By Peter Leopeng
So everyone is wondering whatever happened to Moruti Mthalane to have lost his IBF flyweight belt to unheralded relative novice Sunny Edwards. I’ve read and listened to all sorts of explanations, but listen to me when I say “Baby Face,” as Mthalane is affectionately known, need not have surrendered his world in that fashion.
Strategy or game plan is everything in any sporting event, more so especially in boxing. The great Sugar Ray Leonard often said you never go into a fight if you do not have a plan B, and sometimes even plan C. Strategy is everything in this sport we call the sweet science.
Now here is where Colin Nathan, the manager and trainer of Mthalane and a good friend of mine whom I love dearly got it all wrong. He let Sunny Edwards, his camp and all the boxing fraternity know what his plan for the fight was going to be – they were going to chase Edwards until they catch up with him and finish him off. Trouble is, unless you are a runner yourself, you are not going to get catch a sprinter, which we all knew Edwards to be. With a paltry 15-0 record, Sunny was not only a relative novice compared to Mthalane, he also possessed pillow fists as Deontay Wilder once said about Tyson Fury before their second fight. Edwards had only 4 stoppages to his name going into the IBF world title fight. Anyone and his dog, in this case anyone and his boxer knew that Sunny Edwards must be a runner or he prefers very much to be on his bicycle. Surely he cannot be a puncher with only 26% of his wins coming by way of knockout!
Knowing this obvious fact, what do you do to mess up Edwards’ plans and get him out of his comfort zone? Simple – you don’t go after him. He is the challenger and has to come to you, in this case Moruti, to come get the belt and convince the judges that he beat the champion. Mthalane should have stood in the middle of the ring and beckoned to the Englishman to come get him. If the Englishman wasn’t going to bite, so be it the fight would have ended in a draw as no one would have been willing to initiate the action. And guess what? The referee Howard Foster wouldn’t have allowed that to happen.
Did Moruti and his camp do that? No, Moruti fought like he was the challenger and showed signs of desperation from as early as the first round. Why was Baby Face willing to chase the Usain Bolt of boxing? The idea was that Edwards would tire and become a sitting duck for the champion’s power punches later in the fight. When I spoke to Colin Nathan on our boxing show Ringside (on Vision View Sports Radio) just a few hours before the fight, Nathan said they expected Sunny to run but at some stage, he would have to stop and fight. Except somebody forgot to tell Edwards that. The challenger ran the whole night, to finish the fight after 12 rounds on his feet.
It is easier to catch your opponent coming in, rather than when you are chasing him. Mthalane was made to look bad with all those wild and missing swings. By the 7th round, Moruti and his corner knew they were hopelessly behind on points, and desperation showed as they went for a stoppage. That’s when Mthalane became careless and got caught. The more he became desperate, the more he committed errors. One judge Bob Williams even scored it 120-108, a shutout for Edwards. But hey in the end it didn’t matter whether there was a 12-point margin or two points difference (115-113) as on John Lewis’ scorecard, Moruti sadly became a former world champion.
Did his 38-year age show as suggested by other scribes? I don’t think so. Mthalane is as fresh a workaholic who puts stablemates much younger than him to shame.
Now just in case you think I could be smoking my socks when I said Colin Nathan should have adopted a different plan in this fight, consider this:
– In 2003 when Nick Durant was preparing his boxer Phillip Ndou to go face Floyd Mayweather for the WBC lightweight title, their strategy was how to cut corners as Floyd was known for his defensive skills. When I interviewed Nick live on radio, the ace trainer said they knew Floyd was going to run, but somewhere between the first and the twelfth round, Phillip was going to land his vaulted right hand and Mayweather would not know what hit him. Going into that fight, Phillip had a frightening record of 31-1, with 30 KO’s, a puncher of note if there was ever one. Surely Floyd was going to be on his bicycle the whole night long to save his skin? Except the American superstar had other ideas, and one of them was to do the unexpected. From round one, Floyd stood in the middle of the ring and traded with a puncher. Ndou was caught completely by surprise as he looked at his corner as if to say, hey this is not in the script. No one told me that this guy was not only not going to run, but he was going to punch back. And his punches are stinging.
Well, the fight didn’t even have to go 12 rounds as Phillip was stopped in the 7th round. Brilliant move there from the Americans.
Another famous example was the legendary Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 when Muhammed Ali achieved what many thought was mission impossible, stopping world champion Big George Foreman in the 8th round of their heavyweight contest. Going into that fight Ali made everyone, including Foreman believe that he was going to dance all night long. He even composed a rhyme with his assistant trainer Drew Bundini Brown, “Are we going dance? – and the answer “All night long.” The result was that Foreman and his camp devised a strategy to take away Ali’s aging legs. But did Ali dance in that fight? He did not. Instead, he lay on the ropes in what he famously called Rope-a-Dope and the rest is history.
So I ask again, why did Moruti Mthalane and his camp do what Sunny Edwards expected the defending champion to do?
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.