Although he lost, looking at Lawrence Ngobeni’s condition on Friday night, you would never say he only had two weeks notice to prepare for his fourth encounter with Samuel Malinga. The two contested the South African junior welterweight title at Graceland Casino and delivered an entertaining contest.

Ngobeni, a former South African junior welterweight champion and former WBA intercontinental junior welterweight champion, was at a time a top contender for the WBA world lightweight title. He was one of those guys who actually worked his way up the ratings on merit, only to never be given the opportunity to grab the brass ring.

At 34 he is obviously no longer what he was, but on Friday’s showing he does still have a lot of fight left in him. Going into this fight Ngobeni, 31-6-4 (18), held a points win over Malinga in 2004, a TKO loss in 2005, and in their last fight in 2005 the two warriors fought to a draw. Malinga, 17-4-2 (10), is a former IBO Intercontinental junior welterweight and WBF junior welterweight world champion.

Ngobeni was a late replacement for Colin Mayasela, who withdrew from his title challenge due to injury. Looking at his physique Ngobeni is clearly a man who looks after himself, and while he perhaps had insufficient notice to prepare mentally and strategically for the fight he was fit and other fighters should look at him as a role model in this regard.

It was a fight from the outset, although Ngobeni was a little uncomfortable at the end of the round having received a number of crisp uppercuts from the taller champion, who also has a longer reach. In the second round it looked as though it was all over as Malinga caught his challenger with a short right left combination to put him down.

Ngobeni’s experience showed as he was able to weather the storm and came back strong in the third round. The champion, who has good hands, continued to use his uppercuts to good effect, but the gallant challenger was now also getting his own jab through. At the end of the round it was the champion who now looked more uncomfortable.

Ngobeni continued to come forward, but was taking four blows to land one of his own. The height and reach advantage enjoyed by the champion certainly gave him an edge, but his solidly placed uppercuts never deterred his man, who continued to move forward looking for an opening.

In the fifth round the challenger switched to southpaw. The change worked as the champion did not know how to handle the switch and the challenger took the round.

Ngobeni then reverted to orthodox in the sixth and was on the receiving end of a solid straight right which glazed his eyes.

The challenger was again on the receiving end for most of the round as he soldiered forward in hopes of destabilizing his junior by ten years. Malinga treated Ngobeni’s head like a pear-ball and went to work on it with a flurry of rights and lefts. The challenger did get through with a good left jab and a powerful right to the body as the bell sounded the end of the round.

In the ninth the challenger turned up the heat and shaded the first half of the round. He continued moving forward in the second half, but was peppered with short jabs and uppercuts for his efforts. He caught the champion with a short right, which made him do a double take, but was unable to follow up as still battled to get through the champion’s guard. The challenger stayed close to the champion throughout and made it difficult for him to land cleanly.

In a strange turn of strategy, Ngobeni came out in the eleventh round and decided to stay on the outside of his man. What he or his corner was thinking I’ll never know. Remember when Francois Botha did the same inane thing against the bigger, taller and longer reaching Lennox Lewis? Needless to say, now that the champion could get full extension on his punches and had space to move and throw them, the bombs landed and Ngobeni went down. The gutsy warrior got back to his feet and the bombardment continued. At the point when the referee was probably considering stepping in, the bell rang and bought the challenger one minute’s respite.

Nineteen seconds into the last round the men were in the same position and the referee called a halt to the bout. It was a good fight. It showed that Ngobeni is still has fight left in him and given proper notice, who knows what he could pull out of the bag? It’s a good win for Malinga. He has a good jab and it’s refreshing to see a boxer using uppercuts again. He is talented, but he still needs work. His confidence isn’t what it should be and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t think in the ring, he just follows instruction.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – there have been a number of world champions who have been the same – but it gets tough when you’re in the ring with a boxer who can think on his feet and improvise in the heat of the moment. Colin Mayasela is such a fighter and if he had been in the ring with Malinga, we could well have had a new champion.