By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Use the survey-taking apparatus of your choice.
Toss the question out on Twitter. Make it the subject of a Facebook post. Or go old-school and enlist the services of a bumbling automated telephone service in the wilds of suburban Newark.
No matter the methodology, the results will be similar.
When asked to thoughtfully ponder the question – “Who is the best 168-pound fighter in the world?” –respondents will nearly always come back with one of three replies.
The majority will insist it is unbeaten former Olympian Andre Ward.
A vocal cross-section will suggest Carl Froch as a resurgent force.
And a stubborn pocket in Montreal (or Bucharest) will contend Lucian Bute deserves a mulligan.
No one will imply that it’s Thomas Oosthuizen.
Unless, of course, the person on the other end is, well… Thomas Oosthuizen.
“Yes, I am,” the sure-tongued South African said, to a gently-tweaked query asking if he specifically was the best of the super middleweights. “Who has beaten me yet?”
And while the answer to the upstart 24-year-old’s retort is indeed “no one” since he turned pro four years and 20 fights ago, it’d be perfectly understandable for most to read of his outspoken confidence and instead ask, “Tommy who?”
He and promoter Lou DiBella are working on that last part.
“I am only beginning to be a part of the top names in the world,” Oosthuizen said. “So just hold that question and ask me again in a year’s time.”
The lanky southpaw, who stands 6-foot-4 and has shown knockout pop – 13 stoppages in 19 wins – will make his third career stateside appearance on Aug. 2 in Manhattan, where he’ll face one-loss 32-year-old Rowland Bryant in defense No. 5 of his IBO 168-pound title.
Oosthuizen won the vacant crown with a ninth-round TKO of once-beaten Evert Bravo 16 months ago in South Africa, one fight after he was denied the honors via split-decision draw with then title-holder Isaac Chilemba – who subsequently vacated for a move to light heavyweight.
On winning the championship, the newly-minted belt-holder said, “It is like capturing something that people can only dream of getting and having it in your hands. So to put it in words, you will have to search in another dictionary because no words can describe the feeling.”
Successful defenses against William Gare (UD 12), Aaron Pryor Jr. (UD 12), Francisco Sierra (TKO 11) and Serge Yannick (TKO 6) followed over his first nine months as champion, before a non-title defeat of Marcus Johnson (UD 10) at Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla. on April 27.
The latter was a Showtime-televised main event.
His previous U.S. appearance, for the wide win against Pryor in Biloxi, Miss., was on a non-broadcast portion of the Andre Berto-Jan Zaveck HBO show.
And though he’s based 8,000 miles from New York City, a busy Oosthuizen gets the relevance.
“Americans understand the true art of boxing and that is what boxing is for me, an art,” he said. “Not anybody can be a painter. You have to be colorful and unique to paint a Mona Lisa. Ask Picasso.
“I love training and preparing for a fight and finding ways to beat styles. Any circumstance in a fight is a puzzle and you just have to make all of the pieces of the puzzle come together.”
As for holding a belt many relegate to the fringe of world significance, he’s OK with it, too.
“IBO is growing,” he said. “If you remember, Mayweather and Hatton fought for the IBO belt, so I do believe it is the champion who makes the belt and not the belt who makes the champion.
“After winning the belt it put more pressure on me from the outside and that made me want to perform and improve more from the inside. Opposition becomes harder and that makes me push even harder.”
Oosthuizen peaked at No. 6 in the IBO’s division-wide computerized rankings and has beaten three foes – Pryor, Sierra and Yannick – who were rated in the top 30 at the time of their fight.
Meanwhile, after winning 15 of 16 fights in an anonymous career since 2003, Bryant became a moderate name in April with a third-round TKO of three-time title challenger Librado Andrade on the Mares-Morel super bantamweight undercard in El Paso.
He’s ranked 35th by the IBO in its July rankings and will sacrifice five inches in height and six inches in reach to his belt-toting opponent, who insists his current jewelry is but the first piece of what’ll ultimately be a multi-division collection.
“You can get the opportunity but what you make of it is all on you,” Oosthuizen said. “That is how you become the pound-for-pound champion.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC super lightweight titles – Las Vegas, Nev.
Danny Garcia (champion) vs. Amir Khan (unranked)
Garcia (23-0, 14 KO): First title defense; Ninth fight in Las Vegas (8-0, 4 KO)
Khan (26-2, 18 KO): Eighth title fight (6-1, 3 KO); Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Khan was the best at 140 before and after the fight with Peterson, and he’ll do nothing to suggest otherwise while collecting this GBP loudmouth’s belt.” Khan by decision
WBA super featherweight title – Kasukabe, Japan
Takashi Uchiyama (champion) vs. Michael Farenas (No. 6 contender)
Uchiyama (18-0, 15 KO): Fifth title defense; Eight straight wins by stoppage (58 total rounds)
Farenas (34-3-3, 26 KO): First title fight; Won only career fight in Japan (UD 4, 2007)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown champion has shown more pop, against better competition, especially since winning the championship. That trend continues in defense No. 5.” Uchiyama in 9
WBC flyweight title – Kasukabe, Japan
Sonny Boy Jaro (champion) vs. Toshiyuki Igarashi (No. 1 contender)
Jaro (34-10-5, 24 KO): First title defense; Lost only career fight in Japan (UD 10, 2011)
Igarashi (15-1-1, 10 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2008 (8-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Filipino little man was on winning side of giant upset in March, but seems just as likely to drop the crown on the road against a foe with nine fewer losses.” Igarashi by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 3-0
Overall picks record: 321-107 (75.0 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.