New Faces: Ibrahim Balla
Hometown: Werribee, Victoria, Australia
Weight class: Featherweight
Height: 5-foot-8 (173 cm)
Amateur record: 84-17
Turned pro: 2013
Pro record: 13-1 (7 knockouts)
Trainer: Lim Jeka
Manager: Mike Altamura
Promoter: Hosking Promotions
Best night of pro career and why: Balla is happiest with his points win over former world title challenger Silvester Lopez last August.
“I felt that the style changes I made after my loss in 2016 came together really well that night,” Balla told RingTV.com. “Lopez had fought for a world title (losing on points to Yota Sato for the WBC 122-pound title in 2012) so he had a lot of ability and experience.
“I was really motivated to put on a good show for my fans. I stuck to our game plan and was patient, selected my shots and worked off my jab, my head movement and footwork improved during that fight.”
Worst night of pro career and why: Unsurprisingly, the 27 year old is unhappy about his lone loss, a third-round stoppage at the hands of Neil John Tabanao.
“It was a hard pill to swallow and I had to make a choice after that about whether I was willing to let that loss define me as a fighter or whether it would be the turning point in my career,” he explained. “I treated this loss was a big wake-up call and now I use it to motivate me everyday to one day become a world champion.
Next fight: Balla had been all set to face unbeaten Norasing Kokietgym on March 11 at Grand Star Receptions in Altona North, Victoria, Australia. However, the Thai injured his hand and last Thursday was replaced by Jessie Cris Rosales.
“It’s a great opportunity to headline a big event in my local area and I’m also happy to be in the spotlight,” he said. “This will be the first title defense of my WBA Oceania featherweight belt and I’m up against a tough experienced former WBO Asia Pacific Youth and Philippines Boxing Federation (PBF) featherweight champion.”
Rosales (21-1-1, 9 Knockouts) had been on a nice run until he traveled overseas and took on Jhonny Gonzalez in Mexico last July. The veteran two-weight titleholder knocked the Filipino out in two rounds.
Why he’s a prospect: Balla was highly regarded in Australian amateur circles. He won 84 of his 101 contests and won multiple Victoria State and Australian national titles. He won silver at the 2008 Commonwealth youth games and won bronze at the 2009 Presidents Cup. In 2012, Balla was rated in the top 10 of the world at featherweight. The boxer-puncher represented Australia at the 2012 London Olympics, a huge moment for him.
“That was the highlight of my amateur career and an experience that will stay with me forever,” he said proudly. “I was able to share this experience with my family and it was great being able to fight in front of the English crowd as they really got behind the event and showed me a lot of support.”
Balla is pleased with how he performed on the grandest stage of all, even if he failed to medal. In the first round he edged a tight affair with Aboubakr Seddik Lbida of Morocco. At the end of the fight, the two were tied at 16:16 but Balla received the nod on the count back system.
In the second round, he lost a close fight to Bulgarian Detelin Dalakliev 14-10. He made the decision to turn professional and debuted in February 2013.
Since making the transition to the professional ranks, Balla has sparred with former two-weight titleholder Vic Darchinyan, former 126-pound beltholder Billy Dib and fringe contenders Jackson Asiku and Will Tomlinson.
Balla feels his work ethic is key to his continued progress.
“I love to fight and take on challenges,” he said. “I work very hard and always looking to improve each training camp. I’m a fighter and I want to win and put on a good show for the fans but when the bell rings I need to focus and be guided by what my coach needs me to do each round and stick to our game plan.”
His trainer Lim Jeka feels his fighter has several strengths and is continually evolving as a boxer.
“His strength as a fighter is he loves to fight and mix it up,” said the trainer. “He wants to put on a good show for the fans. Ibrahim has the ability to adjust and he learns quickly. He is a pleasure to train, has a passion for boxing and strong work ethic.”
Why he’s a suspect: The most obvious question appears to come from Balla’s loss. In his 10th outing he was stopped in three rounds. That will leave questions about his chin. To his credit he has rebounded with four wins and seems to have mentally gotten over that loss.
However, the featherweight division is very strong at the moment and perhaps he needs more fights and to continue improving if he is to make it on the world stage.
Balla feels there are several aspects of his game he needs to improve on to reach his potential.
“My patience and taking my time setting up my game plan,” he admitted “As a fighter it can be easy to be drawn into the battle and deviate from your plan. As I gain more experience, take my time and box smart I know this will get me to where I want to be.”
Jeka and Balla are on the same page with what needs to improve.
“Being patient and controlling his fighting instinct to put on a good show,” said the trainer. “Ibrahim has shown in his last three fights that he is improving in this area, sticking to the game plan and boxing smart. By taking his time he finds openings and capitalizes on those opportunities.”
Jeka is in no doubt that his fighter can succeed at the highest level and to aid that intends to travel overseas to get extra experience.
“Ibrahim has the ability to go all the way and become a world champion I have no doubt about that, stepping up each fight with good experienced opponents and getting the ring time needed I believe he can become a world champion.
“We are planning a training camp in the America in the next few months and this will be a great opportunity for Ibrahim to continue his development with solid sparring.”
Story lines: Balla was born and raised in Werribee, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Boxing was always in Balla’s bloodline.
“When I was 11, I saw my older brother was boxing with my father and decided I wanted to give it a go,” he said. “Our father is a boxing trainer and we had our own boxing gym on the family farm so I think it was inevitable I would be taken into boxing at a young age.
“I grew up just like most suburban kids but training took up a big part of my time as I was competing in amateur boxing from a very young age. My uncle and father were both boxers and they trained my brothers and I.”
The Australian’s boxing hero is the legendary Roberto Duran.
Balla is a family man. He’s married and has a young daughter. He’s into cars and riding his Harley Davidson motor bike. He also likes animals and has a German Shepherd and keeps Lama’s on the family farm.
“Being with my family and friends is very important to ensure I have the right balance in life and it’s not always about boxing.” he said.
Oct. 21 – Salimu Jengo – UD 10
Aug. 19 – Silvester Lopez – UD 10
March 18 – Vergil Puton – UD 10
Dec. 10 – Agus Kustiawan – KO 5
June 11 – Neil John Tabanao – L TKO 3
March 18 – Emanuel Micallef – TKO 2
Aug. 7 – Roberto Lerio – UD 10
May 6 – Alvin Bais – TKO 2
Aug. 15 – Aekkawee Kaewmanee – UD 6
June 25 – Akrapong Nakthaem – TKO 2
March 1 – Kitirai Kheawswei – KO 2
Sept. 12 – Anuntachai Somnuek – UD 4
July 25 – Ekkalak Saenchan – TKO 1
Feb. 21 – Jasper Buhut – KO 1
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright