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For Moruti Mthalane, time stands still

The South African champion intends to continue his reign at flyweight.

BOXING-JPN Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

In a sport marked by unfairness, boxers in the lower weight classes receive the least amount of attention and money, despite delivering arguably the highest quality product boxing has to offer. This is well-worn territory though; it’s almost as cliche as complaining about the silliness of the sanctioning bodies.

But for Moruti Mthalane, it doesn’t really seem to matter. He’s remained at the 112 pound weight class for practically his entire career, never moving up to chase bigger names. This may have been detrimental in terms of global recognition, but I think there’s something to be said for finding the weight class best suited to one’s body and making it your own (the late, great Marvelous Marvin Hagler is probably the most famous example of this approach). Despite being 38-years-old — practically Methuselah for 112 — Mthalane hasn’t sought the greener pastures of 115, content to rely on the metabolism of a much younger man to continue making 112.

When you watch Moruti, nothing really jumps off the screen, or at least nothing that could easily explain his consistency at a world-class level. He’s not particularly fast; he plods forward rather than bouncing in and out of range. His defense appears pretty basic; he uses the peek-a-boo style almost exclusively. He does a good job of catching and parrying jabs out of the high-guard, but we’re not talking Chocolatito-level wizardry here.

Mthalane’s greatest attribute has much more to do with his mind-set than physical abilities; no matter what comes his way, he is stone-faced and perfectly calm. His short torso is easily covered by his arms and elbows, so when he puts on the ear-muffs he can stand in the pocket while his opponent throw flurries, without worrying about getting hurt to the body. He was stopped in both of his losses, but the first was a questionable referee intervention in a fight he was winning, and the second came in the sixth round of his first world title attempt against Nonito Donaire after he suffered a nasty laceration to his eyelid.

How to Watch Mthalane vs Edwards

Date: Friday, April 30 | Start Time: 2:00 pm ET
Location: York Hall - London, England
Streaming: ESPN+ (US) | TV: BT Sport (UK)
Online Coverage:

Offensively, Mthalane (39-2, 26 KO) is a steady pressure fighter. He’s not flashy, his hand speed doesn’t overwhelm his opponents, and he’s not a knockout artist. But he throws every punch with the right technique, turns his shots over, and lets his offensive combinations build as he gets acclimated to his opponent’s rhythm. And although his feet are slow, he cuts off the ring with precision. He gives the impression of a Terminator who is going to implement his game plan no matter what you try to do to stop him. Boxers like Akira Yaegashi, countryman Zolani Tete, and the heavy-punching John Riel Casimero found this out the hard way. He walked them down and battered them into submission once they realized there was nothing they could do to convince him not to.

It was only after watching fights from the 60s through the 80s that I realized what makes Mthalane unique: He’s a throwback fighter whose rhythm and punch selection more closely resembles boxers from those eras than what we’re accustomed to seeing today. You can almost see a bit of Hagler in the way he calmly stalks his opponents, breaking them down with deliberately placed punches and sapping their will to compete.

If Twitter talk is any indication, people seem to be riding high on Sunny Edwards’ ability to pull the upset on Friday. At 25, Edwards (15-0, 4 KO) is the much younger man, in a weight class where that’s often an important advantage. He’s much faster, and will likely get on his bike to try to outpoint Mthalane in the 20x20-foot ring. He’ll also have the advantage of fighting at home. Yet, Mthalane has made a career of fighting on the road, and I don’t think he’ll be discouraged by any of it.

If Mthalane didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. He never got to mix it up with the likes of Brian Viloria, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, or Juan Francisco Estrada. As mentioned earlier, his fight with Nonito Donaire ended before he had the chance to really get going (this was against a Donaire only one fight removed from his shock upset of Vic Darchinyan). Last year, he was set to make the first defense of this title run at home against Jayson Mama, only for the show to be canceled a few days before when Tono Promotions “failed to meet basic requirements” set out by Boxing South Africa.

But now at age 38, Mthalane is getting a good platform to showcase his skills, which will help with getting some fresh eyes on one of boxing’s best kept secrets. And if he wins, a showdown with Julio Cesar Martinez would be an absolutely unmissable event.

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