There are a few names such as Zolani Tete, Hekkie Budler and Richard Commey whom fans will consider among Africa’s pound-for-pound best fighters today. Yet IBF flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane is the name that most experts will mention.
While the likes of Tete and Commey lost their most recent fights, Mthalane has been on a wave of success. He has not tasted defeat since he lost, due to a bad cut, to Nonito Donaire in 2008, beating big-name opponents such as fellow South African Tete and John Casimero, the man who recently stopped his compatriot in Birmingham, England.
The veteran fighter is usually a man of few words, but he believes he is the best boxer in the continent.
“I’m No. 1, pound for pound, in Africa,” Mthalane told ESPN. “I’ve been holding the title for a long time, many years. Been one of the few world champions in Africa. I’m Africa’s pride.”
The 37-year-old orthodox fighter from Durban, now based in Johannesburg, takes on fellow veteran Akira Yaegashi in defence of his title in Yokohama, Japan, on Dec. 23. The fight features on the undercard of the middleweight bout between Ryota Murata and Steven Butler.
– Fight Night: Murata vs, Butler, Dec 23. on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
Yaegashi, 36, is a former three-division champion, having held the WBA minimumweight, WBC flyweight and IBF light-flyweight titles.
The question is, however, will Yaegashi pose a threat to the South African? His past three opponents — Frans Palue, Hirofumi Mukai and Sahaphap Bunop — are not quite on the level of those whom Mthalane has faced — Muhammad Waseem, Masahiro Sakamoto and Masayuki Kuroda.
Mthalane’s three most recent fights were against genuine title contenders who have a combined record of 51-8-3, compared with the 35-26-5 figures of Yaegashi’s opponents.
Still, with both fighters over the age of 35, it may be interesting to see who is closer to his sell-by date.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight,” Mthalane told ESPN.
“The fans will get a good fight, but at the end of the day, I’m the one who’s going to win and I’m going to defend my world title.”
Mthalane’s trainer, Colin Nathan, is happy with his fighter’s preparations for the fight, saying he has “had a really good comprehensive camp,” while the fighter, himself, who is ranked No. 2 among the flyweights by ESPN and Ring magazine, is confident of going into Japan and returning with the belt. His past four fights have been outside of his native South Africa, so he is not bothered by having to travel.
“I put on a good show in my last fight in May against Kuroda, so people want to see me again in Japan,” Mthalane said. After I won against Kuroda, people were happy and wanted to take pictures with me, so I was happy, too.”
Nathan also enjoys fighting in Japan, having been there with Mthalane and Budler with some success; he has overseen victories for Mthalane and Budler over Kuroda and Ryoichi Taguchi, respectively.
“Yeah, I enjoy fighting in Japan; it’s great and we are used to fighting there,” the trainer/manager told ESPN.
Mthalane has a 38-2 (25 KOs) record in 19 years as a professional, and it is remarkable that he is still going strong. There is no secret to his success, however.
“I’d say training hard and good discipline,” Mthalane said when asked about the reasons for his longevity in the ring. Discipline outside the ring and everywhere I go, and training hard.
“If you want to be successful in boxing, you must make sure that you are always in the gym, and out of the ring you mustn’t do certain things that will get you in trouble. Things like drinking and doing drugs, etc. Make sure you stick to boxing. If you are an athlete, make sure that you do it 100%.”