Plans to move Mbenge slowly

Trainer pleased with his charge

South Africa in general and Mdantsane in particular is toasting the newest world champion after Thulani Mbenge became the IBO welterweight king with a seventh round knockout of experienced Argentinean Diego Chaves at Emperors Palace last weekend.

Mbenge’s trainer Sean Smith took time to chat with us about the win.

BOXING MECCA: You guys must be feeling good with Mbenge’s win.

SEAN SMITH: That is an understatement. We are literally over the moon and right now nothing comes close to how we are feeling. It is good when you see the fight going according to plan.

BM: Did you expect the fight to develop the way it did?

SS: To be honest Mbenge trained very hard for this fight with his preparations including sprinting and running in triathlons. But if you asking if we expected the knockout, then the answer is no. I figured the fight would go the distance but I was confident on my guy.

BM: Chaves was a late substitute so to speak because Mbenge was initially scheduled to fight some guy from Namibia.

SS: Yes and later it was Kris George from Australia. But Chaves was a major step up in class so in hindsight I am glad we ended up fighting him because our win over these other guys would not have garnered Mbenge the kind of publicity he is currently getting.

BM: Going to the fight Mbenge had failed to stop his last three opponents who are relatively less experience than Chaves.

SS: Yes and I am grateful he did because it helped him polish his boxing makeup. Whether we like it or not winning by knockouts tend to go into a fighter’s head and every time he steps into the ring he ends up chasing them while other facets of his boxing suffer. I was happy that Mbenge was able to get some rounds against Ndwayana (Mziwoxolo), Diego Cruz and that Filipino guy (Jayar Inson). Those fights made him to work on other facets of his boxing and this all came out well in his fight against Chaves.

BM: But how good is it to fight a high-level opponent, Sean?

SS: It can go both ways to tell you the truth. It can either make or break a boxer. In the case of Mbenge it proved to be what he actually needed in order to bring the best out of him.

BM: Now the inevitable question is what is next for him after such a win. You guys must be having nice headache.

SS: Actually we do not want to let this win go to our heads. Remember the welterweight division is the deepest in talent and one false move can render all what have been achieved to nothing. This is why we need to plan articulately and not suddenly throw him into the deep end. We cannot ignore the fact that Mbenge is still a work in progress and we need to unleash him to the top dogs in the division when we are sure that he is ready. There are so many prospects in the welterweight division besides the top dogs such as Errol Spence, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and now Terence Crawford so it is crucial that a boxer treads carefully otherwise he is going to be exposed big time and it will take a while before he comes close tobeing where he was before the fall.

BM: How long have you been with Mbenge now and has he developed into what you thought he would when he joined you?

SS: I have been with him for three-and-a-half years and I am glad you asking this question because when he first joined me I sat down with him and told him that if he works hard I would make him something special. I could see his attributes And the fact that he went to win a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland spoke volumes to me. Here was a youngster with no one, fighting in a foreign environment but managing to come back with a medal. That takes some doing so I knew that he would be something special.

BM: I was chatting to Rodney Berman the other day and he pretty much said everything you have touched on regarding Mbenge’s next step. But he is keen to market him to the US. What do you think of such a move?

SS: I have no problem with Rodney’s plans but like I said we need to develop Mbenge carefully. You know fighting away from home can have its own adverse consequences so we need to be careful. I learnt a lot from the Mokwana (Thompson) fight against Vetyeka (Simpiwe) because Vetyeka was something else when he fought in front of his supporters in East London.

BM: And there is this elephant in the room called Chris van Heerden....

SS: Look, we have been chasing Chris for a while but I think beating someone like Chaves is a bigger achievement than fighting Van Heerden. Furthermore Van Heerden is involved in the WBC mandated Super Eight competition and I think he is fighting in July so I am sure his plate is full. Thulani is now rated higher than Van Heerden and unless there is another reason for the fight I do not see it happening.

BM: Thank you Sean and congratulations again for the big win.

SS: Wait! I want to ask you something. What is happening with Golden Boy Fuzile?

BM: What do you mean?

SS: I heard some stories about him.

BM: Funny you asking me that question because I heard that he is on the verge of joining you. Is he with you?

SS: (laughing) No he is not.

BM: But the timing of your question is raising suspicions.

SS: No, really he is not with me, you know me I would tell you if he was. I just think that he is a special talent and for him to go under the radar like that is unfair.

BM: I will keep my ears preened.