Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu closed out his 2020 campaign in style.
The reigning cruiserweight titlist lodged his first successful defense with a 7th round knockout of Nigeria’s Olanrewaju Durodola. A pair of left hands floored Durodola, who was deemed unable to continue in their spirited main event Saturday evening in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
The battle of power-punching cruiserweights saw a boxing match break out in the opening round. Makabu poked with his right jab from the southpaw stance, making a point to remain well beyond Durodola’s punching range. The strategy held up for about a round, before Durodola quickly closed the gap.
Makabu found himself on the defensive for much of round two. Durodola trapped the defending titlist along the ropes, working the body and coming back upstairs with a right uppercut. Makabu managed to pivot out of harm’s way, only to get pinned into a corner where Durodola continued to launch every punch with knockout intentions.
Action picked up in a hurry in round three. Durodola landed a right hand which briefly stunned Makabu, who came storming back to score with straight lefts and right hooks to draw the intimate but partisan and COVID-compliant crowd to its feet. Makabu took the lead in the final minute, largely on the strength of a steady jab along with several left hands behind it.
Neither fighter gave an inch during a furiously paced round four. Makabu was getting the better of the action as he was also the far more resourceful of the two, although Durodola was always one more right hand away from momentum violently swinging back in his favor.
Makabu worked behind his jab for much of round five, offering slick infighting when forced to remain in the pocket. Durodola struggled with his timing though managed to land enough right hands over the back half of the round to keep the defending titlist honest.
Fatigue slowly set in for the Nigerian challenger ahead of round six. Makabu continued to stick out his jab, getting Durodola to drop his guard just enough to connect with several straight lefts. Durodola survived a mid-round barrage to land a right hand in return, only for Makabu to immediately respond with a rapid-fire combination upstairs. Durodola offered a lazy right hand in the final 10 seconds, countered with a wicked left hand which snapped back the challenger’s head just before the bell.
Durodola offered one last surge at the start of the second half, only to punch himself into a false sense of security. Makabu took everything his challenger had to offer, before turning the tide in a hurry. A monster left hand up top had Durodola in bad shape, with a follow-up left flooring the 40-year old hard in a corner.
Despite his best effort to beat the count, Durodola was ruled unable to continue as he falls to 34-8 (31KOs). With the loss ends a five-fight win streak, as he comes up well short in what will likely serve as his only career title shot.
Makabu improves to 28-2 (25KOs) with the win, his ninth straight. The first defense of his title comes 11 months after winning the crown in his birth town in a 12-round decision over Michal Cieslak this past January at a makeshift arena in Kinshasa.
With the possibility of the WBC lowering its cruiserweight limit to 190 pounds in the near future, Makabu expressed an interest in continuing to defend the belt no matter the weight. His only competition at the top level is Mairis Briedis, the lineal cruiserweight champion who also owns the IBF title.
Such a fight is welcomed, as well as any other worthwhile opportunity. For what Makabu brings to the table, no challenge is off the table.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox