mashaba on track to riches

Bongani Magasela

Thomas Mashaba's fortunes are likely to be dramatically transformed next month.

The train driver at Driefontein mine in North West will headline a major boxing tournament on ESPN - one of the US's three leading television networks - when he defends the IBO featherweight belt against the experienced Cristobal Cruz.

The Mexican challenger, a former WBC Latino and WBA Fedecentro champion, boasts 23 knockouts from 35 wins, against 11 losses and a draw.

The fight will be presented by promoters Rodney Berman of Golden Gloves and Art Pelullo of Banner Promotions at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut on March 7.

These associates staged Mashaba's previous title defence at Emperors Palace last November when Mashaba poleaxed feared American Eric Aiken, a former two-time world champion, in nine rounds.

That knockout is favoured for Boxing SA's newly introduced Knockout of the Year award at the ceremony at Sand du Plessis hall in Bloemfontein tomorrow night.

"I know that Mashaba will defeat Cruz but he must be impressive in order to make things easy for us to get him a date on HBO which is America's biggest pay-per-view channel television network," said Berman.

Mashaba, who has left tongues wagging with his heroism against top fighters in the world, will bid for a fifth defence.

His sole defeat was a controversial loss to Sod Looknongyangtoy for the WBO belt in Thailand in 2003. He has 20 wins, 12 by knockout, one defeat and four draws.

His trainer Eugene Khanyile said Mashaba has never enjoyed the luxury of fighting soft opponents.

"Maybe his destiny will be determined by sweating tears and blood," he said of the tough fighter from Khutsong who ended the illustrious career of Vuyani "The Beast" Bungu when he relieved him of the IBO featherweight belt on June 25 2005.