A compelling night of action in Manchester saw the Brits reign victorious in the inaugural Africa vs UK boxing competition.
Team UK secured the Kwese Cup with a 3.5 to 1.5 winning margin in a pulsating encounter at Salford’s iconic Victoria Warehouse.
It brought elation and despair in equal measure for the combatants who fought in what is understood to be first ever international-level ‘team’ event in professional boxing.
A series of brutal exchanges whipped up a passionate response from the home crowd and travelling contingent culminating in a face-off between team captains Joe Murray and Nkululeko Felix Venganayi.
The 10-round lightweight contest ended in a resounding victory for ‘Genius Joe’ who looked sharp and focused throughout peppering the African challenger at will before forcing a stoppage in the eighth.
The Western Cape fighter struggled to handle the former GB Olympian’s speed and accuracy and was saved by the referee after being reared up in his own corner.
Wild celebrations ensued before Murray was presented with the Kwese Cup by South African based Kalakoda Promotions chief Saul Loggenberg in front of a well-pleased home crowd.
Murray will now be hoping his impressive display will help barter a deal to challenge British title-holder Lewis Ritson, in his fervent bid for the national belt, which he has fought for once before, unsuccessfully, against Liam Walsh.
However, it was perhaps the penultimate fight which stole the show featuring West Midlands ace Craig Cunningham and the Namibian ‘Demolisher’ Lukas Ndafoluma.
Having caused a massive upset in 2016 snatching the WBC international silver middleweight belt from former GB Olympic star Anthony Ogogo, it was Cunningham who was to taste bitter defeat in Manchester.
The gruelling middleweight battle which lasted the 10-round distance had the crowd standing as Ndafoluma used his reach and height advantage to devastating effect. The champion Cunningham rallied but his momentum was frequently halted by the stiff punching African as the two traded vicious blows to the end.
Ndafoluma fell to his knees after the referee announced the narrow points victory and left to a deafening rendition of the Namibian national anthem, sealing the first and only victory of the night for the sub-continent. The contest which originally was for Cuningham’s WBC International Belt was no longer on the line due to the organisation’s refusal to sanction the Namibian as well as visa challenges which did not allow for the 72 hour check weight procedure to be conducted. The two battled for a ceremonial international Challenge Belt, but plans are being finalised this week for a rematch on February 23 for Cuningham’s WBC International strap in either South Africa or Namibia as part of the home leg of the UK vs Africa series. This victory sees Ndafoluma jump some 35 places in the global rankings and now in a great position to elevate his fight career.
Another riveting contest saw Team UK’s unbeaten charge Ben Sheedy teeing-off with seasoned South African Barend Van Royen. The 39-year-old Team Africa veteran used all his guile and experience to unsettle the Sale fighter in the middleweight contest.
Sheedy finished the stronger, but judges had them level after 8 rounds, paying testament to Van Royen’s durability, absorbing the younger man’s power and throwing back with purpose. The dramatic result paves the way for a rematch to settle scores later in 2018.
Earlier in the night, a rangy 6ft 1in Bilal Rehman showed flashes of star quality in his white and gold shorts with a fluid display against a sniping Brandon Naude. The KwaZulu-Natal native did everything to close the sizable reach disadvantage but ‘Billy the Kid’ proved strong on the offense and defence, ultimately doing enough to convince the judges.
The highly entertaining 8-round super lightweight contest brought sparkle to the card early doors with both fighters showing ample ring craft honed from their long and impressive amateur stints. UK boxing offiiciandos have Rehman marked down as a British Title prospect and this latest display will leave his ambitious plans undimmed.
A 10-round roller-coaster coming mid-way through the card had Scottish fans raising the roof as Jordon McCrory took on Namibian livewire Abraham Ndauendapo. The Scottish fighter rode a wave of noisy support from traveling fans in the early rounds, outmuscling his opponent with superior skills.
The 34-year-old African took a dent to the scorecard after a standing count when his gloves hit the canvas, but lived up to his ‘Energy’ moniker growing stronger in the later rounds. A narrow two-point victory for McCrory brought a mixture of relief and raucous celebrations to the warehouse.
Africa vs UK was broadcast live on Africa’s Kwese to around 100 million viewers on the continent. The event was organised in partnership between VIP Boxing and Trident Sports from Manchester and South Africa’s Kalakoda Boxing and Kwese Sports.
Kalakoda is contracted to stage 14 shows a year with Kwese. A return leg of Africa vs UK is expected to take place in Namibia, in July 2018.
Loggenberg said the event had proved a great success and plans were now underway for a return leg in both Namibia and South Africa in summer 2018.
“Africa V UK has proved a terrific success with solid ticket sales in the UK and millions tuning in through on Kwese in Africa,” he said. “It’s the first time an international team element has been brought to professional boxing and it really caught fire. The boxers bonded in a different way, we saw different sides to their personalities and it naturally created a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. In what is usually a solitary sport and often a lonely and isolated affair for the travelling fighters, there was a greater sense of support and unity. It worked exceptionally well, the fights were all competitive and it gave greater meaning to the contests on the undercard.
“One of the highlights was seeing all the fighters in the ring at the start of the night. They stood side by side, holding flags and singing their national anthems. It was the culmination of many months hard work and the dream of a lifetime for the African boxers. It really brought the whole concept to life.
“The event formed part of our monthly ‘Friday Fight Night’ programme which is aired on Kwese on the last Friday of every month. We have taken the show across Africa touring Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Ghana. This was our first venture to Europe and we are now looking to go truly global - rolling out the travelling team concept to USA, South America, Russia and Asia.
“Our mission at Kalakoda is to unleash the massive potential of African boxing. We travel across the continent extensively and see tremendous talent on a daily basis. However, the challenge involves putting the right mechanisms in place to allow for greater investment and talent development. We are making strong and consistent progress at a governmental level and through our partnership with Kwese we have a platform to promote the sport to millions of fans.”
Darren Lamb from Trident Sports said: “The Manchester show was such a success we are already cracking on with plans for a return leg next year. A few of the boxers on the bill will feel there is unfinished business but on a broader level the whole team concept translated exceptionally well.
“There was a great buzz in Manchester on the night and the Africa v UK idea is grabbing the headlines. The concept is only going to grow in popularity and we need to keep building momentum and spreading the word. It offers brilliant value for fight fans who are guaranteed well matched and competitive fights right through the card. Every fight on the Africa v UK bill brought drama and entertainment with team points riding on it. It seemed to even give the fighters an edge as they went to war for their team mates. We will be releasing details on the Africa v UK rematch soon and urge fight fans to keep their eyes peeled.”