I’m not going to jump up and down claiming Cassius Baloyi, who was definitely off form, was robbed on Saturday night because he wasn’t, but he could consider himself unlucky not to have earned the judges’ vote in a very close fight at the Emperor’s Palace in Kempton Park. He’ll also be asking himself for years to come, why he allowed himself to fall into such a precarious position against an opponent he should have beaten. Baloyi lost his IBF and IBO junior lightweight world titles to Guyana-born Gairy St. Claire, who now fights out of Australia.
There was a wonderful sense of respect in the air as the around 3000 strong audience gave Baloyi a standing ovation when he entered the ring. What a difference a credible world title makes. Although he previously held the WBU junior feather and featherweight world titles as well as the IBO junior lightweight world title, the claiming of the IBF version with his win over Manuel Medina a few months ago, gave him his long sought after and deserved recognition.
In an odd turn the respective national anthems were played prior to the fighters entering the ring. I found this ludicrous as anthems are played for the boxers to inspire them and to give audience the opportunity to feel pride in their warriors as they prepare for battle. Although he acknowledged the crowd, Baloyi did not look as conditioned and psyched as he usually does. I in fact got the sense that he did not really want to even be there.
Having been ringside at many of Baloyi’s fights I dismissed this observation as his face often belies what’s going on inside him. The first round the champion stayed on the outside and flashed out his jab to keep the challenger at bay who from the get go made it clear he intended hunting the champion down and every punch he threw, was with conviction. Baloyi landed some well placed counterpunches to St. Claire’s face and took the first round.
St. Claire turned up the heat in the second round and tried to force his opponent against the ropes before unleashing bombs to his arms and gloves, with the occasional blow sneaking through to Baloyi’s head. It was clear that the challenger was hoping to stop his man and was not concerned with piling up the points. Baloyi again landed good combinations to his challenger’s head. Baloyi’s round.
Baloyi found a weakness in St. Claire’s armor in the third round, landing a series of right hooks to the challenger’s head. The challenger was relentless however and kept moving forward swinging and trying to force exchanges on the inside. He did manage to get through the champion’s defense, but was himself caught off balance by a solid right. Any misconception that Baloyi was in for an easy night’s work was totally dismissed. The champion had a fight on his hands. Baloyi’s round.
St. Claire, who showed no respect for the champion, continued to drive forward attacking his man relentlessly. Baloyi looked uncomfortable on the back foot and seemed to have lost the ability to throw a jab. St. Claire’s round.
The fifth round continued on the same vane with Baloyi throwing a few feeble counterpunches. The champion was already looking tired from the immense pressure the challenger was placing on him by maintaining a continued attack. Few effective punches were getting through, but the continued onslaught would’ve impressed the judges and did serve to rattle Baloyi’s corner. St. Claire’s round.
Baloyi came back in the sixth. He started using the ring better, making it difficult for St. Claire to catch him, but allowed the challenger to dictate the style of the fight, which often denigrated into a brawl. Again it was Baloyi who was landing more clean punches, but the challenger was throwing more blows. Whenever Baloyi’s right hook landed, St. Claire would wince and seemingly had no answer to it. Round even.
Baloyi continued to work his right to good effect and momentarily shook the challenger. He started settling into the fight and worked his way off the ropes well. With the challenger’s blows now carrying less heat, it looked as if Baloyi was on the verge of turning things around and being the one to be putting the pressure on. Baloyi’s round.
In the eighth round the champion reverted. St. Claire was warned for using his head and a few seconds later a trickle of blood was visible on the side of Baloyi’s left eye. The champion eased off the gas. St. Claire’s round
Baloyi threw a good combination to the challenger’s head at the start of the round and then just surfed the wave of attack from St. Claire. Brian Mitchell, who usually works Baloyi’s corner with Nic Durandt, remained on the outside of the ring for the duration of the fight, only slipping the champion’s chair in for him. One hopes all is well in the Durandt-Mitchell relationship as outside factors too often influence fighters in ways they shouldn’t. Where were Baloyi’s razor-sharp jabs, his power driving uppercuts, his impenetrable defense … where was Baloyi? St. Claire’s round
The tenth round was an action packed rumble as both men went for the jugular with grueling exchanges. Baloyi rocked St. Claire’s head back with his right hook and a swelling was clearly visible to the side of his left eye. Baloyi’s white trunks as well as St. Claire’s were gradually turning pink with the champion’s blood which continued to flow from his left eye. Again the debate over effective clean punches versus number of blows would raise its head on the scorecards here. The champion’s punches hit their target while the flurry of blows from the challenger’s were hit and miss.
The frenetic pace of the previous round continued in the eleventh and twelfth rounds. The challenger also moved in, rubbing his head in the face of the champion to assist the bloody free flow from the gaping wound on the champion’s left eye. The two men bludgeoned each other and this was another fight in which 12 rounds was just not enough. I gave the tenth and twelfth rounds to Baloyi, the eleventh to St. Claire, which made Baloyi a one point winner on my card. The judges preferred the all action approach of St. Claire to the cleaner targeted punching of Baloyi and pegged it at 112-116, 113-115 and 114-115 to the game St. Claire.
Not taking anything away from the new champion, the win wasn’t clean cut nor completely convincing, but that’s boxing. St. Claire failed to win over the spectators and they stood up on mass and started leaving once the result was read. Few were interested in remaining to share the official handing over of the belts or to share St. Claire’s moment of glory. They were disappointed in the result, disappointed in Baloyi’s performance, disappointed that South Africa’s only credible world titleholder had lost his crown, without giving his best.
St .Claire, 39-3-2 (17), is a tough fighter who can maintain pressure throughout. He was well conditioned and certainly will be a formidable opponent for whoever he faces next. He does however have gaping holes in his defense and the fact that Baloyi, 32-3 (17), was out of sorts and unable to capitalize on them enough to convince the judges to vote his way is a worrying one. Everybody is entitled to an off night, but having one at the cost of two world titles is a heavy price to pay. The question also begs, was it an off night or has Baloyi’s ticket been punched?