The IBO lightweight world title fight between Isaac “Angel” Hlatswayo, 22-0, 1 NC (9 KOs), and Aldo Rios, 41-3, 1 NC (9 KOs), which took place at Carnival City on Saturday night was appropriately billed “The Eye of the Puma.” Appropriate because the two men spent more time looking at each other than fighting. There was very little to cheer about, and although neither fighter put on a winning performance, Rios could consider him unlucky not to get the nod in this one.

Considering neither of these men are known for their knockout abilities, it was rather surprising that they were very cautious from the start. Rios moved around on the outside and Hlatswayo looked to find his mark with his jab. Neither boxer did anything significant, but the champion landed a few more cleaner punches.

Rios continued his evasive tactics in the second and third rounds; neither boxer landed much leather and the crowd started singing to entertain themselves while waiting for the action to begin. Going into this fight most suspected that it would be more of a scientific encounter with not much fireworks, but a scientific fight can also be an entertaining one if the two proponents make a competition out of it. Something these two never really brought to the party.

The crowds starved for action cheered when Hlatswayo landed a jab in the fourth and managed to land a solid left hook at the end of the round. The punch had no real effect and Rios showed that by landing a left of his own at the start of the fifth. Rios used his jab on a regular basis, but mostly landed in Hlatswayo’s arms and gloves. The champion landed a single good right to the side of the challenger’s head, but followed it up with nothing. Rios continued to look comfortable, just causing the champion to miss and landing the occasional blow to keep the judges interested.

Both landed single shots to each other’s jaws in the sixth round, but other than that nothing much else happened. Most sparring sessions I’ve seen have been more competitive and interesting than this encounter. One could see that both boxers have a variety of punches in their arsenal, but they were reluctant to show them off.

Running out of patience with his opponent in the seventh round, the champion threw some wild punches in hope of turning up the heat, but failed to land any of them on a boxer who could not have been more slippery if he was covered in oil. Rios continued to land the occasional counterpunch.

The yawn continued in the eighth round with Rios landing a punch or two, but you could count the amount of punches both boxers landed on one hand. If some music was played during this round you could be excused to think this was a dance contest rather than a fight. Hlatswayo did throw a few punches, but missed on almost every occasion.

Rios landed a few body blows in the ninth, with Hlatswayo landing the odd blow to his head. But neither fighter was throwing with any conviction and the crowd was getting very restless. The two men continued their shadowboxing exhibition in the tenth, but the champion did manage to land a few jabs on Rios’s left cheek which started showing a bit of color.

There was more action in the eleventh round than there was in the entire ten preceding rounds. Rios started coming in and both men landed some good blows. Hlatswayo came off better on the close exchanges and the bout started showing glimmers of an actual fight.

The overdue fireworks at last arrived in round twelve when the challenger took it to the champion. Rios caught Hlatswayo and the champion was clearly in trouble in the last minute of the fight. If Rios had a good punch he could have ended it. The champion held on and started coming back at the bell, but the challenger edged the round.

The joke points decisions which have become a standard in IBO world title fights staged locally continued with the judges scoring it 118-110, 117-111, 118-111 in favor of Isaac Hlatswayo. The fight was certainly a lot closer than that and Rios could even have edged the fight with the last round performance.

Following what was by no means a must-see contest, an announcement was made that Hlatswayo would be matched against current national junior lightweight champion Ali Funeka. The mind boggles at why such a match would even be considered, as it would mean absolutely nothing for Hlatswayo’s career. That is of course assuming his handlers would want him to achieve all we hope he is capable of.

The fact that he was staggered by a powder-puff puncher again illustrates that there are problems. Hlatswayo reportedly battled to make the lightweight limit and this could have contributed to his performance as well. One also has to question the matchmaking skills and promotional vision around this fighter. Hlatswayo’s best performances have been against come-forward fighters and he has shown the ability of being able to rough opponents up on the inside. Why pit him against a renowned runner?

Either Hlatswayo is a spent force, because he’s being over protected, or he needs to fire his manager, trainer and promoter and get a team behind him who have his best interests at heart. Throwing the name of Ali Funeke, who lost to Mzonke Fana, albeit controversially, as a next opponent is a joke and clearly a sign of wanting to milk the low budget cows instead of pursuing the big league. The fact that Hlatswayo is South Africa’s boxer of the year 2005 and nothing’s happening around him is a tragedy for the sport.

In the main supporting bout, Daniel “Billy the kid” Bruwer, 12-1-1 (12 KOs), moved up to the light-heavyweight division to face Argentinean journeyman Eduordo Rojas, 8-10-7 (3 KOs). Bruwer has good firing power in both hands and has been shaping as one of South Africa’s most promising super middleweights in recent times. Having witnessed his development from the start of his career, Bruwer has shown good progress and has moved beyond just being a big banger.

His primary weakness has been a lack of experience and thus this fight was arranged in order to give him an opponent who can take blows without collapsing and give him a run for a few rounds. Known as a bit of spoiler, Rojas clearly did not like the idea of being Bruwer’s punching bag, once he felt the power of the South African’s blows. Bruwer dropped his man in the fourth round with a left hook and then went for the kill. It was another left which dropped Rojas for a second time and heralded in the referee stopping the bout.

Also on the bill, Malcolm “The Stone” Klassen, 16-2-3 (8 KOs), made the first successful defence of his national featherweight title by stopping Lindile Tyhali, 13-9-1 (3 KOs), in the third round. Klassen, who adopted the nickname “The Stone” in honor of his idol “Lehlo “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba, possesses fine fistic skills and could well follow in his role model’s footsteps.