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South African hero Moruti Mthalane calls it a career on his own terms

Mthalane defended his IBF flyweight title for the third time against Akira Yaegashi. Photo by Naoki Fukuda
03
Oct

Former two-time IBF flyweight champion, Moruti Mthalane pounded out a unanimous ten round decision over Filipino, Diomel Diocos in front of a raucous crowd at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa on Sunday afternoon. The scores were 100-90, 99-93 and 99-91. The fight was presented by Mvelo Promotions.

It was vintage Mthalane as he started the fight by backing up Diocos behind a power jab. He went through the gears as the rounds went by, upping his work rate in each stanza. First, he started sneaking in hooks around the guard of Diocos. Then he snapped his opponent’s head back with right uppercuts and soon he was ripping in body shots, followed by combinations upstairs. A right hook to the top of the head and a blistering follow-up combination appeared to wobble Diocos in the seventh, when his legs momentarily stumbled.

In true Filipino fashion, Diocos showed tremendous heart and did well to last the distance. He landed the odd straight right and seeing the finish line in the tenth rejuvenated him somewhat, bringing forth a few combinations. Most of his attacks were caught on the arms and gloves of Mthalane’s tight peek-a-boo defense however and the decision was never in any doubt.

Truth be told, the actual fight was almost incidental. Mthalane and manager/trainer, Colin Nathan stated beforehand that this would be the South African legend’s last fight. It was a celebration of a remarkable 22-year career during which Mthalane’s longevity and dedication to his craft defied the odds.



In his first attempt at the national title in 2004, he was ahead on points before being stopped in the tenth round by Nkqubela Gwazela. He persisted and two years later he knocked out Akhona Aliva in the sixth round to become the South African flyweight champion. He made four defenses of his national title in between international bouts.

A ten-round decision over tough Aussie, Hussein Hussein, earned him a shot at the IBF flyweight title. Luck was not on his side. Standing in front of him in a Las Vegas ring was a future great in his prime, Nonito Donaire. What appeared to be a competitive bout abruptly ended in the sixth round when Mthalane sustained a bad cut above the eye, giving Donaire the TKO victory.

Mthalane simply kept going and once again, it all came together for him in his second attempt, when he outpointed Julio Cesar Miranda over 12 rounds at the Wembley Indoor Arena in Johannesburg to capture the vacant IBF world title in 2009. Two fights later, Miranda himself would become world champion, capturing the WBO version of the title.

In his first defense, he handed countryman and future two weight world champion, Zolani Tete, his first defeat, stopping the rangy southpaw in five rounds. His second defense, saw him stop another future weight hopping star, the awkward and dangerous John Riel Casimero, who also succumbed in five.

Those two wins aged well over time, but the Casimero fight was to be his last major world title fight on home soil. He stopped European champion, Andrea Sarritzu in seven rounds in Italy and then got off the canvas to win an entertaining shootout against Ricardo Nunez in eight rounds in Panama City.

Like life, boxing is seldom fair, and he was not rewarded for his efforts. Scheduled to make a mandatory defense against Amnat Ruenroeng, the fight went to purse bids, the winning bid being such a paltry sum that it would have barely covered his training expenses. Together with then manager/trainer, Nic Durandt, he decided to vacate his title.

He picked up the fringe IBO flyweight belt and had a respectable run with it, but his career was hampered by spells of inactivity.

When the late Durandt, who still holds the record for having produced the highest number of world champions in South African boxing history, decided to retire from the sport in 2016, Mthalane joined the Hot Box gym of Colin Nathan.

It was a match made in heaven. Almost six years after giving up his IBF world title without a fight, he got the chance to regain the vacant belt on the Pacquiao-Matthysse card in Malaysia in 2018. He was up against unbeaten Muhammad Waseem. Mthalane stacked up the rounds with his work rate, survived an eleventh-round knockdown and won a unanimous decision.

Mthalane, by then already 36 years of age, grinded out another action-packed title reign on the road against three Japanese challengers. Masahiro Sakamoto was battered and stopped in ten rounds and mandatory challenger Masayuki Kuroda was outworked over the distance. He then ended the career of three weight world champion and Japanese superstar, Akira Yaegashi, stopping him in nine.

Unfortunately, time waits for nobody. In 2021, Sunny Edwards was just too young, quick, and slick for Mthalane and ended his second title reign, relieving him of his title by unanimous decision.

Mthalane did not come up the easy way with lots of hype and promotional push behind him. He was often passed over by major promoters for other fighters considered better drawcards.

In the end, the man nicknamed “Baby Face” had the last laugh. He wanted to end his career with a win where it all began and that is exactly what he got on Sunday. Not many get to say goodbye on their own terms in the cruelest of sports.

His remarkable dedication was, no doubt, a major contributor to his success. The ultimate professional in an era where fighters often do not bother to make weight, he fought his entire career (except for his last fight that took place at 115 pounds), as a flyweight.

He retires at the age of 39, a two-time world champion with a record of 40-3 with 26 knockouts having also been The Ring’s number one flyweight for a significant amount of time. He went 9-2 in major world title fights and fought the very best out there. He will go down in history as not only a South African and African Great but also the best flyweight produced on the continent.

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