Gabula “The Tiger” Vabaza (22-1-0, 15 KOs) made the first defense of his WBA intercontinental junior featherweight crown at the Graceland Casino in Mpumulanga on Friday night with relative ease. He faced a plucky young fighter in Anyetei Laryea (12-0-3, 8 KOs) from Ghana in what was nothing more than a challenging sparring session for the popular Vabaza. The challenger, who is almost 20 cm shorter and has a 10 cm reach disadvantage, did not possess the power to unsettle the champion at any time.

Laryea was reminiscent of an eager puppy pursuing a fully grown dog with vigor. He undoubtedly has heart and also some good skill, but was never going to mount a serious challenge on a man being tapped by many as a future world champion.

Vabaza caught Laryea with a good left hook to the jaw in the seventh round but it did little to dampen the challenger’s spirit. To Vabaza’s credit he never looked to be assuming victory and maintained his focus throughout the fight. The champion is a cool character who never takes his eyes off of his opponent. He moves around the ring with a fluid motion and throws his punches with intent. He possesses an adequate arsenal of punches and does have potential. What was lacking in this fight was a fire of determination.

Not taking anything away from Laryea, who looks like he would make a formidable bantamweight, Vabaza should have ended this fight early on. Although Laryea is a clever and gutsy fighter, if Vabaza is a prospective future world champion he should have been able to exert his authority on the smaller man, but never once looked like stopping him or even trying to turn up the heat. He complained of a shoulder injury after the fight, but this was only visible from the 11th round. While there are those who love the exhibition of boxing, it doesn’t sell tickets and doesn’t inspire fight fans to watch. Boxing is not only a contest of skill, it is also a fight, and there was only one boxer making a fight of this one and it wasn’t the one who ended up winning. The judges correctly scored it 119-110, 119-110 and 119-109 in favor of Vabaza.

Nicknamed “The Mongoose,” Jeffrey Mathebula (16-2-1, 9 KOs) enjoyed a significant height and reach advantage over Osamu Akaba (16-2-1, 13 KOs) when challenging the latter for his WBC international featherweight title prior to the Vabaza–Laryea bout. Mathebula stands at 1.75 m and has a reach of 171 cm compared to the Ghanian champion’s 1.52 m and 149 cm.

Akaba realized early on that he would have to force his way through Mathebula’s blows to reach is gangly frame if he was to retain his title. The well built champion, whose physique reminds of a young Marvelous Marvin Hagler, clearly had no fear of his South African challenger and the second and third round produced some great fireworks from both boxers.

Mathebula landed stinging lefts and rights to Akaba’s head as he charged forward for the entire fourth round and the champion managed to land some stiff punches on the challenger. A small cut opened on Matehbula’s left eye in this round. The fifth continued much as the fourth had ended with Akaba moving forward and throwing bombs. The longer reach remained a problem for the champion however and the challenger continued to land blows as the champion was coming forward looking for an opening.

The lanky challenger used the ring well to stay out of the champion’s reach but still received a few blows to the jaw for his trouble. Signs of frustration started forming on the champion’s face as he continued the struggle of trying to catch his man.

Even though Mathebula landed some big straight rights to the forehead of the champion, Akaba kept the pressure throughout the seventh round. For the first minute of the 8th round Mathebula never threw a punch and just avoided the champion’s blows as best he could. As a trickle of blood from a cut on his right eyelid flowed down his cheek, Mathebula suddenly decided to start boxing again and came back well at the end of the round.

The ninth round started the same way with the champion stalking his prey and Mathebula just running and keeping out of reach of his blows. After using up the first minute of the round Mathebula again started using his left jab to good effect. Akaba landed two solid lefts to the challenger’s jaw towards the end of the round, but was unable to take advantage of it.

With cuts on both eyes Mathebula received a number of solid body punches as he tried to avoid his man at the start of the tenth round. He continued to use the strategy of moving away and piling on points with quick rights and lefts to the champion’s head as he moved after him. The last forty seconds of the round delivered a sensational toe-to-toe struggle between the two, with both men landing big blows. Besides his eyes, Mathebula was also now bleeding from his nose.

Mathebula looked to be holding on in the 11th round as the champion, still looking strong, continued moving forward and piling on the pressure. Akaba himself had little defense as he focused on offence and this allowed Mathebula to land his lefts and rights at will, although they never carried the authority of Akaba’s blows.

The challenger again took the first minute of the last round off, but turned up the heat in the middle minute. Akaba then came back strong in the last minute but was still battling to land on the taller challenger. Judges scored the bout 117-111, 117-112, 116-114 in the favor of Mathebula. The scores flattered the new champion and had Akaba been a little taller the result could well have been reversed.

In a welcome return to the ring following a one year suspension for using a banned substance, Vusi Malinga knocked out Nkosinathi Tshinavhe in the tenth round to reclaim the WBC international bantamweight title. Malinga dominated his follow countryman throughout the fight to claim the vacant title.