Few fighters manage to make successful comebacks, especially when they’ve been out of the ring for over two years. Former IBF junior feather and featherweight world champion Mbulelo Botile proved no exception Friday night at the Wild Coast Sun in South Africa, when he lost to Anthony Tshehla in seven rounds. There were signs at the weigh-in that this was not going to be a rousing comeback by Botile, as he failed to make the junior lightweight limit. Tshehla’s WBA junior lightweight Pan African title was still on the line, but if Botile had won he would not have been allowed to claim it.

As the boxers touched gloves, there was frustration etched on Botile’s face. He was clearly not comfortable being there. Tshehla, who is known to always bring the fight to his opponents, launched a blitz attack on Botile and for the first three rounds it was all the champion. He attacked the body with well placed left uppercuts and hooks, landed with solid left jabs, but failed to land cleanly with his overhand rights. Botile was able to block most of the blows with a good defense, but seemed reluctant to launch an attack of his own. There was a light swelling around Botile’s left eye at the end of round three.

In the fourth round Tshehla rested by staying clear of the shorter challenger. He just came in on occasion to land a few blows to stay ahead on the scorecards. In the fifth round the dance continued with Tshehla attacking and Botile taking blows to his arms and shoulders. At the end of the round, however, he connected with two solid body blows which drove his opponent into the ropes. Tshehla followed up by throwing a barrage of blows, leaving himself open for a counterattack. While Botile again took most of the punches on his arms and gloves, he failed to take advantage of the openings left by the champion.

The sixth round saw the champion choosing to take it easy again, until the tail end of the round when he again caught Botile with some solid punches. The seventh round started the same way and, after missing with an uppercut, Tshehla landed a sold right to Botile’s temple which sent him down to the canvas. Although he stood up without too much trouble, when the referee asked him if he was okay, a dejected Botile answered “no” and the referee stopped the fight at 1:33 of the round.

All in all it was a fine display by Tshehla, who looks as if he could go places, and I would give him an edge against the likes of Mzonke Fana, were they to be matched. Having said that, this was not the real Mbulelo Botile he beat. I would be reluctant to even say that it was the shell of the former champion. Botile was not there to win and looked uneasy throughout the fight. After the bout Botile said he had a lot of problems prior to the fight and was not properly prepared or conditioned. While he will be receiving advice from all quarters to hang up his gloves, except from those who can still make some money off his name, Botile insisted he would not be calling it quits. It was sad to see a once great champion in such poor condition and fighting spirit taking blows from a man who in earlier times could not have stood in his shadow.

That, however, is the animal which is boxing.

We always think the old legends can come back. Look at the eagerness with which we still all await that other washed-up has-been, Mike Tyson, to make his return. Perhaps we the media and fight fans are as much to blame for our heroes’ careers continuing past their sell-by dates as much as they are. Botile dropped to 27-4 (16) and Tshehla upped his record to 23-5-1 (11).