With a boxing career spanning 55 years, encompassing amateur and pro fighting, managing, promoting, matchmaking and administering, Jeff Ellis has more than earned his dues. He’s a boxing savant who has already forgotten what most of us are yet to learn about the sweet science. He’s seen a few fights through the years. June’s big one – Thabiso Mchunu versus Johnny Muller – has him fired up.
Were you surprised the fight was made?
‘Yes and no. I’ll tell you why. At one point Mchunu was looking world title bound. Then he lost to Junior Makabu, which shocked me. It set him back, as did his recent loss to Oleksandr Usyk. So I’m not surprised the Muller fight is happening.
‘[Trainer] Harold Volbrecht is a shrewd operator. When you’ve got a tiger – and that’s all you can call Johnny – all he does is come to fight. It could be a helluva fight. And don’t forget, this kid beat Kevin Lerena, who’s running hot.’
What does Johnny need to bring to the table?
‘The big thing is fitness. Brian Mitchell was a real model of that philosophy. Brian did everything right because he was so fit. If Johnny’s fitter than he’s ever been, he has an excellent chance. If not, forget it.’
What does Thabiso need to bring to the table?
‘He has the ability to beat anyone. The problem is he slows down dramatically. The fitter guy will win, not necessarily the guy who comes to fight.’
We know that Johnny can be stopped. Does Thabiso have the tools to do so?
‘Yes. At one point Thabiso was one of the biggest talents around. The problem was he was too muscle-bound; it slowed him. He’s got to work hard and be very fit.’
Does Johnny have the tools to beat Thabiso or stop him?
‘In that division they’re bothy good enough to stop one another. I keep going back to fitness. Johnny can’t go in like usual – Thabiso will catch him. Johnny must work from behind the jab.’
Style-wise, how does this pan out?
‘Johnny can be over-excitable. He doesn’t know when to stop; it’s make or break. He needs to calm down and look for openings. If he runs in, he’ll get hurt. Thabiso has a lot of power. He’s extremely dangerous if you’re coming at him. He always fights off the back foot and Johnny will be coming for him.’
Is size a factor?
‘The one guy is tall and lean, the other is short and muscular. We look at Thabiso as half-size. He’s a short, small guy and fights out of a crouch. He’s awkward and his defence is pretty good. If Johnny’s wild, that will suit him. The way Johnny should fight is use good body shots consistently, take the right hand to the body.’
How will Johnny cope with Thabiso’s southpaw stance?
‘He’s boxed one of the best in Lerena and no-one knows more about left-handers than Harold. There isn’t a better teacher for Johnny. He’s got to be sensible and then he’ll have a chance – provided he’s super-fit.’
The winner will still be in the mix. Where will the loser go?
‘It’s a difficult one. Once you’re off the international scene, options are limited. They’ll always be South African level, but that’s not where they will want to end it. Both fighters are young and still have fight in them. The loser won’t be finished, but he’ll never be near the top 20 again.’