By Mesuli Zifo
SOUTH African bantamweight fighter Vusi Malinga will finally get his chance to fight for the IBF crown after Mexican Abner Mares vacated the title this week.
Mares who inherited mandatory obligations after dethroning Joseph Agbeko last August before beating him again in their IBF enforced title rematch last December, surprisingly opted to relinquish the IBF title rather than face the less dangerous Malinga.
Malinga (20-3-1, 12 Kos) will now battle for the vacant crown against Filipino AJ Banal on a date yet to be decided by the 30-day- negotiations currently underway between the fighters’ promoters.
After Mares’ victory over Agbeko in December, the IBF sent letters to the camp of the Mexican reminding him to honour his mandatory defence against Malinga before March 3.
The mandatory stems from Agbeko’s plea to the IBF to grant him an extension of his optional defence period last May as he was involved in the Showtime Super bantamweight series.
Agbeko lost the title to Mares in August and also lost the rematch four months later.
Malinga earned the mandatory status after beating another Filpino Michael Domingo on October 30, 2010 and has been patiently waiting on the wings to get his shot.
His mandatory should have been enforced by the end of September 2011 but due to the commitments of Agbeko who was then the IBF champion and Mares in the Showtime Super bantamweight series, Malinga had to wait a little longer for his chance.
Malinga’s promoter Branco Milenkovic finally breathed a sigh of relief at the news of Mares vacating the title.
“Look, Malinga has been subjected to a long wait enough and it was either Mares fulfilled his mandatory obligations or vacate the title and he chose to do the latter,” Milenkovic said.
Milenkovic claimed that the Mexican had pulled a similar stunt on Malinga before when they were both mandated to fight for the IBF title eliminator in 2009.
While Banal is not such a big name in the division compared to Mares, he still brings in an impressive fight record of a single loss and a draw in 28 bouts, scoring 19 stoppages.
Rated third by the IBF, the 23-year-old Filipino southpaw will be having a second bite at the world title having previously lost to Panamanian Rafael Concepcion in a WBA junior bantamweight title clash.
Promoted by ALA Promotions in Philippines that also guides the career of IBF mini-flyweight mandatory challenger Takayama Katsunari who is set to challenge another Milenkovic-promoted Nkosinathi Joyi, Banal is considered one of the best Filipino prospects.
While Malinga has been gathering dust waiting for Mares-Agbeko scenario to play itself out, Banal has been quite busy in the ring as he fought three times last year, his last bout coming on October 8 when he beat Mario Briones on points to retain his WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight title.
Milenkovic said he would try to bring the fight to the country to improve Malinga’s chances of winning.