It all started at Hekkie Budler’s wedding late last year. A week after losing his unblemished record to Eleider Alvarez, Ryno Liebenberg began pestering promoter Rodney Berman.
“I want Tommy; please get me the fight.”
Berman told him he would be smarter getting a warm-up fight after his defeat, but Liebenberg wanted none of it.
Berman, of course, relented and the result is this weekend’s highly anticipated fight between Liebenberg and Tommy Oosthuizen for the vacant IBO light-heavyweight title, arguably the biggest SA grudge fight of the past five years.
While the two forged vastly different careers, there was always a sense that their destinies would eventually meet. Circumstances have seen to that and we have in store the prospect of a fantastic bout at Emperors Palace.
“It’s true, I’ve always wanted this,” said Liebenberg, who cares little for the prevailing view that he is the underdog in this crossroads fight.
“I’m expecting a f***ing hard fight. People can say what they like about Tommy . . . he’s world class. He’s good inside, good outside, fast, clever, everything. [Trainer] Harold Volbrecht says he’s the whole package, and that’s true, but he can’t put everything together.
“He has no losses, but there’s always a first time. His mental state is his biggest downfall. I’m expecting a hard fight; Tommy moving, running, but I’ll catch him. There’s only so far you can run in a boxing ring. If he runs, I’ll have those bases covered. If he stands and trades, that will be the end of him.”
Despite a difficult start to his training camp, punctuated by late nights and lack of sleep due to an ill child, Liebenberg says the past four weeks were “fantastic”.
He roped in veteran Khotso Motau, who is big, strong, awkward and southpaw – just like Oosthuizen – for sparring.
By Liebenberg’s own admission, Motau boxed his ears off at the start.
“It was very hard, I struggled. He was better than me and had me worked out. But after a few weeks I got to him and dominated. He gave me everything I wanted and needed and at 94kg he packed a helluva punch. He’s a phenomenal talent, but it sadly went to waste. He fought in the world amateur champs and lost only to Gennady Golovkin. He’s that good. He was perfect.”
Every other aspect of Liebenberg’s training went well and he changed up a number of things, running faster and further, for instance, to be in the best shape of his life.
Asked about the effects of the stoppage defeat to Alvarez, Liebenberg was philosophical. “It’s hard coming off a loss, it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced previously. But I figured it was a learning curve against the number one contender. I lost to someone who was phenomenally good. The loss has motivated me more than anything. I asked for this fight and now that I’ve got it I must deliver.”