Botha floored in 12th round
Francois Botha (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - The brave charge of 43-year-old South African veteran heavyweight Francois "The White Buffalo" Botha for the World Boxing Foundation's (WBF) heavyweight title was halted 37 seconds away from an astonishing victory at Montecasino on Sunday morning.
Botha was knocked out by the United States' Michael Grant in the 12th round in front of a stunned crowd at Montecasino minutes past midnight and with only seconds of the fight remaining.
At that point, Botha, grunting and shrieking in a fair imitation of Maria Sharapova on the tennis court as he launched continual charges at his tentative opponent, appeared conclusively ahead on points and heading for a monumental victory in the battle of the ageing heavyweights.
The 39-year-old American, who had fought off the back foot and with an element of uneasiness for much of the opening 11 rounds, belatedly seemed to realise that defeat was staring him in the face as he launched a late assault on the tiring Botha.
The former South African title-holder of bygone years crumpled in his corner under the barrage of punches with only seconds of the fight remaining and did not have the energy to rise to his feet, in spite of being implored to do so by a frenzied crowd.
It appeared for a while, as Botha remained motionless in his corner, that he might have struck his head on the ring's pole and suffered serious injury in the process.
He ultimately was helped to his feet as a courageous and admired loser, even though the dramatic contest in its entirety was one of the least skilled on the Showpony's dazzling promotion.
The night's engrossing programme that included five WBF title bouts was marred by a decision that shamed South African boxing when Mdantsane-based Lubabalo Msothu was awarded a split-decision victory over classy Filipino Dennis Tubieron for the bantamweight title, despite being outclassed for much of the bout.
The decision was greeted with disbelief and an outburst of booing from the crowd of 2 500 that extended for the best part of five minutes. Adding to the injustice was the fact that it unfairly tarnished the Filipino fighters unbeaten record.
More pleasing was the professional performance of Malcolm Klassen, who demonstrated he had lost little of his deft touches and finesse after a lengthy lay-off while out-pointing Mexican Daniel Lomeli for the WBF's junior lightweight title after an intriguing, uncompromising 12 rounds.
While Ali Funeka's narrow, split decision victory over Zolani Marali for the junior welterweight title was also greeted with an outburst of derisive booing, both South Africans performed with credit in this high-class contest.
The remaining title fight was a travesty as the Congo's Ilunga Makabu toyed and punished Brazilian Pedro Ortas unmercifully for 11 rounds before gaining a runaway TKO victory for the WBF's cruiserweight crown.
"The fight should have been halted after a couple of rounds," said top South African trainer Nick Durandt, who was in the corner of both Makuba and Klassen.
"The Brazilian was beaten to a pulp and looked as though he had been run over by a bus afterwards," said Durandt.
"Boxing does not need this kind of cruelty."
Durandt, however, felt Botha need not think of retiring at his advanced age for a boxer.
"As long as he keeps training as hard as he did for the Grant fight, he has a couple of big pay days left. Maybe even a return against Grant if he can get one," said Durandt.