Welcome to a new series, “World P4P”, spotlighting some lesser-known nations in the boxing universe and showcasing their best:
When your columnist spotlighted Isaac Chilemba (20-1-1, 9 KOs) in my Friday Night Fights recap for the Boxing Tribune after Chilemba’s win over Edison Miranda, there was a lot of social media buzz, and the warm reception in my email inbox from South African fight fans made me a fan of that country’s sporting culture (almost enough to make me feel a little guilty for rabidly cheering on the All Blacks in Tri-Nations. Almost.) With that in mind, what better place to begin a world tour of boxing nations than with the land of beaches that sparkle even more than the country’s diamond exports? Bouncing like a springbok into the spotlight are five South African boxers you should be watching as a fan of boxing around the world:
Thomas Oosthuizen (21-0-1, 13 KOs), super middleweight
Nobody is going to confuse the IBO for a genuine title-granting sanctioning body, but Thomas Oosthuizen has done an excellent job of turning it into a South African regional belt of some renown. Reigning as that organization’s super middleweight champion for two full years and eight title fights (nine if you count his draw with Isaac Chilemba for the belt, then held by Chilemba before he vacated it, in November of 2010), Oosthuizen has beaten a who’s who of second tier guys like Aaron Pryor, Jr., Fulgencio Zuniga, and Francisco Sierra—indeed, Oosthuizen’s win over Pryor sent the son of the legend into a tailspin from which his career has yet to recover.
Oosthuizen is rated No. 7 by the WBC, No. 5 by the IBF, and No. 15 by the WBO; considering that Andre Ward is probably well above his class as a fighter (mainly because Ward is well above the class of the vast majority of the super middleweight division), Oosthuizen would do well to set his sights on IBF champ Carl Froch or WBO champ Arthur Abraham if he is to burst onto the world scene.
Whatever he decides to do, when Oosthuizen comes busting out of South Africa ready to make his name in the world, he’ll be well worth watching in the effort.
Isaac Chilemba (20-1-1, 9 KOs), light heavyweight
Chilemba’s name has been mentioned already, but his win over Edison Miranda after Yordanis Despaigne chickened out of that Friday Night Fights rematch was a welcome sight for fight fans looking for a shakeup in a division that has been dominated recently by the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson. Chilemba is rated by all four organizations (WBC #4, WBA #14, IBF #9, WBO #13), is seventh on Boxrec’s power rankings, and has a fight coming up with WBC No. 2 contender Tony Bellew in Liverpool on March 30.
Chilemba has an entertaining style, a slick boxing, fast-handed, deceptively countering defensive flair that may not be Micky Ward, but his ability to control and frustrate his opponent (as he showed to beautiful effect breaking Edison Miranda down mentally from the third round onward in their fight) means that a guy like Bellew, whose boxing IQ leaves something to be desired (his style is much more plodding in its aggressiveness), will have his hands full.
Bust out the vuvuzelas; the next big thing at 175 may be the big South African.
Chris van Heerden (18-1-1, 10 KOs), welterweight
Another IBO titlist, further cementing that organization’s position as a regional South African belt, Chris van Heerden takes on Matthew Hatton in Johannesburg on Saturday night. With wins over solid journeymen Kaizer Mabuza and Sebastian Andres Lujan, van Heerden is establishing himself on the fringes of the welterweight division. He may be a cut below Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez, but with only Kell Brook and Devon Alexander standing between him and that murderer’s row of a top five (which also includes Timothy Bradley and Robert Guerrero), Chris van Heerden has a very solid argument among the best of the rest.
Matthew Hatton is a great gatekeeper at 147; if you can find that fight on TV or online, enjoy it. If you’re in South Africa especially, take pride in your countryman’s work; his big breakout onto the world stage may only be a fight or two away. Only the IBF has van Heerden ranked (at No. 11), but that’s Devon Alexander’s belt; a fight between the two men makes perfect sense for the sport.
Nkosinathi Joyi (23-1, 16 KOs), strawweight
One of the best fighters you’ve probably never heard of in your life, Joyi packs a lot of punch into a tiny little package. In his last fight, a devastating body-shot first-round TKO of Walter Rojas, Joyi weighed in at a sylph-like 105 pounds to make that strawweight limit, all on a 5’6” frame! There are female supermodels who weigh more than that at that height.
Built like a jockey but punching like the kick of an angry horse, Joyi saw his unbeaten run come to an end against Mario Rodriguez in Mexico last year, but prior to that, he held the IBO and IBF strawweight titles for six solid years from 2006-2012. Little dudes can be more entertaining than heavyweights, since their punch volumes tend to be much higher. If you thought the lightest guy you’d ever enjoy watching fight was flyweight Brian Viloria, look seven pounds down the scale to the littlest fellows of all in the Sweet Science. You can start by looking up Nkosinathi Joyi on YouTube.
Jeffrey Mathebula (26-4-2, 14 KOs), junior featherweight.
Look up toughness in the dictionary and you’ll find “toughness (n.) The ability to take Nonito Donaire the distance without resorting to Omar Narvaez tactics. See also Mathebula, Jeffrey.”
Mathebula is now 1-2 in legitimate world title fights (he won the IBF title that he would surrender to Donaire in that match, and his other loss was to Celestino Caballero for the WBA Super and IBF bantamweight belts in 2009), but get him in against guys with suspect chins and he can uncork a beauty of a YouTube highlight in scoring a knockout.
A country like South Africa does not produce a lot of Hall of Fame-recognized (as in the big four sanctioning bodies) world titlists, but Jeffrey Mathebula is one such fighter. He represented South Africa well in a short reign atop the IBF’s mountain at 122. Even if he just retreats back to the club circuit, making money to fight in his backyard, he’s done what every fighter dreams of—he was a world champion.
Fox Doucette is Deputy Editor at MyBoxing.