World stage beckons former Mdantsane champ
In all the boxing buzz sweeping through the city, Thulani Mbenge’s crucial world title clash at Emperors Palace in Gauteng on Saturday has somehow flown under the radar.
However, Mbenge’s fight against Mexican Miguel Vasquez, in defence of his IBO welterweight crown, is massively important.
The Mdantsane boxer, who now resides in Johannesburg, is steadily moving up the ladder in world boxing with promoter Rodney Berman already plotting his next step.
“If Mbenge wins and does so in impressive style, we will be shipping him out to the US to showcase his talent to the big stage,” Berman said.
But winning against Vasquez is not a foregone conclusion as the lanky boxer will face a most experienced campaigner.
Vasquez is the former IBF lightweight champion, a title from which he repelled a number of world-class boxers with his awkward style.
Vasquez surrendered the title to the then Floyd May weather promoted Mickey Bey, forcing him to move up the division to then junior welterweight.
But a crushing knockout defeat by the highly touted UK boxer Josh Taylor prompted him to move up north once more where he scored a win over journeyman Cosme Rivera to earn a shot at Mbenge’s title. The 31-fight Mexican is expected to come with all the tricks in the book to handle anything the 14-fight novice champion is expected to throw at him. While Mbenge is clearly at the development stage, his stunning knockout win over Argentinean Diego Chavez in June to seize the title proved that he is not far off from joining the big league.
The fact that he is one of the boxers referred to as a world champion in the talent-laden welterweight division, speaks volumes about his status. Other champions in the division are Errol Spence, who holds the IBF crown, Shawn Porter who reigns as the WBC king, Terrence Crawford, the WBO champion who occupies most pundits’ pound for pound top spot, and Keith Thurman, who is on the comebacktrail to keep his WBA title active.
All these champions, including Mbenge, are unbeaten, making his IBO title tantalising bait for those who cannot land a title shot against the other four.
Berman wants to capitalise on this strength to build Mbenge’s career in America in order to join the other four title-holders.
“We are already in talks with our US associates such as Lou DiBella to have Mbenge pursue his career over there,” Berman stated.
Beating Vasquez on Saturday will go a long way to realising such plans.
Saturday’s show will also feature the rematch between Thabiso Mchunu and Thomas Oosthuizen following their controversial September clash which was won by Oosthuizen...