Ilunga Makabu is the mandatory WBC cruiserweight challenger after a sensational 11th round knockout victory over Thabiso Mchunu at the ICC Durban Arena on Saturday. It was a typically cagey opening round with the two fighters feeling each other out and very little action with Mchunu throwing slightly more punches, including a decent combination with about ten seconds remaining. The second round belonged entirely to The Rock who landed a series of beautiful combinations, including a right hook that clearly rocked his opponent.
One minute into the third round and the Cato Ridge man had the Congolese in real trouble backed up into the corner but Makabu recovered to see out the round. The fourth round was the most even to that point with Makabu trading punches but the KwaZulu-Natal boxer performed adequately enough to feel the round was his. The good work of the previous round was undone in the early stages of the fifth with the home pugilist dominant and the Democratic Republic of Congo boxer appearing to have no answer.
One of the unfortunate themes of the first half of the bout was the regular hitting below the belt. The DRC man was warned by referee Daniel Van De Wiele on several occasions. Mchunu’s jab and effective combinations was another theme that easily outdid the counter-punching of “Junior” but he was losing the fight at the halfway stage. The seventh round was Makabu’s through and through.
He clearly hurt the home boxer in the last minute of the round with superb hand speed and a vicious right hook that nearly brought Mchunu to the floor but the KZN man held on to see out the round. Nick Durandt’s fighter was in charge in the eighth round again and once more rocked a clearly tiring Mchunu. Makabu was growing in strength while the opposite was true of The Rock.
In the ninth round both boxers were handed final warnings for hitting below the belt. It detracted from the action that was exciting toe-to-toe stuff with the South African establishing a commanding early lead that was disappearing fast. The body punches were taking their toll with Mchunu literally hanging on. After ten rounds it was apparent just how dramatically the tide had changed.
Sean Smith’s boxer was flat on his face after 1 minute and 56 seconds in the 11th round. A left upper cut was followed by a left hook that sent Mchunu crashing to the canvas. There was pandemonium as the ring was flooded by ecstatic Makabu supporters and security was needed to help clear the area. Durandt’s man will now challenge Grigory Drozd for the WBC title at a date and venue to be confirmed.