malingas on title mission

Bongani Magasela

Team Malinga, which comprises fighter Vus'Umuzi Malinga, his trainer and father Jabulani Malinga and Thulani Buthelezi, jet off to Japan today where Vus'Umuzi will challenge for the WBC bantamweight belt on March 12.

Hozumi Hasegawa from Japan is the WBC champion. He will be bidding for a seventh defence.

Promoter Branco Milenkovic, who guides the career of Vus' Umuzi, will leave on Monday.

"It's gonna be a tough fight. Both fighters pack a mean punch and the first to land will win. I hope and pray that it must be Vusi," said Milenkovic who guided Malinga from nowhere to both the SA and WBC International titles.

Malinga will be the second local fighter to challenge Hasegawa after Simphiwe Vetyeka was unsuccessful in 2007.

The left-handed Hasegawa, 28, won the WBC belt from Veeraphol Sahaprom of Thailand in 2005.

Sahaprom failed to regain it in 2006. He also failed to win the rights for a third challenge. Sahaprom was instead blown away in four rounds by Malinga in June last year.

Malinga, 29, who is nicknamed "Marvelous", achieved that feat in Sahaprom's backyard.

Milenkovic and I were at the ringside when the left-handed fighter from Katlehong brutalised Sahaprom so badly that the latter retired after that fight.

Boxing SA, rightly so, presented Malinga with a special achievement award two weeks ago for the win.

His fight with Hasegawa, who will enjoy home advantage at World Memorial Hall in Kobe, Japan, can aptly be described as a battle of left-handers.

Jabulani, the most underrated mentor here, said they had been preparing for his youngest son's fight nonstop, even over Christmas.

"I can assure you that our sacrifices will pay dividends. We will bring back home the WBC belt," he promised.

South Africa has only one legitimate champion in Cassius Baloyi who holds the IBF junior lightweight belt, having won it in April last year from countryman Mzonke Fana.

Baloyi from Limpopo, whose skills are honed in Gauteng by Nick Durandt, was bestowed with the boxer of 2008 award.

Jabulani described Hasegawa as a clever boxer with a dangerous left hook.

"But we have a plan. Vusi is already within the weight limit of 53,52kg so we will do light work there," said Jabulani, a former professional fighter whose skills were honed by Norman Hlabane until Jabulani retired in 1985.