Deep courage and a conviction in his fight plan were key to WBA and IBO minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler repelling the tremendous challenge of Simphiwe Khonco at Emperors Palace on Saturday.
The pair waged a ferocious 12-round battle that had Fight of the Year stamped all over it. They produced a tear-up of supreme quality with Budler’s never-say-die attitude pitted against Khonco’s speed and accuracy.
When they were done, Budler had prevailed – 117-111, 115-113, 116-112 – but the scores told only half the story. Budler was cut around his left eye in the second round, but the injury only served to spur him on.
Khonco, in turn, was badly rocked in a terrible seventh round for him, but somehow he found the will to survive, fighting back strongly.
There were calls for a rematch and although it seems an obvious route, it can’t happen just yet – Budler is compelled to fight a mandatory.
For now, he deserves a long break after one of the most demanding fights of his career. Little in Khonco’s past had suggested he would press Budler so hard, but the Mthatha-born champion came determined to grab a piece of history.
He was a very accurate and fast puncher, repeatedly piercing Budler’s guard. The champion started slowly, as he usually does, and gave away several of the middle rounds. Khonco’s right hand worked a charm and his confidence would have shot up as he repeatedly found his mark.
The big crowd was inspired and Khonco’s travelling fans, especially, gave full voice in supporting their hero.
As the fight wore on, Budler appeared to get stronger. The seventh was the turning point, Budler’s right hand doing big damage as he caught the back-pedalling challenger repeatedly.
Khonco, though, recovered well and continued to set a frenetic pace.
But down the stretch it was all Budler, who again confirmed his place at the top of the South African boxing pile as he swept to a convincing win with trainer Colin Nathan producing a championship-class gameplan.
In the main undercard fight, Paul Kamanga won as he liked against Jason Bedeman, pitching a near shutout over 10 rounds: 99-91, 99-91, 100-90.
Bedeman hung tough throughout, but had no answer to Kamanga’s rapid-fire punches. Bedeman’s reputation as a vaunted puncher came to nought as he ran out of ideas with Kamanga happy to tee off him throughout.
Earlier, Ryno Liebenberg made a successful return to the win column with a routine second-round knockout of Makosenke Zwengu to claim the SA light-heavyweight title.
Zwengu was a poor excuse for a challenger and was duly put of his misery when a solid right hand and a left sent him crumbling.
In the opener, prospect Roman Zhailoauv looked a victim of SA boxing’s eccentric scoring, losing a split decision to Thompson Mokwana.
Despite appearing to win with something to spare, the Kazakh suffered the first loss of his 16-fight career. His punches were more effective and he always appeared to be in control, but the mandarins at ringside thought differently, scoring it 78-77 for Zhailoauv and 77-75 (twice) for Mokwana.
The Kazakh did himself no favours by coming into SA too heavy for this welterweight clash and may have done better had he not been forced to eat little in the days leading to the fight.