IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston weighs up Saturday night’s rematch between WBC cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu and skillful challenger Thabiso Mchunu.
It will be power and pressure against savvy boxing and counter- punching skills when heavy-handed Ilunga Makabu defends his cruiser title against crafty Thabiso Mchunu on Saturday in a rematch of an all-southpaw fight that took place six-and-a-half years ago in South Africa.
Last time, Makabu, who was behind in the scoring, knocked out a tiring Mchunu in the 11th round. This time the fight takes place on neutral ground in Warren, Ohio, with Don King promoting his first significant fight in years. Makabu is King’s fighter and a lot is at stake, not just a title but a potential big- money bout against Canelo Alvarez for the winner.
Looking back at my notes, I’m reminded that Mchunu had Makabu looking out on his feet in the third round of the all-southpaw contest. But Makabu came back with relentless pressure and by the seventh round Mchunu was starting to break down mentally and physically.
Makabu lost by KO against Tony Bellew in his next fight but has since reeled off eight wins in a row. Mchunu had a shaky spell in his career after losing to Makabu but has found a rich vein of form, avenging a loss to South African rival Thomas Oosthuizen and pulling off upsets against Denis Lebedev and Evgeny Tischenko in Russia.
If you feel Makabu can repeat his previous win, Betfred offers him at 8/11 (-138), with Mchunu priced at 6/5 (+120).
At 33, Mchunu is arguably boxing better than at any time in his career. Makabu, 34, is on a winning run, true, but he had tough fights with Aleksei Papin in Russia and Michal Cieslak at home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Papin came back from a knockdown in the last round to have Makabu wobbly and ready to be stopped. I think Makabu was likely saved by the bell. And in his last fight, a seventh-round TKO over a 40-year-old Olanrewaju Durodola, Makabu didn’t have it all his own way.
It’s possible to detect vulnerability in Makabu. But he’s the puncher in Saturday’s fight. He’s a good fighter, exciting to watch, and he can really bang — and he’s going to be dangerous for as long as the fight lasts. But Makabu can be loose defensively. He’s a bit suspect in the chin department.
Mchunu isn’t a banger but he’s a crafty fighter with excellent reflexes, adept at making an opponent miss and then countering. He’s more of a seasoned professional than when he faced Makabu the first time.
Looking back at the first fight, I think Mchunu found Makabu easy to hit and he went for the stoppage. It seemed to me that Mchunu became a little demoralised. There was probably mental fatigue as much as physical fatigue involved.
However, there was no hint of Mchunu running out of gas in his wins over Oosthuizen, Lebedev and Tischenko. There is a greater maturity and steadiness about Mchunu’s boxing these days, whereas Makabu has been looking a little vulnerable.
If Mchunu boxes a disciplined, smart fight, I believe he can get revenge. Mchunu to win by decision is offered at 11/4 (+275). This could be value, because Mchunu isn’t considered a seriously hard hitter and if he wins it will most likely be via the decision route. Makabu by KO again? That’s available at 7/4 (+175). Considering Makabu knocked out Mchunu last time they met, the KO TKO DQ proposition certainly has merit.
For those who like to take a stab at specific-round bets, Betfred has priced Makabu to win in round 10 at 25/1, round 11 at 33/1 and round 12 at 40/1. A sprinkle on Makabu to win in Round 10, 11 and 12 would yield a nice return if you feel that history could repeating itself with Makabu ending matters at some time in the last three rounds. And a wearing-down type of win by Makabu is certainly a possibility.
If you think the fight will again end inside the distance but aren’t sure which fighter will win, the industry-wide price on “Distance — Yes/No” is pick’em, -120 (5/6) each side, take your pick. So there are lots of interesting bets out there.
I make this an even fight and if I had to make a pick I’d edge towards Mchunu. The original price on Mchunu was an enticing 8/5 (+160) but most of the money from bettors as been going on the challenger so the odds aren’t as attractive now. If you like Makabu, though, you’re getting him at a very reasonable number. It’s really anyone’s fight, and with the range of prices available there’s something for everyone, from the serious bettor to those just looking for a fun bet.
Main image: Makabu (left) and Mchunu shape up ahead of tonight’s clash. Photo: David Martin-Carr/Don King Productions.