WBC hands Mbenge a title shot

Thulani Mbenge will fight for his first major title on March 3 after the WBC confirmed its International belt would be on the line. Pic: N-SQUARED

In a sensational turn of events, next month’s fight at Emperors Palace between Thulani Mbenge and Diego Cruz of Mexico has been elevated to full WBC International status.

Back and forth communication over the weekend between promoter Rodney Berman and key individuals, not least senior WBC members, resulted in the WBC giving the bout championship status.

The UK’s Bradley Skeete was expected to contest the vacant belt this weekend, but the tournament was cancelled, handing Mbenge his big chance.

The key proviso is that Skeete (32-1), the British champion, will be the mandatory challenger against whom the champion must make his first defence.

Bradley Skeete.

It is potentially a big step for Mbenge (12-0) as the WBC International championship is an important stepping stone to the outright championship. Indeed, 80 percent of the fighters who have been WBC International champions have subsequently progressed to win a World Boxing Council title outright.

“This really catapults next month’s fight into another realm,” said Berman. “DeeJay Kriel recently won the WBC International title and he’s now in the top 15. I’ve always believed Mbenge was special and I expect this development will bring out the very best in him.”

Cruz recently drew for the WBC’s Fecarbox title and will be just as determined to make a name for himself when he gets to town.

Promoter Jeff Ellis, who has been studying the form, says that Mbenge will be making a big mistake if he looks past Cruz. “The kid has been a pro since he was 18 with no easy fights. He can bang, too. This is his big chance.”

Meanwhile, IBO cruiserweight challenger Dmytro Kucher of Ukraine arrives in SA this week well ahead of time to finish off preparations for his tilt at Kevin Lerena’s title.