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‘Unknown diamond’ Khonco to face stern test against Jerusalem

Fighters Network

Promoter Rodney Berman believes he has an “unknown diamond” in the strawweight division in South Africa’s Simphiwe Khonco. Berman will get a better idea of just how bright Khonco can shine when he faces Filipino Melvin Jerusalem on May 23 at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, South Africa.

The fight will probably be part of a tripleheader with THE RING magazine’s No. 9-rated junior flyweight Hekkie Budler fighting on the event, plus an all-South African cruiserweight showdown between Thabiso Mchunu and Johnny Muller.

Khonco (17-5, 7 knockouts) versus Jerusalem (11-1, 7 KOs) comes after a fight between Khonco and WBO strawweight titleholder Katsunari Takayama failed to materialize, Berman tells RingTV. “But just as his management consistently avoided Budler, as expected, same story with Khonco,” Berman writes.

Khonco is rated in the Top 15 by the IBF and WBA and has faced stern competition at home over the past two years, handing Nhlanhla Ngamntwini and Siyabonga Siyo their first defeats, dropping a decision to Budler, in an attempt at the WBA strawweight title he was holding at the time, and outpointing ex-champ Nkosinathi Joyi in his most recent fight last November.

Jerusalem, 22, of Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, Philippines, is coming off a credible challenge of WBC strawweight titleholder Wanheng Menayothin last month, losing by one point on two cards and two points on a third. Jerusalem had been stepping way up in class against THE RING’s No.1-rated 105-pounder and started off confidently, grabbing the initiative with his jab to set up power punches with his uppercuts and hooks before Menayothin’s experience took over in the middle rounds and allowed him to coast to victory late.

“A win for Khonco and he must be a contender for the WBC crown,” said Berman, referring to Jerusalem’s No. 9 ranking with the WBC. “A win for Jerusalem further enhances his stature. Irrespective of whose hand is ultimately raised in victory, we have a contest between two excellent fighters.”

Drian Francisco to return

Filipino boxer Drian Francisco will return to the ring for the first time in over a year when he faces compatriot Mateo Handig on Feb. 18 at Makati Cinema Square in Makati City, Philippines. Francisco (28-4-1, 22 KOs) last fought in November of 2015, losing a 10-round decision to Guillermo Rigondeaux on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto card in Las Vegas.

Handig (13-12, 7 KOs) has lost his last seven fights dating back to 2013, following an upset win over Takayama at 105 pounds. This fight will be contested at a catchweight of 124 pounds. Entrance to the show is free of charge.

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.

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