By Mesuli Zifo
THE devotion of the Malinga family to the traditional Zulu culture has come to haunt them in their son Vusi Malinga’s biggest fight when he was forced to take off his Zulu bracelet better known as Isiphandla and his fighting gear on landing at Los Angeles, US on Sunday.
Malinga (24-3-1, 12 KOSs) who is of royal Zulu blood, will battle for the vacant IBF bantamweight title against unbeaten Mexican prospect Leo Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 Kos) in a Showtime televised quadruple tournament featuring three other world title fights at Home Depot Centre, Carson, California, US on Saturday.
The other bouts will see former world light heavyweight champion and current IBO cruiserweight king Antonio Tarver defend his crown against unbeaten Nigerian Lateef Kayode, former world junior middleweight champion Winky Wright taking on highly touted Peter Quillin in a middleweight duel and WBA junior middleweight champion Austin Trout risking his crown against Delvin Rodriguez.
Malinga, 32, landed in Los Angeles on Sunday accompanied by his father Jabu who is also his trainer and his brothers Patrick who is a former South African lightweight champion and Peter, a former IBO and WBU welterweight champion.
On landing in Los Angeles after a 30-hour flight from Johannesburg SA, Vusi was detained for four hours at the Los Angeles customs office when officials demanded that he leave his Zulu traditional regalia behind.
A heated argument ensued as his father Jabu tried to convince the customs officials about the importance and the devotion of his son to the Zulu culture.
However his pleas fell on deaf ears as the officials told him to either leave the traditional stuff behind or return to Johannesburg, SA.
The Malingas quickly sent a text message to their promoter Branco Milenkovic back home highlighting their plight but the customs officials would not budge.
“They were forced to leave their traditional stuff behind otherwise they would have to return to Johannesburg,” a peeved Milenkovic confirmed.
Going to the fight without his traditional regalia will obviously affect Vusi psychologically as he and his brothers have a strong devotion to the Zulu culture.
It is not the first time the heavy devotion of the Malinga siblings to the Zulu culture has adversely affected them in a boxing match.
On October 24, 2010 a fracas erupted at Uitenhage Indoor Centre in Uitenhage near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, when SA Boxing Commission official Phakamile Jacobs ordered Patrick to take off his Isiphandla before his SA lightweight title defence against Vusumzi Tyatyeka.
Jabu and Patrick strongly protested but when Jacobs threatened to call off the fight, Malinga relented and went on to stop Tyatyeka in the eighth round to retain his crown.
Patrick has since surrendered the title to Thompson Mokwana who recently beat him on points in a rematch on the undercard of Jeffrey Mathebula’s IBF junior featherweight title victory over Takalani Ndlovu three months ago. Mathebula will face Nonito Donaire in a WBA/IBF title unification at Home Depot Center on July 7.
Milenkovic admitted that Vusi will be psychologically affected by being forced to fight without his Zulu traditional stuff.
“We must understand that the Malingas strongly believe in the Zulu culture and for Vusi to be forced to fight without his traditional gear will affect him,” Milenkovic said, adding that alternative arrangement has been made to get Vusi another fighting gear.
Besides fighting without the guidance of the Zulu spirit, Malinga’s mission to win the fight has been made much harder after the Californian Boxing Commission appointed officials from California where Santa Cruz is based.
The referee will be David Mendoza from California with judges being Barry Druxman, Jose Cobian all from California while the third judge will be Hubert Earle from Nova Scotia.
Fight supervisor will Rob Scott from New Jersey.
Milenkovic said he tried to get the IBF appoint neutral officials but the Californian Commission insisted on appointing their own officials.
“This means Malinga will have to leave nothing to chance if he wants to win the fight,” Milenkovic said.