Hekkie Budler won one of the most memorable fights in recent years in South Africa when he beat Simphiwe Khonco on points on Saturday night.
The WBA and IBO minimumweight champion won the battle at Emperors Palace near Kempton Park 117-111, 115-113 and 116-112, and immediately conceded it had been one of the hardest of his career.
Budler had to pull out all the stops to avoid a shock defeat such as the one the Springboks had suffered against Japan in their Rugby World Cup match earlier in the day.
Khonco produced an outstanding performance in a bout that was a credit to SA boxing and certainly the best of the year in South Africa so far.
In the end, Budler improved his professional record to 21-1, with nine wins inside the distance. Khonco’s fell to 16-5; 7, which does not show what an excellent fighter he is.
Budler came out of a close-quarters exchange in the second round with an ugly cut near his left eye and never stopped bleeding until after the result was announced.
Khonco, boasting an impressive six-pack, went about his business with growing confidence, showing the champion no respect and causing no little anxiety among Budler’s supporters, and in his corner too.
But a classy finish from the No 1 in the world in the division took Budler to a clear-cut victory.
Having lost four of his previous 19 fights, and fighting in Gauteng for the first time in his life, the 28-year-old fighter from the Eastern Cape was not expected to beat Budler but he came closer than most of the champion’s previous challengers.
The reassuring presence of veteran referee Stan Christodoulou contributed to the standard of the fight that screamed for a rematch.
The spectators also saw a classy performance from Paul Kamanga, who beat Jason Bedeman on points in a welterweight bout – 100-90 on one card and 99-91 on the two others.
Kamanga took control in the opening round and Bedeman, 26, had his work cut out to evade the overhand rights that kept flashing past his head.
The powerful Kamanga, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also employed his left hook to good effect and had Bedeman in trouble in the third round.
Halfway through the bout Bedeman had not won a round and Kamanga refused to let him get into the fight, ignoring the occasional scoring blow that gave Bedeman’s supporters a little hope.
The 22-year-old Kamanga improved his record to 17-0, including eight wins inside the distance. Bedeman’s dropped to 18-3-3; 15.
Earlier, moments after Japan had scored a knockout try to beat South Africa in their World Cup rugby match in England, Ryno Liebenberg knocked out Makhosandile Zwengu in the second round to win the SA light-heavyweight title.
Zwengu realised he was at the wrong place at the wrong time when Liebenberg clipped him with a right to the top of the head and added a left that did not seem particularly damaging. Zwengu went down on his heels and decided to stay down until the referee had stopped counting.
The result, after two minutes six seconds into the second round, pushed the 30-year-old Liebenberg’s record to 17-2, including 11 wins inside the distance. Zwengu’s fell to 7-9.
There was a lot more entertainment in the catchweight bout between Thompson Mokwana and 21-year-old Roman Zhailauov, a Kazakh welterweight who had told the organisers his favourite music was Shosholoza.
Mokwana, who had been campaigning in the lightweight division, took more punches than his supporters appreciated but won on a split decision – 77-75 on two cards against 78-77 for the previously undefeated Zhailauov.
Zhailauov had won nine of his previous 15 fights inside the distance but was unable to knock the South African down. Mokwana has now won 21 fights, lost ten and drawn one.