Hawk Makepula’s fourth round stoppage at the hands of the phenom Jorge Arce on Saturday night has again raised the concern that South African fighters are being weaned on inferior opposition and that trainers are lacking in devising effective ring strategies for their fighters at the highest level. While there is merit to these concerns, there was no shame in the way Makepula went down against a man who could be a favorite going in against any world champion in the Fly- to Bantamweight divisions.
I was asked in a television interview on Saturday afternoon if Makepula lost against Arce would that be the end of his career and should he retire. Following his loss, local commentators were again implying that it’s the end of the road for the 33-year-old fighter. What bollocks. As I said prior to the fight there is no shame in losing to a legend. If Arce was to retire now, he would already leave an impressive legacy.
Makepula landed some good shots and while Arce just soldiered through them, lesser men would not have done so. The South African also showed good heart in hanging in the last 90 seconds of the third round, fighting back even though he was clearly in distress. While he was overwhelmed by the Mexican’s fiery onslaught in the fourth, he showed his commitment to the sport and I’m pretty sure had the referee not waved the fight off, the valiant fighter would have continued as best he could. He certainly still does have a future in the ring.
Makepula’s trainer, Nic Durandt, told him going into the fourth round that Arce was going to storm him and that he must keep his “ass off the ropes.” Perhaps not enough advice to a fighter in peril and in need of solid support from his corner. It’s like telling someone on a beach here comes a Tsunami, don’t go in the water.
While I was not going to use the fight to launch a piece on the concerns raised in the first paragraph, as I do not want to diminish the Arce-Makepula fight, which was an entertaining affair and a showing of Arce’s impressive talents. Sure it can be argued that better preparation and strategic thought in Makepula’s game plan could have rendered a different result or at least a longer battle, but both boxers deserve more respect than that.
The above concern is not only South African one, it is a global one and therein lies part of the problem boxing is experiencing at present. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on the undercard is a prime example. Just how good is Chavez Jr.? He’s undefeated after 28 odd fights whoop de do. Who has he fought? A bunch of handpicked patsies to build his record. What’s he going to do when he faces a real quality boxer the likes of Arce? Not that there are more than a handful of them.
Oh, but Chavez Jr. is only 21, they say. Arce won his first world title at 19. Its not about age, it’s about talent and experience and the two go hand-in-hand with the great fighters. Makepula is 6 years older than Arce, but Arce has loads more experience against top flight fighters. That’s the key to what happened on fight night.
Don’t get me wrong, Chavez looks skilled and looks to have a punch, but so does Makepula against other opposition. Chavez Jr., for all his marketing potential, is being protected and sheltered under the guise of being brought along slowly and learning. You can’t learn anything about climbing a ladder while standing still on the bottom rung. He can amass 50 wins against mediocre opposition, but when he gets in the ring with a real deal boxer, he’ll come unstuck, because he won’t have the experience of facing a real threat.
Following his fight on Saturday, Chavez Jr. complained of suffering from leg cramps from the second round onwards. A telltale sign that he could be battling to keep his weight down. With his height he should probably be fighting in a division or two higher, so why keep him there, if that is the case? To easily overpower his lighter opponents on fight night?
This is not a rant against Chavez Jr.; I’m merely using him as an example of what’s happening in the world of boxing across the boards. A promoter or manager finds a fighter they perceive to have potential as a meal ticket for a few years, wrap him in cotton-wool and then try and milk it for as long as possible. Make a living and then land a few big paydays before you retire. The boxer never gets to develop into all he can be and the public loses interest in following the boxer’s career, because he’s fighting no one.
Makepula is a good worker in the gym and a dedicated boxer. But his last few outings in defense of his WBC International title have been against boxer’s who did not challenge his abilities, so how was he supposed to progress? When he landed his blows on them, they went down. How was he to know Arce could absorb his punching power? How did I know Arce could, but his corner seemingly did not? It boils down to homework and it’s not rocket science. Trainers who add value to their boxers’ careers seem to be in short supply. A lot of them were spoiled by really talented boxers who can think in the ring and strategize for themselves.
Why are the modern-day legendary boxers all coming from Mexico and why are the little skilled tough guys in the heavyweights coming from Eastern Europe. It’s the old adage; these guys are still hungry when they climb into the ring. They are fighters, not boxing franchise operators. It’s about boxing and not merely the business of boxing.
Hawk Makepula has always had the tools and the conviction to do well, but boxing is – whether anybody wants to admit it or not – a team sport. Without a solid team behind you, a boxer can forget about longevity and about being all he can be.
Most, including Arce, say Makepula was robbed when challenging Irene Pacheco for the IBF flyweight world title back in 2000. He also holds a win over Baby Jake Matlala for the WBO jnr Flyweight world title, who in turn defeated Michael Carbajal before the legend himself stopped Arce in the Mexican’s last loss six years and 25 fights ago. I’m raising these fights to illustrate the fact that Makepula did not lose because he’s a bad fighter (he is a good boxer), he lost because Arce is a great one.