Monaco/Johannesburg - By his own admission, unbeaten light-heavyweight Ryno “The Lion” Liebenberg has a big mouth.
The WBC #4, IBF #8 and WBO #15 says that the difference between him and many other fighters is that he backs up his boasts with his boxing.
“I’ll fight King Kong, Mike Tyson, whoever. You can say I have a big mouth, but I always deliver. Even my wife agrees I have a big mouth,” says the cocky South African (16-0, 11 KOs).
That same mouth has goaded and taunted Colombian Eleider Alvarez (15-0, 8 KOs), the WBC #12, WBA #2 and WBO #3, who fights Liebenberg in an intriguing battle of unbeaten prospects on the Golden Gloves “Palace Storm” tournament in Monte Carlo on October 25.
“He’s got no manners, but I’ll be teaching him some,” said Liebenberg, referring to Alvarez’s January fight against Andrew Gardiner in which, Liebenberg claims, Alvarez swore at the Canadian after being offered a congratulatory handshake.
Liebenberg constantly baits Alvarez on Twitter in an undisguised attempt to get under the skin of the Montreal-based Alvarez.
The South African is one of the sport’s supreme talkers and has an unusually self-deprecating view of his fighting style. “I’m never gonna be slick like a Mayweather or a Pernell Whitaker; it’s not what I do. I wouldn’t know how. If I try and be someone I’m not, I’ll come up short. You can’t learn how to box . . . you box a certain way and that’s it. You can always tighten up and be more polished, but the essence remains.
“I work on my strengths. I never used to think I could punch, but as a pro I’ve banged out a lot of guys. Thirteen of my 16 fights have been at light-heavy, with 11 of them stoppages. I’m tough, I can take a punch and I’m fit and strong.”
It’s a style that has served him well, particularly as he turned professional at the relatively advanced age of 27.
“He’s all heart,” says promoter Rodney Berman. “I had my doubts in the beginning, but he just kept winning. I’m quite sure Alvarez could beat him, but to do so would require a bigger heart than Ryno. I’m not sure that’s possible. What I do know is that it will be a helluva fight.”
Going into his most recent bout, against Russia’s Denis Grachev, he had three back-to-back first round stoppages. An early cut in their August fight troubled Liebenberg, but he boxed well down the stretch to earn a decision win in claiming the WBC’s vacant Silver belt.
He said the main thing he learned fighting Grachev was the need to work and train even harder. “I went 12 rounds and never gassed, but I realised I had to do more. I know that boxing is the only sport in the world where your best might not be good enough. I must be much better prepared mentally and physically.”
He is just coming off the endurance phase of training and moving into what he calls the “explosive” phase of his build-up with under a month to go until his Monaco outing. This includes regular sparring with Nkululeko Mhlongo, the South African junior-middleweight champion, who offers excellent work, and up-and-coming prospect Alfonso Tissen, among others.
Liebenberg trains twice a day, six days a week, all the while holding down his day job of running the family-owned paint store on the west side of Johannesburg.
For all his bravado, Liebenberg makes no bones about his respect for Alvarez’s boxing.
“He’s very good, with a fast jab, fast combinations and a good uppercut and left hook. He has enough skill and talent to beat anyone at light-heavyweight. We’re both 30, so there’s no chance of ducking anyone. Eventually you have to fight whoever is put in front of you. I’ll fight anyone and, the thing is, I’m not afraid of losing, it’s not the end of the world. But at my age, I have no intention of doing so.”
Liebenberg’s candour is refreshing in this age of preening PR-talk and polished images. He admits his honesty “can bite me in the arse”, but says it “sucks” to go to boring press conferences where boxers spew clichéd soundbites instead of talking the truth. He is many things, but boring isn’t one of them.
Unfazed by fighting overseas for the first time, Liebenberg is predicting a late stoppage win.
“This guy has never been knocked down, he can take a punch. But can he take a punch from me? Yes, he beat a puncher like Edison Miranda, but Miranda was a banger at middleweight, not light-heavy.
“I suspect Alvarez will box my ears off the first four or so rounds, but then I’ll start breaking him down. If I hit and land cleanly, he’s gone. After six, it’s my fight. I’ve told him, too – I’m gonna knock him out.”
That’s Liebenberg, talking the talk and, for now, walking the walk.
We’ll see on October 25.
The “Title Tornado” card also includes WBA/IBO strawweight champion Hekkie Budler’s title defence against Xiong Zhao Zhong of China, the WBC Silver middleweight title fight between Martin Murray and Domenico Spada and the IBF bantamweight title bout between Stuart Hall of the UK and Randy Caballero of the US.
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