cruzing to victory

Bongani Magasela

FOXWOODS, Mashantucket, Connecticut - Cristobal Cruz spoiled the party when he ended the two-year reign of Thomas "Merciless" Mashaba as the IBO featherweight holder on Saturday morning.

Mashaba was beaten in a fast-paced, exciting and very close fight. There were good exchanges throughout and about 20 00 fans inside the Fox Theatre at the Foxwood Resort and Casino were on the edge of their seats.

The fight turned out to be a give and take battle which was what Mashaba expected, especially after watching some of Cruz's taped fights. Neither gladiator kissed the canvas. One judge scored it a draw at 114 while the other two scored it 115-113 for the rough Indian who improved to 36 wins (23 KOs) against 11 losses and a draw.

This became Mashaba's second unsuccessful trip. He was outpointed by Sod Lookongyangtoy in Thailand in 2003. Mashaba's loss to Cruz is his second against 20 wins (12 KOs) and four draws.

The bruised 27-year-old former SA and IBO junior featherweight undefeated champion, who was ushered to war by trainer Eugene Khanyile, was bidding for the sixth defence of the title he won from Vuyani Bungu, the former IBF junior featherweight king, in 2005.

Promoters Art Pelullo and Rodney Berman revealed before Saturday's fight that Mashaba needed an impressive win and the sky would be the limit.

Pelullo added that such a show for Mashaba would see him become a permanent international campaigner. Mashaba was coming of his career-best win in November last year - a spectacular knockout against former IBF featherweight world champion Eric Aiken.

Mashaba started well, scoring with cleaner blows. By the sixth round he seemed to have managed to slow down Cruz's speed and develop a points lead until the eighth round.

But Cruz, who is nicknamed "Lancadon", a native of Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state on the Guatemalan border, came back very strongly to win the remaining three rounds.

In fact Mashaba almost hit the deck in the last round but his durability kept him on his toes.