The 27 year-old, who vacated the IBO title in 2014, took Cecil McCalla’s perfect record on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York to improve his own record to 22-1-1 on his debut under trainer Freddie Roach.
Van Heerden is being tipped for big things since hooking up with Roach on the back of impressive sparring sessions with Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez as ‘The Heat’ plots his course to a possible world title shot in 2015.
“Me and Freddie knew McCalla would not be able to withstand my pressure and the plan was to attack his body, slow him down and put him on the back foot – which is exactly what we did,” Van Heerden explained to World Boxing News.
Scores of 97-94 and 96-94 were enough to hand Van Heerden the IBF International title after ten pulsating rounds between two talented fighters, although a mind-boggling card of 91-99 handed in by Ed Scunzio had fans and media gasping at ringside.
“I was completely shocked that one person could be totally blind to say that I only won one round,” said Van Heerden. “It is judging like is that’s killing our sport and draining the motivation out of our fighters.
“We put in weeks of suffering through hard training and it is mistakes like this that take everything we work so hard for away. It’s simply bad judging.
“I won’t let that take anything away from fighting and winning at MSG though as it was a dream come true for me. Just the history of the place made it very special and I was honored as the last time a South African fighter fought there in a title fight was in 1960 when Willie Toweel lost to Emile Griffith so it was a big moment in my career and life!
“I met with Jay-Z (Roc Nation promoter and event organiser) after the fight and he congratulated me on winning the IBF belt and told me to keep up the good work. It was an honorable moment for me.
“Freddie was also happy and proud of me. He knows what I can do as he saw me in the gym doing what I do best and this is only our first fight together. We will correct my mistakes and improve me in the future so I can get better as I learn and grow, but getting that title was important and he’s happy.”
Claiming the fringe red belt gives Van Heerden an instant top 10 ranking with the International Boxing Federation and moves him a step closer to a potential world title challenge against Briton Kell Brook – who has been linked to a fight against the southpaw in the past.
“Fighting Kell Brook is a plan for us as we move into the IBF rankings and Freddie has some other ideas as to what is next. I leave it in his hands, along with my manager and promoter, but I’m just really grateful for all the support.
“I am truly blessed by The Lord in Jesus name and now I want to visit back home for three weeks to see my parents and friends after 14 months away from them,” he added.
All pictures courtesy of Lucas Noonan Photography