History was made this past Friday night as Onkarabile Mothibedi became the first Motswana to win a boxing international title belt. ‘Skara,’ as Mothibedi is affectionately called, beat Tshepang ‘Gearbox’ Babui by a unanimous decision to win the World Boxing Federation (WBF) Intercontinental Super Bantamweight belt.
While the prefight talk was dominated by news of Babui’s failure to meet the requisite weight for super Bantamweight, Mothibedi never allowed the controversy to derail him. Ahead of the fight, there were concerns that the now reigning WBF Intercontinental Super Bantamweight champion may be at a disadvantage when he faced Babui who had weighed 4kg over the required weight.
On the day of the fight, the concerns looked premature as Mothibedi put up a boxing masterclass to outfox and beat Babui. “My eyes were fixed on the belt not on the weight of Babui,” Mothibedi said in his post match interview.
The focus was evident from the middle rounds to the 11th round as he stood firm and withstood a barrage of punches from his opponent. After a slow start that saw him easily picking Babui’s face with jabs and straights, the Goodhope born boxer found himself on the receiving end in the middle rounds as Babui rallied back.
In fact, there were concerns he may not go all the way as he seemed to lose concentration at critical moments, leaving him open to some heavy punches. He however shrugged off the concerns in the last rounds as he went back to his opening game plan. Using his reach advantage, he again peppered Babui with jabs and straights to end the bout strongly.
The plan worked well as he accumulated more points leading to all the three judges scoring the bout in his favour. “My main worry was fatigue as this was my first time doing a 12 rounds bout,” Mothibedi said. “Somewhere between the rounds I could feel fatigue kicking in hence I kept changing my game plan to give my body some rest,” he explained.
The sweet ending for Mothibedi is the beginning of multiple fights to defend his title. While he and his team said they will for now be celebrating their historic win, they are aware that this is just the beginning of more fights. Isaac Pheko, manager and coach for Mothibedi said now the real work starts as they have to fight to keep the belt home.
“Yes we have to celebrate the win, but we have to also work more than we have been doing in order to defend this belt. We have a few weeks to prepare for a defending fight or it will be taken away from us,” Pheko said.
He however expressed confidence his boxer will not be derailed by his fame as a champion. “Mothibedi is very disciplined and listens to instructions very well and this is why I choice to manage him and walk this walk with him,” he explained.
On Mothibedi’s overall performance, Pheko said he was happy though they had some worries as the bout wore on. He said his main worry was when Mothibedi spit his mouth-guard when under attack, which he said made him vulnerable to injuries. Pheko however said he believed this was an indication of his athlete being overwhelmed with fatigue as the fight continued.
He however believed his fighter deserved the belt, something he seemingly shares with WBF president Howard Goldberg.
“It was an excellent fight and the right man won. No controversies. The right man won,” Goldberg declared.
While impressed with the display of the two boxers, the WBF President however said he was disappointed with Babui’s weight problems.
He said for a title belt a boxer should never be overweight. “Babui has got a lot of potential despite his weight and if he is really serious about boxing he has a future in bantamweight and he has to seriously cut down his weight,” he observed.
Meanwhile, the WBF president said he expects Mothibedi to have had a title defence fight within six months.
According to Goldberg, every title belt holder has at least six months to have fought a title defence match.
He however said if possible, he would advice title holders to have title defence matches within four months, citing that six months is a long time to wait to defend.
In order to avoid losing momentum, Goldberg said a boxer should fight three of four times a year. He said fight promoters have told him they are planning to host title tournament in May and he is hopeful Mothibedi will get to defend his title then.
Goldberg warned the new champion to start working hard and improving.
“You should bear in mind that it is easy to win a title but it is very hard to defend it,” he said.
From here we are going to get him a tough opponent. As good as he was tonight, he has to know that now everyone is eyeing his title and he has to train very hard to keep it,” Goldberg warned.
Meanwhile, a distraught Babui expressed disappointment with the results of the fight. Inconsolable and in tears after the announcement of the results, he said he now has to think about the way forward. “I have been dreaming about possessing this belt for so long, my dreams and hard work have been crushed once more,” he said in a post match interview.
“At this point I just want to take time to go think about my stay in boxing. As for challenging for the belt, it is another thing because I am devastated,” a teary Babui explained.