Johannesburg - The below-freezing temperature in New York did not seem to bother Chris "The Heat" van Heerden as the South African gained a split points victory over Cecil McCalla at the iconic Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
It was the former IBO welterweight champion's third successive victory since embarking on his campaign in the United States. It was also a seventh successive win overall as he attempts to break into the top echelon of what many rate with the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez as the most accomplished weight division in boxing at present.
While Van Heerden gained the nod of two of the three judges, the scoring was curious to say the least, with two of the officials favouring the South African by 97-93 and 96-94 margins, but the third giving McCalla a runaway 99-91 advantage.
The fight was billed for the vacant IBF international title, but Van Heerden had already secured this particular belt before even throwing a punch after McCalla had come into the ring 1kg over the welterweight limit.
Now working under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, who trains such renowned fighters as Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, McCalla's snappier punching and movement appeared to give him an edge over a fighter, who despite his previous unbeaten record in 20 fights, is regarded as a journeyman - as is reflected in his IBO ranking of 79th.
Despite being kept out of boxing for more than six months because of an ankle injury, Van Heerden said his decision to relinquish the modestly regarded IBO title and campaign in the United States had already paid dividends.
"I'm a far better boxer now than when I left South Africa 18 months ago," he said.
"It might have been a gamble, but sparring with the likes of Cotto, Sail Alvarez and other top fighters and now being handled by Roach has improved my ability immeasurably - and I believe I can continue to get better and better.
"What is more, fighting at Madison Square Garden, for so long the Mecca of boxing, has been a dream come true for me.
"I'm hoping to get a fight now against one of the top 10 boxers in the welterweight division and then go on for a title shot as well."
Van Heerden was the first South African to feature at Madison Square Garden since the late and acclaimed Willie Toweel suffered an eighth round knockout defeat against Emille Griffith in a world title bout going back to 1960.