Joseph “Smoking Jo” Makaringe (28–2, 23 KOs) won the WBC International welterweight title on Friday night at the Graceland Casino in a hard-fought battle against Philip Kotey (16-2-1, 11 KOs) of Ghana. The two men put on a tremendous display of guts and determination and put some serious hurt on each other.

Makaringe, who is known as a slow starter, was caught off guard as Kotey rushed him from the opening bell. He was met with a furious flurry of punches, and following a left hook which had him falling into the ropes, Makaringe went down. “He caught me and I was a little off balance,” Makaringe said after the fight, “but I wasn’t hurt. Nic (Durandt) said if he catches me I should go down to recover so that’s what I did.”

Makaringe started well in the second, keeping Kotey on the back foot with a solid left jab. The Ghanaian boxer then switched from southpaw to orthodox, which played into the hands of the South African. This allowed Makaringe to land a lot easier and the two men both threw and landed big bombs on each other. It was clear that these two were intent on ending this fight as soon as possible. While Kotey did land some good punches, the round belonged to Makaringe, who was attacking his man furiously as the bell rang to end round two.

The third round delivered another furious fistic feast as both men pounded each other mercilessly. Makaringe caught Kotey with a string of combinations and bludgeoning blows, but the Ghanaian showed tremendous strength to weather the storm. A cut opened under his left eye. Makaringe continually slapped with his right hook instead of landing his fist squarely. Had he punched correctly he could well have had his man out in this round. To Kotey’s credit he stayed in the race and also landed some good blows. He has a good technique of holding his shoulder forward protecting his chin and giving only a side target to his opponent (a little like former WBC super middleweight champion, Sugarboy Malinga, but he does not do it as effectively as the former three-time world champion used to). Thanks to the knockdown in the first round, going into the fourth scores were even.

The fourth round was a lot more subdued as Makaringe moved forward throwing left jabs and right hooks throughout, while Kotey chose to keep moving back and just countering on occasion. Kotey did revert back to being a southpaw, but was merely going through the motions to get through the round. Both boxers were showing signs of weariness from the previous three rounds of explosive action.

Kotey reverted back to fighting orthodox in the fifth round, but remained on the back foot as Makaringe still dominated. Kotey did land some effective uppercuts, but the gallant fighter’s stamina was wearing thin and at times it looked an effort for him to just raise his arms to keep the aggressor at bay.

Surprisingly Kotey started the sixth round strong and shaded the first half of the round, moving forward and subduing Makaringe’s blows. In the second half of the round Kotey tired again and Makringe moved forward, but missed more than he landed as he moved Kotey backwards. Again the inability of Makaringe to throw his punches correctly came to the fore and his street fighting style was prevalent.

The middle of the seventh round saw the men going toe-to-toe, throwing and landing tremendous shots to each other’s heads. Both fighters chose to work upstairs and body blows were few and far between. In the last minute of the round Makaringe again landed a string of combinations to Kotey’s face and had this man not been well conditioned, the canvas would have been beckoning.

Kotey showed tremendous strength in the first minute of the eighth round and looked on the verge of turning the fight. A stiff uppercut put his onslaught on hold, however, and a series of straight right jabs to his jaw had him looking on the verge of a stoppage. Amazingly, he managed to endure more blows to the head and then came back at the tail of the round with a well-timed combination.

Even though Kotey was staggered twice in the ninth round he dug deep and in turn landed a number of big shots of his own. The round was close. Kotey was impressive and showed great natural potential. Makaringe continued to hammer away and it must have been working on his mind that he had thrown everything he had at this man in front of him and still he kept coming. What did he have to do to stop him?

Bruised, battered and on the edge of exhaustion, both boxers continued to throw bombs at each other in the tenth round. Fought at a slower pace, this now turned into a war of attrition. These men would know for days following this fight that they were in a real fight, as they were being made to push their bodies beyond excepted norms. They were now in the championship zone. Who wanted it the most? Who would hold on and who could take more? Seldom do two men contest a championship with such evenly matched determination.

The eleventh round saw Makaringe trap his man in a corner and pummel him. Kotey fought back bravely, but a minute later Makaringe again had his man in trouble. As I watched the blows land on the valiant fighter’s bruised and bloodied face, I wondered how much more this man could take. Referee Alf Buqwana stepped in and decided that he had seen enough and stopped the fight just short of two minutes of the round.

Kotey’s corner protested the stoppage and perhaps they have some merit. Their man had taken many a beating over the course of the fight, and while he was taking punishment he did keep coming back. Undoubtedly the referee did save Kotey from further punishment, but at the same time he did still look alert. I felt comfortable with the fight being stopped, however. I had Makaringe ahead on points and Kotey would have had to score a knockout to win. He may still have been able to do it, but there’s no doubt serious damage was being done to him and it was becoming painful to watch.

Kotey has tremendous potential and if groomed a little better – taught a few more combinations and a defense – he could still do well. Makaringe, on the other hand, while a deserving winner, is perhaps too much of an old dog to learn new tricks. If he could throw a punch correctly he would have finished this fight in the early rounds and I would give him a chance of taking on the big names in the division. His right, however, is reminiscent of former IBF heavyweight champ Frans Botha’s powder-puff slapping style. One thing is for sure: if Makaringe tries to slap his way to a world title fight with the likes of Kostya Tszyu, the only thing that’s going to be slapped is his butt.