Cassius Baloyi - Brakpan 1 September - by Pete Moscardi

The long, hard and often glorious path to fame and fortune has finally run into a cul de sac for 35-year-old veteran, Cassius “The Hit Man” Baloyi. The former IBF super-featherweight champion had this realisation brutally pounded into him when he was unanimously outpointed by Mzonke Fana over 12 punishing rounds on this Branco Sports Productions promotion in the Big Top Arena at Carnival City Casino. Courage is a noble attribute. But sometimes it works to the detriment of its possessor when levels of bravery are extended well beyond the call of duty. Such was the case with Baloyi. Although Fana (36) was the older of the two, he looked positively youthful in comparison with Cassius whose performance showed that his ‘sell-by-date’ has expired.

Fana dominated the fight throughout the entire second half in winning the vacant IBF super-featherweight title and, on my scorecard, never lost a round. Baloyi made the fight competitive during the first six rounds while his spindly legs were still reasonably fresh. But thereafter it was totally one-way traffic and it became
an unedifying spectacle to see the once superb Baloyi being battered around the ring without reply. The experienced South African referee, Deon Duarte – who has officiated in world title fights around the world – made an inexcusable error of judgement in permitting the slaughter to drag on for 12 rounds. It would have been a merciful act had he stepped in and stopped the fight at the end of the ninth.

Fana started the fight like an express train, pursuing the much taller Baloyi
around the ring and unleashing a steady flow of combinations to head and body.
Fana’s tactics and strategy were made clear from the start. He slid under Baloyi’s long arms and attached himself to Cassius’s chest like a magnet. Right from the first round Baloyi was made to fight off the back foot and backed up against the ropes. Baloyi looked bemused under this sustained pressure, but kept cool and came back to score with some solid counters. Although Fana was caught flush by some eye-catching punches he never blinked. By the third round Fana was landing at a ratio of 3:1 – but Baloyi’s power still posed a threat and there was still lots of fight left in this grizzled warrior.

Baloyi had arguably his best round of the fight in the fourth when he rocked Fana’s head back with a huge right cross to the jaw, following this up seconds later with a solid left hook. But again Fana took these punches without wavering. Baloyi’s response to Fana’s all-out attack gradually diminished as the rounds ticked by, while Fana seemed to increase the intensity of his non-stop assault.

Baloyi’s face was battered and the pain of the punishment he had taken was
clearly visible when he trudged wearily back to his corner at the end of the ninth
round. Either his corner – or referee Duarte – should have done the right and
merciful thing at this stage and called the fight off. But Baloyi was forced to suffer
another three rounds of battering, and what was happening in this Carnival City
ring was no longer a competitive contest. Even though Cassius was a spent force,
Fana never let up on the pressure he was asserting. The combinations continued to
crash through Baloyi’s now almost nonexistent defence and Fana was also ontarget
with a spearing and accurate left jab.

The final bell came as a huge relief to the fans in the Big Top Arena, and not
least of all to Baloyi. Judges Neville Hotz, Alf Buqwana and Isaac Tshabalala scored
the fight 119-109; 118-110 and 119-110 respectively. Even at age 36 Fana, on this
performance, has life left in him. Baloyi’s record dropped to 39-5-1, while Fana’s
statistics improved to 27-4.

In the co-main event Moruti Mthalane had an easier time than anticipated in
defending his IBF flyweight title when he caught up with his lanky south-paw challenger, Zolani Tete, to earn a stoppage victory at 2:27 into the fifth round. The unbeaten challenger entered the ring with a 13-0 (11) record, with nine of
these wins coming in the first round. But he was vastly inexperienced when compared with Moruti, who had 23 wins against two losses going in. It took
Mthalane a few rounds to sort out Tete’s reach advantage and nimble footwork
around the ring. The champion was having some difficulty in getting inside and
also in catching his elusive opponent. After a quiet opening round, Tete managed
to land enough punches in the second round to bloody the champion’s nose and to shade the round.

Mthalane was looking frustrated in the third as he was still having trouble in
finding the range. However, a solid combination staggered Tete at the bell. The
champion found the solution in the fourth round when he cut off the ring and backed Tete on to the ropes or into a corner where he unleashed a barrage of punches. The challenger was obviously taken out of his stride by these tactics and it suddenly looked as though Mthalane was on way to an early stoppage win. This came in the following round when the challenger was dropped in a neutral corner from a combination to the head and was forced to take an 8 count. Moments later he was dropped again for another 8 count and was being pounded in a corner when Luxembourg referee, Toni Tiberi, stepped in and waved it off. The challenger did not sustain a bad beating and can re-assert himself, while Mthalane will look to achieve higher honours.