Many may not know or realize it, due to declining media attention of the once noble art, but come Wednesday May 31 fight fans are in for a big one. No matter how you cut the cake the Manuel Medina-Cassius Baloyi clash, which takes place at Northern Quest casino, Airway Heights in the US, is a superfight and dare we say the first real one of 2006? The vacant IBF and Baloyi’s IBO super featherweight world title will be on the line.
Both men are hardy veterans who have proven themselves to be superior athletes and have both reached legend status within their home countries. Medina, 66-14 (31 KO), has enjoyed 3 reigns as IBF featherweight world champion and has also held the WBC and WBO featherweight world titles in a distinguished career in which he has faced some of the most celebrated names of his era. You may think he has a large loss record, but keep in mind 10 of those came in world title matches. The one defining thing about Medina for me is that whenever you think his long and illustrious career is winding down, he wins another world title.
Baloyi, 31-2 (16 KO), has won world titles in three weight divisions, albeit in second tier sanctioning bodies; the opponents he fought were by and large credible contenders thus his status is credible. He held the WBU super bantam- and featherweight world titles and currently holds the IBO super featherweight crown. Baloyi has long earned the right to challenge for a first tier sanctioning body title and the fact that he is only now being given the opportunity is a slap in the face of those self same sanctioning groups as well as a failure by his promoters.
All in all Baloyi has contested 19 world title bouts in four weight divisions, as opposed to Medina’s 21 world title bouts in two weight divisions – that’s an incredible 40 world title fights between them. Common opponents are (1) Hector Lizarraga who Medina defeated on points in April 1998 to win the IBF featherweight world title; Baloyi stopped Lizarraga in 1 round in May 2000 in defense of his WBU featherweight world title, and (2) Frank Toledo, who Medina out pointed over 10 rounds in May 2000 and then defeated him with a 7th round TKO in November 2001 to reclaim the IBF featherweight crown; Baloyi outpointed Toledo in November 1996 to win the WBU Super Bantamweight world title.
Another interesting link with Toledo is that he defeated Mbulelo Botile to win the IBF title, who in turn had ended Paul Ingle’s boxing career to claim the crown. Ingle earlier defeated Medina in a defense and Baloyi later stopped Botile in the eleventh round in defense of the self same title he will be putting on the line against Medina.
The night Baloyi blew out Lizarraga in one round was one of those magical moments in boxing. All of us lucky enough to be ringside for that encounter knew that we had witnessed something very special and that Baloyi was indeed capable of great things. Lizarraga had in his previous fight been narrowly outpointed by Botile in an elimination match to challenge Ingle for the IBF crown and was still a highly respected and dangerous opponent. Baloyi was his master in every department, however, and while the bout only lasted one round, it was a fiercely contested and in itself a work of art
Baloyi had long chased the opportunity to land a fight with the WBO featherweight supremo Naseem Hammed. He often journeyed to the UK in hopes that he could convince the powers that be to make the fight happen. He defeated Said Lawal, Brian Carr and Steve Robinson on their home ground, but instead of stepping up to the plate and taking on a real threat the likes of Baloyi, Hamed chose to give former IBF super bantamweight kingpin Vuyani Bungu a short notice fight after the South African had been inactive for almost two years and had never fought at the higher weight.
Ironically, since their meeting Bungu has gone on to reclaim some of his former glory and proven himself a worthy competitor to this day, while Hamed’s career disintegrated. Both Baloyi and Medina have been in the battlefield and will be carrying their respective war wounds into the ring with them. Baloyi has never been stopped. He’s had his jaw broken and has taken blows that would probably kill lesser men. He’s been knocked to the canvas by Steve Robinson and Isaac Hlatswayo, but he’s always gotten up.
Besides his cast-iron jaw, Baloyi is a superb counterpuncher, he has razor-sharp jabs, can fight off the back-foot and coming forward. He has a solid defense and has knockout power in both fists. His heart is the size of Africa and will never quit. He’s gone through the school of hard knocks and has the scars to prove it. A humble man, with a quiet disposition, Baloyi is something of an enigma. When he enters the ring and the bell sounds, it’s as if he comes alive. The ring is his domain. It’s where he feels most at home.
It’s been a very long and winding road and he almost fell through the cracks – one could ponder about what would have happened had he been given the shot six years ago – but he has had a respectable and distinguished career outside the glare of the International spotlight. Unlike other boxers, he’s kept his disappointments to himself and gone about the business of making his living as a prizefighter. Named Cassius at birth after the original Cassius Clay, Baloyi has always been earmarked for greatness, something he has already achieved.
His former trainer and manager Brian Mitchell always said to me that he believes Cassius is the greatest boxing talent to emerge from South Africa, even greater than himself. Those who know the former WBA and IBF super bantamweight world champion will know that’s not something Mitchell would ever say lightly. Ironically, Medina was talked about as a possible opponent when Mitchell was still world champion, and now all these years later one of his charges will meet Medina for a title he once held.