Out of the ring for 16 months and with a world of misadventure behind him, Tommy Oosthuizen produced a compelling, thrilling exhibition of boxing to outhustle tough Thabiso Mchunu on points at Emperors Palace on Saturday.
In a shrewd battle of style and tactics, it was Oosthuizen who prevailed, winning a majority decision by scores of 115-113 (twice) and 114-114 and earning the ABU cruiserweight championship for his endeavours.
More importantly, he reminded fans exactly what he is capable of when he pursues boxing rather than the bright lights offered elsewhere. He was accurate, up on his toes and whipped out fast shots that hinted at past glories. Whether he can hang with the heavies of the division is a question for another day, but even as he ate leather in the second half of the fight, he demonstrated sufficient bravery and smarts to overcome a worthy warrior in Mchunu.
Thoughts that Oosthuizen’s style would be all wrong for Mchunu proved on the money, for Mchunu was shorter and while his punches had pop, he was seldom able to close the distance tellingly. Oosthuizen fought mainly behind his slick southpaw jab and threw a volley of uppercuts in the opening rounds to warn Mchunu of the folly of coming in close.
Strangely, this ploy subsided as the fight wore on and Mchunu would later have success, shooting out jolting jabs and wicked left crosses.
Mchunu started too slowly, which was recognised by the judges, whose four-round scores were announced as 39-37, 40-36 and 38-38.
Undeterred, Mchunu pressed on, working hard inside, but Oosthuizen never hung around long enough for the barrage to take lasting effect.
Oosthuizen had a slight edge after eight (77-75, 77-75 and 76-76) and things were on even keel. Mchunu subsequently had success with his jab and left hand, catching Oosthuizen often enough to keep things interesting. But the solid Oosthuizen chin and his East Rand grit proved telling as he happily traded and popped out shots to hamper Mchunu’s rhythm.
The fight was close enough to ensure Mchunu could leave the ring with his head held high, notwithstanding the result. He will come again.
As for Oosthuizen, this was some kind of redemption. Now 30, he could fight on for another five or six years, provided he keeps on the straight and narrow. There’s a potential 2019 showdown with local rival Kevin Lerena, which would be massive, plus any number of cruiserweight match-ups that can be made.
As ever, it all depends on the mood of SA boxing’s bad boy. For now, the charismatic fighter is in credit.
RYNO ROCKS TOUGH TISSEN
Ryno Liebenberg had promised to knock out his pal Alfonso Tissen and he backed up his boast, smoking him in five rounds to win the ABU super-middleweight title.
The big-hearted Tissen was a wide underdog, but he was determined to grab his shot at big cash and a big name. He fought with customary bravery and took some huge shots and there was no complaint from him when Tony Nyangiwe waved off the action at 1:48 of the fifth. He had done all he could.
Showing sharpness and strength at the weight, Liebenberg mixed up his punches, even borrowing from GGG’s arsenal with shots to the top of the head. Tissen tried to stave him off with fast-handed combinations inside, but Liebenberg simply walked through the punches.
After four rounds, Liebenberg had accumulated a ton of points (40-36, 40-35, 39-37) that indicated Tissen’s shopworn defence.
Liebenberg still harbours ambitions of winning a major title. He may be 34, but he’s a fresh 34 and on this showing proved he can still be a factor. He needn’t retire just yet.
Tissen’s fan-friendly style, meanwhile, guarantees he will always have work. He, too, will be back, after a long rest.
Trainer Colin Nathan praised Tissen’s approach: “We thought he’d run. But he showed a lot of balls . . . he stood and fought.”
KOMANISI BLOWN AWAY BY SUPER-CHARGED MOKOENA
When Michael Mokoena was dumped by a sweet right hand in the first round by Lusanda Komanisi, fans at Emperors Palace thought it would be a short night.
And indeed it was, except Mokoena refused to play the role of patsy. Fighting on his toes, the southpaw ignored the form book, taking the action to the heavy-handed Komanisi.
The former IBO champion made the fatal error of fighting with his hands down and he paid in brutal fashion when Mokoena caught him with a belting right hand out of nowhere. Komanisi went down heavily and was counted out at the 48-second mark of the fourth round, the victim of probably the local upset of the year.
No-one was happier than trainer Anton Gilmore, who roared around the ring in sheer delight.
Meanwhile, training rival Brandon Katz could only shrug. “That’s boxing,” he said disconsolately.
GOMES ON THE DOUBLE
There’s much to like about Keaton Gomes.
He’s young, heavy-handed and in great shape. Better still, he can fight.
On Saturday, he walked down Tshilidzi Mulaudzi and blew him away in the first round to move to a perfect 2-0.
Mulaudzi had no answer to the cruiserweight’s power and his mouth was a bloody mess when the action was waved off.
The fresh-faced Gomes, still just 19, was happy with his performance, crediting trainer Peter Smith with his rapid improvement.
“I’m just the chess piece – Peter decides the moves.”
RAY RUMBLES ON
Unbeaten middleweight Cowin Ray was made to work hard by the awkward, wild-swinging Jade Karam in the show opener.
Despite a gulf in skills between the pair, Ray couldn’t quite land the money shot while Karam had surprising success over the top, even rocking Ray several times.
It made for entertaining fare and no-one complained when Ray was awarded the decision 59-55 by all three judges.