By Jake Donovan
The on-paper reading suggests a far fall from grace for Takalani Ndlovu. Beginning with his title losing effort to in-country rival Jeffrey Mathebula, the South African has now lost three straight and – at age 35 – appears to have seen his best days.
The most recent loss came Saturday evening, when Ndlovu dropped a close but clear decision to Mathebula in a fight that carried future title fight implications.
Given the stakes, it’s perhaps better that Mathebula came out on top. The rail thin 122 lb former titlist now becomes the mandatory challenger to unbeaten and recently crowned Jhonatan Romero. Had Ndlovu managed the win, such a fight wasn’t a likely next step.
“Ndlovu has been struggling last two years with making junior featherweight,” revealed Branco Milenkovic, who promotes both Ndlovu and Mathebula. “Yes, I know people will wonder why I didn’t move him up? The reason is simple, there were opportunities and he has been winning. But if Takalani won last Saturday, I don’t know how he would made 122 lb when challenging Romero.”
Prior to the losing streak, perseverance paid off for Ndlovu, who scored a major upset of Steve Molitor in their third fight to win the title, which was two years to the day on Tuesday. His lone successful defense came on the road, topping Giovanni Caro in Mexico, before losing his title to Mathebula in their rematch a year ago.
The first two fights with Mathebula were both competitive and featured disputed decisions, as did last October’s road trip to El Paso, where he dropped a highly questionable decision to Alejandro Lopez.
“Most of the worldwide media had Ndlovu winning the fight,” reminded Milenkovich of the fight, whose decision was lustily booed by the crowd on hand. Lopez went on to fight for the vacant title, dropping a close decision to Romero last month.
While Mathebula rebounded nicely from last summer’s wide points loss to Nonito Donaire, his longtime rival explores other means to keep his career alive. The belief is that making weight, and not his age and current skill set, is the cause for his recent slide.
Even prior to the loss to Mathebula – who is now 2-1 in their series – there were issues at the scales. Ndlovu struggled to shed less than ½ lb. in order to shrink down to 122 lb.
“Takalani has asked to move him up to the 130 lb. division, and that is what we will do,” Milenkovich says of Ndlovu’s future. “The fact that he wants to move up two divisions instead of one, speaks volumes of how much he have been struggling to make the weight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox