Byron Rojas is the new WBA/IBO minimumweight champion of the world after a unanimous points decision win over Hekkie Budler at Emperors Palace on Saturday. This was Budler’s first defeat in 15 world title outings, on a night when the West Rand resident was not at his best. It proved to be a busy opening round with both fighters happy to mix it in the middle of the ring with several combinations thrown by both men.
Rojas landed a left hook in the middle of the second cutting Budler in a round that mirrored the first in terms of busyness and toe-to-toe action in the centre of the ring. The cut was heavy enough for referee Romina Arroyo of Argentina to call time with 41 seconds remaining to have the champion checked out by the ringside doctor. The 27-year-old was given the all-clear and came out for a third round in which both men threw their best punches, again in a centre of the ring battle, with the Nicaraguan perhaps landing the more effective blows in what was proving to be a close and exciting contest.
The Hexecutioner spent most of round four closer to the ropes with the 25-year-old stalking the South African. It was a three-minute period more akin to an opening round but nevertheless, when the bell sounded for the end of the first third of the fight there could be no doubt that there was no clear leader in this world title bout. A fifth round clash of heads sent Colin Nathan’s charge back to the blue corner for medical attention with 14 seconds still to fight.
El Gallito was proving to be a ferocious puncher and at the halfway mark, it was perfectly plausible that the challenger could be shading the battle. Roger Riyas’ man was consistently coming forward and was forcing Nathan’s pugilist on to the back foot. Nathan could be heard in the Budler corner urging his charge for more in a fight that was proving too close for comfort for the Newlands resident, who did appear busier in the eighth round in response to his trainer’s call.
Rojas had thrown and landed more punches leading up to the championship rounds and this trend continued in the latter stanzas. The Nicaraguan dominated the tenth round and had Budler in trouble with a minute to go. The champion was still standing at the bell but this was not turning out to be his best title defence in what was an otherwise flat performance.
The champion was lacking that extra edge seen on so many previous occasions and the Central American was cashing in, but would it prove to be enough in the eyes of the judges? Nathan could be heard demanding victory in each of the last two rounds, pointing out the 25-year-old’s inexperience in 11th and 12th round situations compared to the champion, who had been in this situation before. Budler was better in the penultimate round and the 12th saw both men giving it all they had left in the tank before leaving it up to the judges.
Phillipe Verbeke, Chalerm Prayadsab and Oliver Brien were unanimous in awarding the contest 115-113 to Rojas, who is now the new belt holder. Budler and Nathan will be disappointed with their showing as their reign comes to an end however, the South African will no doubt be keen for a rematch opportunity.
Photo credit: Nick Lourens