (16), also a former WBU super bantam and featherweight world champion, has featured in an incredible 18 world title fights to date, albeit all for second tier world titles, and deserves a crack at the other sanctioning bodies. Rated in the top ten by the IBF, Baloyi hopes a good win come fight night will open the door for him to challenge for that title.

Baloyi too will be facing an Argentinean fighter, Israel Hector Enrique Perez. Perez, 16-2 (9), is the current Argentinean super featherweight champion and is enjoying a seven fight winning streak going back three years. Perez is five years the champion’s junior and has never challenged for a world title. He has featured in a few tournaments in the US and on paper certainly looks like a credible opponent. Given Baloyi’s class and experience, however, it would take an exceptional fighter to step up and defeat him.

While the search for a new heavyweight hope in South African boxing has not yet born any fruit, the country is building up a strong reserve of talent in the lower weight divisions. Beside those listed above a number of boxers are knocking on world title doors. Silence Mabuza is scheduled for an IBF bantamweight eliminator, Hawk Makepula enjoys a top ten rating in the IBF, WBC and WBO super flyweight division. Mhihiza Myekeni is rated #4 for the WBC flyweight title. Mzonke Fana holds a top ten spot in the IBF super featherweight ratings, Gabula Vabaza is in the top ten in the IBF, WBC and WBA as a super bantamweight, and Thomas Mashaba is making in roads in the contender ranks in the featherweight division.

There is a plethora of good fistic talent rising on the Southern tip of Africa and given the opportunities we could well see more gold returning to a nation, whose history was forged on the mining fields of the old Transvaal.

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