The long wait will finally be over for 32 year-old Vusi “Marvellous” Malinga when he fights Leo Santa Cruz for the vacant IBF bantamweight title at the Home Depot Centre in Los Angeles on June 2.
Malinga beat Michael Domingo 18 months ago in a final eliminator for the IBF title but ongoing promotional and financial haggling over venues and purse money left the South African champing at the bit.
In his own words, he was “getting old” as details for the fight were being ironed out.
On Tuesday, BSP promoter Branco Milenkovic, under whose aegis the South African fights, was able to announce that “the show is finally on the road and Malinga will get his big chance on a star-studded bill in Carson, Los Angeles.”
The major difference, however, since Malinga initially qualified for an IBF title shot in October 2010, is that his opponent will now be Santa Cruz instead of Filipino Alex John Banal.
“Banal has moved on,” said Milenkovic, “and Santa Cruz is the new sensation in the division, with an unbeaten record of 19 wins and a draw from his 20 fights.”
And, to emphasise that Malinga has a daunting task on his hands, the BSP promoter revealed that the explosive Mexican fighter's nickname was “Earthquake” no less.
Milenkovic remained optimistic, however, about securing a fourth IBF champion fighting under his wing – with top South African pound-for-pound straw weight champion, Nkosinathi Joyi; junior featherweight champion Jeffrey Mathebula and flyweight title holder Moruti Mthalane all in the BSP stable and rated by the authoritative Ring Magazine among the top 10 boxers in the world in their respective divisions.
Joyi, in fact, is the only South African currently rated by Ring Magazine as the world's number one in his division.
Milenkovic pointed out that most of his champions had started out as underdogs before becoming IBF champions and then going on to defy the odds.
“And Malinga is quite capable of doing the same thing,” Milenkovic said.
Malinga would have to overcome the effect of his long inactivity while waiting for his title opportunity – and against a tearaway fighter like Santa Cruz it would not be easy.
The BSP promoter said the June 2 tournament in Los Angeles was being promoted by an associate organisation and heading the star-studded bill was the high-profiled Austin “No Doubt” Trout's defence of his WBA super welterweight title against Delvin Rodriguez.
“The tournament as a whole will be a major attraction in the United States and is already receiving considerable exposure,” said Milenkovic.
“It is providing Malinga with a wonderful opportunity of making a name for himself on the international scene.”