On his very first trip to the United States, and in only his third fight fought outside of his native South Africa, Takalani Ndlovu won the vacant IBO super bantamweight title in a barnburner of a bout against Armando Guerrero of Austin, Texas.
Their November 4 battle royale at the Hammerstein Ballroom in midtown Manhattan was the perfect prelude to the main event featuring nonstop punching Irishman John Duddy. Although virtual strangers to the New York audience, Ndlovu and Guerrero did their part to rev up the already exuberant pro-Duddy crowd.
For twelve rounds the leather was flying in a oddly competitive, one-sided bout. Although Guerrero was never out of the fight, Ndlovu outpointed him by the wide margins of 117-111, 119-109 and 116-112.
Afterwards, you never would have known that the high-energy, always smiling Ndlovu was even in a fight. There was not a mark on his boyishly handsome face that seemed better suited for the cover of a tourist magazine than a boxing rag.
“It was an honor to win my first title here in New York,” said Ndlovu, who raised his record to 24-3 (15 KOs) while Guerrero’s record dipped to 20-5-6 (11 KOs). “Now I want to win the others, the IBF, WBC, WBA. I want to win them all.”
Out of respect for potential future opponents, Ndolvu, who counts among his three losses two split decisions to former world champion and fellow South African Vuyani Bungu, refused to mention what champions or contenders he’d like to meet.
He just made it clear that he is a man on a mission. As he shot video of the New York skyline outside the arena in which he had just won his title, he said he was thrilled that his fight against Guerrero was broadcast live to his home country. It mattered little to him that it was being shown in South Africa at about 3:00 A.M. local time.
“They (my friends and fans) don’t sleep tonight,” he laughed. “But my wife, she won’t be watching. She is scared of my fighting. She will have friends to comfort her.”
Most fighters are nice guys, but all seem to have an edge about them that makes them good at what they do. Unless Ndlovu is a very good actor, he seems devoid of any such edge. Yet he fights with a passion that belies his outward complacency.
He seems to view boxing as a nothing more than a sport that he is good at, and from which he can make a good living for his wife Victoria and five-year-old daughter Mgobie. He is also employed as a sales representative for the Pre-Paid Company, which sells phone cards.
He says that he had just one street fight in his entire life, and began boxing at the age of 12 when he followed a cousin to the gym. He quit after a short time, but returned to the sport at 15. He soon made the South African national team where he enjoyed much success. He turned pro in 1999 and is now promoted by Rodney Berman. The November 4 show was promoted by South African-born Cedric Kushner.
Although Ndlovu was disappointed that he didn’t get to do any sightseeing on his first trip to the Big Apple, he realized that he was here to do business. He would love to return someday, either to take in the sights or to defend a world title at the fabled Madison Square Garden, which is just one block away from where he beat Guerrero.
With most of the current champions and top super bantamweight contenders hailing from either South of the Border or the Orient, it is unlikely that Ndlovu’s dream of fighting at the Garden will come anytime soon. But defending his title before his own people would be equally, if not more, fulfilling.
Ndlovu’s out-of-the ring demeanor is that of a guy who is slow and steady and willing to put all the work into a task before bringing it to fruition. He is sensible enough to realize that, his IBO title notwithstanding, he is still a few fights away from worldwide acclaim.
“The kid is a real solid fighter,” said the colorful New York matchmaker Johnny Bos. “He doesn’t do anything great, but he does everything good. Some guys are just calm like he is. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of fear of him.
“I once had a kid who was an amateur sensation,” continued Bos. “He never showed any fear either. On the way to the ring for his pro debut, he said his leg was stiff. He was starting to panic and got himself knocked out. This guy (Takalani), he came all the way here from South Africa, beat the [tar] out of his opponent, and never gave it a second thought. That’s a gift that could take him a long way. You can’t underestimate a guy like that.”