Johannesburg– Moruti Mthalane earned an evenly-matched, split points decision over Filipino Jether Oliva to annex the IBO flyweight title in a rousing bout at the International Conference Centre in Durban on Saturday night.
Two of the judges ruled it 116-112 and 117-112 in favour of the 32 year-old South African, who was returning to the ring after a 19-month absence, with the third judge making Oliva ahead 115-113.
And fittingly, it was one of the best fights seen in South Africa for many moons, with the relentless, 27 year-old Filipino proving a rare handful for the former IBF champion and a good few notches above many of the mediocre overseas boxers with inflated reputations who are often brought into the country.
The maverick IBO organisation had surprisingly relegated Oliva from 36th to a 98th ranking despite sanctioning Saturday's fight for the vacant flyweight title and this prompted many to believe it would be easy pickings for the local fighter who is nicknamed “The Baby-Faced Assassin.”
But it proved nothing of the sort, with Mthalane receving a cut to his left eye as early as the first round and ending up with a lump under the eye that resembled half a hard-boiled egg.
And he received as much, if not more than he handed out during the 12 all-action rounds.
After a slow start in the opening rounds, understandably perhaps, after his long absence from boxing, Mthalane's superior defensive qualities in warding off many of Oliva's punches probably gave him the nod from the judging panel.
Mthalane also seemed oblivious to punishment, never lost his cool and calculating approach and punched with more accuracy.
South Africa's longest-reigning and possibly most respected champion at the time, Mthalane shocked the local boxing fraternity three months ago when he pulled out of a mandatory IBF defence against Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng and relinquished the organisation's flyweight title.
“It might have appeared illogical at the time,” said trainer-manager Nick Durandt, “because in international boxing circles holding an IBF title is considered more prestigious than being in possession of the IBO belt.
“But had Moruti gone through with the fight in Bangkok, he would have fought for peanuts.
“Instead, we were guaranteed a R1-million pay-out to fight in KwaZulu and that outweighed anything else.
“Moruti will now have every chance of picking up lucrative title fights of other boxing associations in the future, including that of the IBF, including possible unification contests.”
Unable to secure a single fight in 2013 despite being the champion of one of boxing's four top controlling organisations as holder of the IBF belt, Mthalane has now returned in commendable fashion, if not with what might be described as a bang.
And he may well be poised to reap belated rewards of his all-round talent, toughness and professionalism from local promoters. Sapa