Jabulani Makhense and Thulani Mbenge set for South African welterweight showdown
South African fight fans like nothing more than a good local rivalry. That is exactly what they will get Saturday night at Emperor’s Palace, Gauteng, when undefeated Jabulani Makhense takes on Thulani Mbenge in a crossroads welterweight encounter over 10 rounds.
The fight is the main supporting bout on a stacked card, but has by far the most buzz surrounding it. Makhense (11-0, 5 knockouts) has yet to stumble as a pro, but looked less than stellar in his last outing, against Mardochee Kuvesa Katembo. In a fight that featured a lot of wrestling and holding, Makhense looked uncomfortable and failed to impress, laboring to a unanimous decision.
Still, it may have been ugly, but he did win. With a solid amateur record behind him, he was matched tough as a pro. Before the Katembo fight, he scored some impressive wins over Xolani Mcotheli, Michael Mokoena, Marios Matamba and Erik Kapia. Trained by former cruiserweight contender, Sebastiaan Rothmann, Makhense has developed into a rangy boxer who can box well from a distance, showing good variety of offense.
The rap on him has always been that he lacks fight stopping power, with only five knockouts on his undefeated ledger. It will be interesting to see whether he has enough pop to make Mbenge think twice.
Mbenge (17-1, 13 KOs) is the more seasoned fighter and has faced better opposition. He scored impressive stoppages of former world titlists Diego Gabriel Chaves and Miguel Vazquez in 2018. He lost his undefeated record the following year, dropping a close, but unanimous decision to Sebastian Formella in Germany, a fight that some thought he did enough to win.
Since then, he spent more than a year in the boxing wilderness, unable to get fights before returning at the end of 2020 with two wins to shake off the cobwebs. A heavy-handed boxer-puncher, he has the power advantage. He would dearly like to relaunch his international career and for that he needs to win on Saturday night.
When questioned about the outcome, local experts are hesitant to pick a winner.
Harold Volbrecht, former welterweight contender and trainer of many top South African fighters, including Corrie Sanders, spent a few moments before answering. “I think Jabu (Makhense) has the skill to outbox him and win on points,” he said, “if he is not struggling with the weight.”
On the other hand, Thembani Gopheni, Eastern Cape trainer of junior flyweight Sivenathi Nontshinga, likes his homeboy.
“It is a big fight, almost 50-50. This kid, Makhense is slick, throws many blows,” Gopheni said. “He is awkward but I don’t think he has enough power. I watched all his recent fights and except Kapia, I didn’t see him wobbling any of his opponents with his blows. Mbenge has got the experience. Because of that, I think he will win but he will win on points. Makhense is strong; he won’t stop him.”
Damien Durandt, trainer of WBC cruiserweight titlist Ilunga Makabu, picks Makhense. “It will be a very even fight for the first five rounds, a battle of the jabs. Thereafter, Makhense pulls away from him to win on points. Mbenge does not adjust well if things don’t go his way.”
Alan Toweel Jr., another trainer from a famous South African boxing family, leans toward Mbenge. “I think Thulz has the better experience and has fought the tougher opponents,” Toweel said. “Physically, he has the height and a lot of people forget that he also has a good jab. That jab could give Makhense trouble, so I think Mbenge takes it on points.”
In the main bout, undefeated junior featherweight Lodumo Lamati (17-0-1, 10 KOs) takes on Jose Martin Estrada Garcia (12-1-1, 6 KOs) over 12 rounds. Lamati has beaten all local opposition and has some decent international wins, among them a 10-round stoppage of three-time world title challenger Richie Mepranum, but he will have his hands full against Garcia.
The Mexican came to South Africa early to get acclimatized and carries a nine-fight winning streak. The minor blemishes on his record came early in his career. He has some solid wins over world title challenger Jonathan Javier Rodriguez and Luis Lebron. The victory over Lebron last year came on the road in Panama, so fighting in South Africa should not faze him.
At the pre-fight medical on Wednesday, Lamati was still well over the 122-pound limit, which is a worrying red light for the South African. In true Mexican style, Garcia has a solid body attack, and he likes his left hook to the liver. Something that does not bode well for a weight drained or under trained fighter.
Junior middleweights Brandon Thysse (13-1-2, 11 KOs) and Roarke Knapp (11-1-1, 9 KOs), who have both shown great form in their last fights, return in separate eight rounders (the bouts had to be shortened because of COVID induced curfews). Thysse faces his first overseas opponent in Norway’s Tomi Silvennoinen (9-3, 5 KOs), while Knapp is up against the unbeaten Benoit Makangila Vela (12-0-2, 6 KOs) from the DRC.
In a 10-round cruiserweight rematch, Johnny Muller (22-9-2, 14 KOs) will be looking to prove that his last victory over Akani Phuzi (11-1, 5 KOs) was no fluke, while Phuzi will be hell bent on avenging it.
The main tournament will be preceded by a five-bout development tournament, featuring some of South Africa’s best prospects.
Both cards are presented by Golden Gloves Promotions of Rodney Berman.