Even though he was the challenger, veteran Soon “Bazooka” Botes was the favorite to reclaim the South African light heavyweight title on Friday night at the Nasrec Center in Johannesburg from Erasmus Magwaza and he did so with a powerful performance.

This was Botes, 24-9 (14 KOs), a former national super middle and light heavyweight champion’s second fight on his comeback trail and some thought he was just back to collect a paycheck. Botes proved this was not the case, however, as he looked well conditioned and determined from the outset. Although he has a high loss ratio the majority have been in title fights against respected fighter the likes of Dingaan Thobela, Mads Larsen, Sugarboy Malinga, Robin Reid and Anthony Mundine.

With a scarcity of light heavyweights locally, it was hoped that the return of Botes would add some excitement to the division and he certainly turned up the heat with this outing. He looked a lot more composed and rejuvenated than a few years ago and certainly has a few good fights left in him. Previously he also had a tendency of slapping instead of punching, but seems to have improved on this flaw as well. Having said that Magwaza, 10-2 (10 KOs,) was by no means the real deal as far as champions go. Prior to this loss his only other loss was a stoppage at the hands of national super middleweight champion Andre Thyse, who himself is not a renowned puncher.

Botes’ strategy from the start of the fight was to overpower and intimidate his lesser experienced opponent. He threw every punch with authority and also pushed the shorter Magwaza around on two occasions. But Botes shots were wild and missed frequently. To the champion’s credit, he maintained his composure and was not drawn into a brawl with Botes.

Botes started the second round more controlled and used his left jab to good effect. Magwaza carried his hands high and looked for the opening. Botes was throwing more punches but was missing quite frequently. Magwaza displayed an unusual high level of discipline in maintaining his defense. When he did land his punches looked to hurt his man and in retrospect perhaps he should have shown less respect for his challenger. Of course he was also feeling Botes blows, but in the early rounds he seemed to be able to take them.

The men continued a high work rate throughout the third round. Botes still throwing more blows, but not landing consistently. Although throwing fewer punches, the champion had a higher hit ratio. At the end of the round Botes landed two solid right uppercuts. He used the uppercut to good effect throughout the fight and it was good to see a boxer using this punch, which is so often neglected.

Perhaps it was his fight with Dingaan Thobela back in 2000 which taught him the value of a good uppercut. The latter, whose uppercuts are legendary, used them to drop Botes twice on route to claiming the national super middleweight title from him to set up a challenge for the WBC world title and the destruction of Glen Catley. 

Botes started finding his range in the fourth round and landed more than he missed. The men went toe-to-toe in the middle of the round with the challenger coming off stronger. The champion kept his calm however and looked as if he could still rock the veteran’s chances of claiming his third national title. Botes’ consistent pressure did have him rattled at the end of the round.

Botes continued to pile on the pressure in the fifth round, but the champion’s defense was standing up well. Both men were drenched in sweat and were showing weariness. This was fast turning into a test of stamina and strength. Both had landed solid shots and both had taken what the other had to offer. Clearly this was not going to end with a one punch knockout and whoever could land a series of good shots could swing the bout into their favor. As they tired, however, the power behind their flailing fists grew less. This one was not going to see the twelfth round. It was a case of who would be able to gut it out until the other succumbed, either to exhaustion or a series of clubbing blows.

Even though Botes was piling on the points and landing some good combinations, the odd blow the champion landed was clearly stinging him. Botes tagged the champion, but Magwaza came in close to nullify his attack and threw some big shots of his own. The experience difference showed as Botes tangled his opponent up with relative ease, but the referee was having none of it and deducted a point from the challenger for holding in the sixth.

In the seventh Magwaza’a head swiveled as Botes caught him with a huge right uppercut. If one caught it on camera it would have been one of those classic shots where you see a fighters face contorting beyond what seems possible. Rocky Marciano’s KO of Jersey Joe Walcott comes to mind. The champion did not go down but was in all sorts of trouble. Botes continued to throw his uppercuts with a vengeance, but Magwaza showed great heart in absorbing the blows and continuing to throw punches of his own. The end could not be far away.

The challenger started the eighth round by landing a big right jab to the champion’s kisser. He made his intent known that he planned on finishing off his younger opponent and went after him with venom in his fists. The referee stepped in to break the fighters and seemed to be stalling as if to give Magwaza time to recover. A few seconds later and Botes was again throwing menacing blows at the champion, again the ref stopped the flow to tell Magwaza’s corner to dry some water on the canvas. Brief seconds later Botes again caught the champion and sent him reeling all over the ring and into the ropes. The punishment continued and the referee stepped in and stopped the fight at 1:36 of the round.

Following the fight Magwaza protested that the referee had stopped the fight prematurely, and while he could have let it go a little further it was clear that the champion was receiving a beating and the end result was inevitable. Although he took a pounding, Magwaza is a young fighter and could well emerge as a viable contender in the future. He showed the most maturity in the ring I have ever seen from him and the key factor in this loss was his lack of experience against a man who has been in the ring with some of the best boxers of his generation. Botes has grown from his past defeats and there’s no reason Magwaza can’t do the same.

It was an entertaining bout and it will be interesting to see what lies ahead for these two. Magwaza has come down in weight and could possible make a move down to the super middleweight division. With the lack of local opposition at light heavyweight, Botes may be forced to do the same. Another fight which would hold a lot of local interest would be a rematch between Dingaan Thobela and Botes. When quizzed about that possibility, Thobela responded “Botes won’t want to get back in the ring with me. He’ll want to make a few defenses and make some money. He was hurting when he faced me and boxers are reluctant to get back in the ring with guys who hurt them.” Thobela incidentally picked Botes to beat Magwaza on stoppage prior to the fight.