No less than one IBO world title, five WBC international titles and one WBA international title fight will be taking place in South Africa in the last week of March. The last six fights mentioned will all be on the same bill. World Sport promotions, making a welcome return to boxing promotion following a five year absence, is staging the IBO featherweight world title bout between Thomas Mashaba and highly rated Argentinean fighter Yober Ortega on March 24 in Nelspruit, and Branco Productions stages his six International title tournaments a week later in Johannesburg.

Branco productions has been the busiest and most successful promoter in South Africa in the last five years, with the erstwhile King of boxing, Rodney Berman of Golden Gloves, seemingly withdrawing from the sport with fewer and fewer tournaments. Thinus Strydom, who heads up World Sport Promotions was a major player in South African boxing in the 80’s and 90’s and was instrumental in the careers of the likes of Gerrie Coetzee, Dingaan Thobela, Nika Khumalo, Sugarboy Malinga and Francois Botha. His return has heralded in an air of excitement that a competition between World Sport and Branco Productions can only be good for the sport, and if this is how it’s going to begin we could be in for some interesting times ahead.

If Berman, who has cultivated more world champions than the two of them put together, renews his energies back into the game there could be even more fireworks.  Perhaps Strydom’s return could encourage Golden Gloves as well. A serious problem in local boxing has been inferior opposition being imported, bad judging, disinterested sponsors, low media coverage and marketing, all of which have resulted in poor attendance and fan interest. This has been a vicious circle and one we hope will soon be broken. There has been an emergence of good boxing talent, but few opportunities for fighters to establish solid careers in the sport.

The Mashaba – Ortega match up is an intriguing one. Although Mashaba, a former IBO super bantamweight world champion and current IBO featherweight world champion, will be putting his titles on the line, Ortega a former WBA super bantamweight world champion is rated higher in two of the more prestigious sanctioning bodies, albeit at super bantamweight. The WBA rates him their #6 contender with Mashaba sitting at #12 and the IBF put Ortega at #10 in their rankings. The big question here is will a win by either put them in the ratings in the featherweight division, or will they merely lose their ratings in the lower weight class.

Mashaba defeated the South African legend Vuyani Bungu in June last year on a disputed points decision in front of Bungu’s home crowd to claim the IBO featherweight title. It was his only fight of the year. In 2004 he made the second defense of the national super bantamweight title and went on to win the IBO super bantamweight crown with a 9th round stoppage of Zolani Morali. He also holds wins over current WBC International featherweight champion Jeffrey Mathebula and former WBU world title contender Charles Mailula. The Bungu fight was Mashaba’s first at the featherweight limit. Bungu’s major claim to fame was holding the IBF super bantamweight world title for five years and successfully defending it 13 times against some of the best names in the division, before moving up to the featherweight division. Prior the Mashaba fight, Bungu twice beat the current IBO super bantamweight champion Takalani Ndlovu. The veteran only had 5 fights in the last 6 years, 4 of them world title outings, but has always been well conditioned and always comes to fight. His wins over the talented Ndlovu illustrates this with good effect.

Ortega, a southpaw, is a seasoned veteran still active at the higher levels. He won the WBA super bantamweight world title in November 2001 with a fourth round stoppage over Jose Rojas. It was for the vacant title after the WBA stripped Clarence Adams for choosing to fight Paulie Ayala instead of defending against Ortega. Ortega had won a WBA super bantamweight world interim title in his previous outing by stopping Kozi Ishii in 11 rounds in Japan. He then lost it out points a few months later in Thailand against Yoddamrong Sithyodthong. Four of his five losses have been in WBA world or world interim title fights. Yortega’s last fight was a 12 round loss to Celestino Cabellero in Panama for the WBA interim title in November last year. Earlier in the year he defeated Ernesto Vasquez over 10 rounds.

Ortega certainly is a good test for Mashaba, but given the fact that he is 40 years old he may be on the slide. With both the WBA and IBF still rating him in their top-ten, however, perhaps his age is irrelevant. It will be his first encounter at the heavier weight so a loss here may not affect his standing as a super bantamweight. Likewise it may also not help Mashaba’s rating as a featherweight. “We want Mashaba to defend his title twice,” says Strydom, “and then take aim at the other world champions in the division. Ortega’s a dangerous opponent and I’m not sure that Mashaba will beat him. That’s why we signed him for the fight. Fans don’t want a guaranteed result. When it comes to a world title fight, either man should be capable of winning. That’s what makes it exciting to watch.”

Two other exciting signings for World Sport Promotions are former WBU and IBO cruiserweight world champion Sebastian Rothman, who put up a tremendous challenge for the IBF title last year against O'Neil Bell and former IBF heavyweight world champion Frans “The White Buffalo” Botha. There is already a plan in place to get Rothman back in the big leagues and he will be featured in two fights later this year. One is earmarked for Las Vegas, but given the sensitivities around negotiations cannot be revealed at this time. All I can say it would be a great match and it makes sense. Watch for when the news breaks.

Botha, who has just returned from taking part in a K1 tournament in New Zealand has aligned himself with World Sport Promotions and will be making his return to boxing in a few months time. A suitable opponent is currently being sought for him. “I’ll be continuing in K1. I am in the top 8 in the world.” says Botha. “I’ll be boxing and I’ve also been offered a pro-wrestling contract. So basically I’m in the entertainment business and I’ll be entertaining people all over the world.”