“Listen … just listen … do you know what that is? It’s the silence before the storm and there’s a big one coming.” These were the words used to introduce Silence Mabuza back in 2000 when he was voted Gauteng prospect of the year. I was on the panel which was given the duty of making the selections that year and even then it was very clear that Mabuza was no ordinary boxer. At that stage he’d only had 5 fights and had won them all by knockout, but he had an aura around him that said this was someone to watch. This was a potential champion.

Come Saturday night when Silence “African Spice” Mabuza, 18-0 (15), climbs into the ring to face Rafael Marquez; 34-3 (30), for the IBF bantamweight world title at Caesars Tahoe, there’s going to be a storm. This is not just a challenger trying to win a title. This is a man who believes he has a destiny to fulfill and will stop at nothing to achieve it. The fact that he’ll be facing a respected champion in Marquez will not detract him, instead in his mind it is the way it should be. For him to become a credible champion himself he needs to dethrone one.

It was early in 2001 at the SA boxing awards that I again had a chat with Mabuza along with South African boxing legend Andries Steyn. Steyn was one of the most talented local boxers to ever lace up a glove and many believe he would have claimed a lightweight world title had be been given the right opportunities. Steyn, also seeing the tremendous potential in the young man shared with him some advice about reading your opponent’s weaknesses and taking advantage of them. How warm it must have made Steyn’s heart when he saw Mabuza implementing those very things he had raised in his next few fights.

That’s another thing that makes this man special. He listens to what people have to say. Takes the good, discards the garbage, but he listens. No matter how he has risen through the ranks, he has kept that ability. In the early stages of his career he also shared the gym with Dingaan Thobela, and was in fact in his dressing room the night Thobela knocked out Glen “The Crybaby” Catley to win the WBC super middleweight world title. Thobela is known to acknowledge people and to listen respectfully and then to make up his own mind and it’s this same trait which Mabuza shares.

In his 8th pro bout Mabuza was matched against the national bantamweight champion Johannes Maisa in a non-title fight. At the time Maisa was 16-1 (11) and was regarded as the next big thing in the division and many thought he would be too experienced and too powerful for Mabuza. Ironically, that is the case again in Saturday’s fight.

The Maisa-Mabuza bout was a battle royal. Maisa was more experienced, better groomed, extremely confident and had the backing of Golden Gloves who promoted the fight. Mabuza had a corner who believed in him and a minority of boxing writers backing him. What he lacked, however, he made up with sheer guts and determination and a healthy dose of incredible natural talent.

The two noble warriors went toe to toe for the majority of an exciting ten round brawl. Mabuza was cut early on above his left eye, but this only fueled him on to fight back harder. Whenever Maisa landed, and he landed hard, Mabuza would come back and give him double back. The psychology of the fight could not have been better had it been scripted. Maisa gave and gave, but Mabuza did not only take it; he kept coming back; just kept coming back. The champion was the one on all cylinders early on, but in the end it was the battered and bruised Mabuza who stood tall. You could feel his courageous heart pounding through the cheers of those at ringside. Those who started the fight in favour of the champion, bar those who clung onto the hope that the decision would be spoiled by the judges, were soon washed over by the wave that had been generated in the middle of the ring.

Mabuza was a champion and nobody was going to take that away from him. Maisa put up a tremendous fight, but the fact was he could not stop his challenger from coming, could not sideline his desire to win; no matter how hard he tried, Mabuza soon started to crack him open from the inside out. This was a fight in which both combatants were willing to see how far they could take each other. They were playing chicken, but nobody was turning away or jumping off the track.

This was a collision and there would be only one winner. Bearing in mind that this was only Mabuza’s 8th pro contest, it was incredible to see him show the maturity to gut it out and to fight the fight. As I said, he lacked some experience – it showed at times – but there was something refreshing in his gutsy naivety in the ring and oh so beautiful. This man was born to be a champion. Following the fight I asked Mabuza about his bloody swollen left eye. It was almost completely closed and both his cheeks were swollen and there was blood on his teeth. “I couldn’t see on my left side so I knew I had to attack him,” replied Mabuza. “If I waited for him I wouldn’t have seen the punches so I took it to him and never gave him a chance to come back at me.”

This was for me the defining fight of Silence Mabuza. Since then he’s changed trainers and won the IBO bantamweight world title. He’s had 5 successful defenses including the IBF elimination against Cruz Carbajal, but all of those fights were merely practice sessions for the man. He’s never been extended as much as what he was in the Maisa fight. Some have been exciting affairs, but I always get the impression he’s just been honing his skills and doing the job while waiting for his destiny to arrive.

Some say he’s too arrogant in the ring, but, hey, weren’t all the great champions? The only weakness I detect going into this fight is that Mabuza could have been matched against tougher opponents during the grooming process. He has faced experienced, fast and ambitious men, but he has never faced the likes of Marquez. This is a test for Mabuza and it is one that he can pass. If the fight goes beyond five rounds, Mabuza will win. Some say there’s nothing more frightening than the silence before the storm …

In other South African news Andre Thyse defeated Andile Tshongole to retain his national super middleweight title last Friday night in a boring 8 round stoppage which resembled a sparring session more than a fight. On Saturday Nkosani Joyi continued his fine form by knocking out Mawanda Sineko in the 6th round to retain his national flyweight crown for the fourth time. Joyi improves with every outing and is showing potential for the world stage.