By Jake Donovan
Contrary to popular opinion, confirmation of his March 5 vacant title fight with Zab Judah taking place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey was the best news that Kaizer Mabuza could have received.
The junior welterweight contender was the subject of several rumors – all of which were based purely on speculation – that the relatively low purse bid offered for the fight would discourage him from wanting to make the trek from South Africa.
Further fueling the rumors was the rightfully expressed disappointment of his promoter, Branco Sports Promotions over the handling of the purse bid. Severe weather conditions canceled several flights coming into the New York/New Jersey area, thus backing up the flow of all air mail, particularly overseas parcel.
The interference from Mother Nature prevented Branco Sports from having their mailed purse bid submission arrive in time for the early January purse bid. The South African promotional company attempted to submit their bid electronically, but was disqualified by the sanctioning body since such submissions were not permitted.
Had the bid been allowed, both Judah and Mabuza stood to make double the $25,000 payday they will each instead receive for their vacant title fight.
Nevertheless, money was never of concern to Mabuza, who has waited nearly a year for his first career title shot.
“I’m here for the glory, not for the money,” stated Mabuza (23-6-3, 14KO), whose last trip to the Garden State put him contention for the very title he will attempt to win on March 5. “There wasn’t a lot of money for my fight with Kendall Holt, but it put me in a position to fight for the title.”
An upset sixth-round knockout over Holt earned Mabuza a mandatory slot for the IBF 140 lb title. His opportunity arose once Devon Alexander was stripped of the title for instead agreeing to a lineal title showdown with fellow unbeaten American champ Tim Bradley.
In addition to more money being placed in the pot, a winning bid by Branco Sports would’ve most likely resulted in the fight landing in South Africa.
Just as some American writers questioned whether Mabuza was still interested in this fight, the same questions could’ve been asked on whether or not Judah would’ve been enticed to travel halfway around the world for a modest five-figure payday.
“I know for a fact that if I won the bid that Zab Judah would’ve never come to South Africa for any amount of money,” believes Branco Milenkovic, head of Branco Sports Promotions. “Even after the (Lucas) Matthysse fight, he was talking about all of these other fighters – Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander, but never mentioning Mabuza.
“He’s taking this fight because he couldn’t get any bigger fight and because we’re traveling to his backyard.”
It goes without saying that Milenkovic and Mabuza believe the fight would’ve been a bigger event if staged in South Africa. There is no American network interest at present moment, with the show likely to go the pay-per-view route.
Instead, they fell prey to Mother Nature, as well as what Milenkovic believes to be outdated sanctioning bodies in desperate need of a 21st Century upgrade.
“I was very disappointed in the purse bid. If I was outbid by Main Events, that’s fine. I can accept a loss like that. But to lose the bid because of the huge snow storm was what upsets me. It is very unfair because it puts promoters outside of the United States in a bad position for any fight with the IBF. Who in America is going to fly 17 hours for a purse bid?”
A 17-hour flight is what is now in store for Team Mabuza, as the resurgent junior welterweight prepares for by far the biggest fight of his 11-year career.
Where he is at today is a far cry from what was though to become of his career even three years ago. A 10-round draw with countryman Anthony Tshehla left Mabuza winless over a four-fight stretch and his record at an uninspiring 15-6-3 (8KO).
Eight straight wins have since followed, half of which has taken place on his opponent’s home turf. He has twice traveled to Nambia, scoring a pair of knockouts over Jason Naule, handing the then-unbeaten prospect his first two losses.
He has been forced to hit the road for his past two bouts, resulting in the two biggest wins of his career. First came a September ’09 points win over previously unbeaten Serhiy Fedchenko in the Ukraine, followed five months later by a career-best performance in the aforementioned upset over Holt in Atlantic City.
A win over Judah, in addition to making him a major player in the 140 lb. division, can also confirm his growing reputation as boxing’s latest road warrior.
“For some reason, his best performances seem to come outside of South Africa,” Milenkovic believes. “Nobody gave him a chance when he fought Fedchenko in the Ukraine. He was a 14-1 underdog when he fought Holt in New Jersey.
“Now, nobody still wants to give him a chance against Judah, but we’re OK with that. Judah is now the one that has everything to lose. If my guy doesn’t win, nobody will care. But if Judah loses, he will have to start thinking about retirement. There is already no interest in him, as this bout isn’t even being considered for television.”
The boxing world will eventually have to stand up and take notice if Mabuza continues to win fights he’s not supposed to. But until then, the unheralded contender thrives on the thought of once again shocking the world.
“I feel no pressure to win. I like being the underdog.”
It also helps when you keep winning, which has only recently become the case. With winning comes confidence, but so too does having a strong support system around you, which was what he lacked until hooking up with Branco Sports.
“You are only as good as the team that surrounds you. If you’re team doesn’t have faith in you, you’re not going to have faith in yourself. (Branco Sports) has confidence in me and it’s paying off.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].