Johannesburg - Rangy East London-based Thabo Sonjica emerged a runaway winner from his mismatched and downgraded fight with diminutive Filipino Roli Gasca at Emperors Palace on Saturday night, but without his International Boxing Organisation (IBO) junior featherweight title.
In a bizarre turn of events, Sonjica was stripped of his title even before entering the ring after stepping on the pre-fight scales a substantial two kilograms above the junior featherweight limit.
The three judges made Sonjica a 117-109, 116-109 and 116-109 winner in an absorbing confrontation in which both boxers hit the canvas for counts of eight, and the over-powered Gasca was a good head shorter in height than his opponent.
In accordance with the rules of almost every international boxing association, the champion is stripped of his title before the fight in such circumstances and only the challenger can come away with the title should he prove victorious.
The chain of disappointment began on Friday when Sonjica failed to turn up at the official weigh-in for the Emperors tournament, with a message received from his handlers in East London claiming they had missed their flight to OR Tambo International Airport and were striving to get onto a later flight.
A special, unusual weigh-in ceremony was arranged when the East London contingent ultimately arrived, but to little avail when it was found Sonjica was above the junior featherweight limit, with reports he had been even heavier at one stage in a vain attempt to make the weight.
Gasca gave the impression he belonged in a division lower than junior featherweight and the South African clearly geared to fight in a heavier division.
Sharing top billing with the Sonjica-Gasca anti-climax was a bloodied, bruising battle in which South African Rayno Liebenberg outpointed Russian Denis Grachev for the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight silver title and extended his unbeaten record to 16 victories.
A gallant, unrelenting Liebenberg suffered a cut above his right eye as early as the first round, but he showed his courage and character by remaining undaunted in the face of the blood continuously pouring down his cheek.
Instead it was the vision of the judges that Liebenberg won the fight with scores of 120-108, 117-111 and 116-112.
"I've earned new respect for this guy. He gave me a helluva fight and I had to pull out all the stops," said Liebenberg afterwards.
In the main supporting bout in the cruiserweight division, Kevin Lerena, came out of a nine-month absence from boxing to shade Marcos Antonio Ahumada of Argentina for the 10th win in an unbeaten professional career.