South Africa's 43-year-old Francois “White Buffalo” Botha looks like a certain underdog in the heavyweight fight at Montecasino on Saturday night. On the scales, age-wise, in reach and in height, his opponent, Michael Grant of the United States, has a considerable advantage. While revealing he was a spiritual soulmate of Botha, sharing religious beliefs, the affinity would be banished from his mind when he seeks to gain the fringe WBF championship title.
It was declared vacant a couple of months ago when holder Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield decided to fight for the more prestigious WBA title and capture a sixth such belt before the age of 50. The WBF, lightly considered among the multi-alphabet of boxing associations round the globe, was on the verge of extinction. It was revived under the presidency of Cape Town-based Howard Goldberg – and currently boast no more than four champions among the 17 weight divisions. Botha recently stunned the boxing world when he dented the career of up-and-coming hope Flo Simba, who is half his age, with a crushing knock-out
Malcolm Klassen in the junior lightweight division, Lbubalo Msutu in a bantamweight title fight, and Ali Funeka and Zolani Murali as junior welterweight contenders are other South Africans who will appear on the undercard.
Heading the bill labelled “Urban War” is the heavyweight clash between the two veteran contenders who are seeking an Indian Summer ending to their varied careers.
The 39-year-old Grant at this time is rated 24th heavyweight in the world or thereabouts in the most respected rankings. Botha will come into the ring as a modest 55th – raising some eyebrows to the authenticity of the high-profiled nature of the contest.
But Grant says his record with five wins in his last five fights is proof that he is a genuine title contender – held back only from a higher ranking by the sleazy side of politics that is prevalent in boxing.
“I'm offered paltry purses to fight King Kongs who are controlled by certain unscrupulous promoters,” he said. “Then I'm punished for not accepting their offers.”
Grant says he sees himself more as a boxer than a fighter, but he never goes into the ring pre-planning whether to go the distance or seek a knockout.
“You have to weigh up your tactics from the opening bell, then fight accordingly,” he says. “Most pundits might feel I would end up a winner on points if the fight against Botha goes the distance and I can steer clear of his well-known punching power. But if I get the opportunity, I'll be hunting for a knockout as well.”
Botha has never avoided boxers of the highest repute, even though bouts against the likes of Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Holyfield ended with defeats within the distance. Grant suffered an early defeat against Lewis at a similar time as Botha went down to the renowned British champion.