Golden Gloves SA: South African Tommy Oosthuizen defends title Saturday with eye on the big prize

Johannesburg, South Africa (June 1) – Aware of the red-hot action at the top of the light-heavyweight division, IBO champion Tommy Oosthuizen intends crashing the party before the year is out.

The unbeaten South African (24-0-2, 14 KOs) defends his title for the first time at Emperors Palace, east of Johannesburg, on Saturday against Robert Berridge (26-2-1, 21 KOs) of New Zealand.

He tops the “D-Day at the Palace” tournament, which includes world-rated Mateusz Masternak against Johnny Muller in an intriguing 10-rounder.

After Saturday, Oosthuizen intends chasing down WBC champion Adonis Stevenson for a September showdown. Promoter Rodney Berman has already entered negotiations with the lineal champion’s management.

Oosthuizen has beaten a slew of contenders, chiefly countryman Ryno Liebenberg, plus Ezequiel Maderna, Serge Yannick and Marcus Johnson, but is desperate to nail a “name” opponent.

In 2014, while still campaigning at super-middleweight, there were moves to match him with Andre Ward, a fight that would have placed Oosthuizen firmly in the spotlight.

The fast-handed southpaw admits that the failure to secure a major match-up has seen him lose focus and allow his discipline to wane. Berman has had him on the carpet a number of times for his late-night carousing and slack attitude to training, but ever since he was handed a final warning Oosthuizen has been on the straight and narrow.

“I’m definitely taking the sport more seriously. I was waiting for the big fights. They never came, so I got bored,” he says. “I neglected the game, never showed it enough respect. But that’s behind me. I practically live in the gym now.”

Oosthuizen turned in a career-best performance in dominating rugged Liebenberg in March. He was in the gym soon after, although he had to change tack three weeks ago when Roberto Bolonti, his original opponent, reneged on his contract with Golden Gloves. Berridge, a fellow southpaw, then stepped in.

Fortunately Oosthuizen had been helping cruiserweight Thabiso Mchunu, another left-hander, with sparring for his recent bout. Stablemates Flo Simba and Johnny Muller have also provided sparring.

Oosthuizen has studied a couple of Berridge’s fights on video. He sees a man who clearly comes to fight.

“He’s a top competitor, someone willing to give what it takes. He’s a tough, strong guy with a will to win. The trouble for him is that my head’s back in the right place. I’m comfortable at light-heavy, which is an exciting division with lots of competition.”

With just two draws in an otherwise flawless 26-fight career, Oosthuizen claims he has never been hurt as a pro fighter. “I was hurt emotionally by those two draws, because I know I’m better than that. But I’ve never been shook up . . . that’s the truth.”

He says no single opponent has stood out for his power, although he rates American contender Marcus Johnson, whom he beat on points in Oklahoma three years ago, as his toughest opponent. “He was a hot prospect and came hungry. But I handled him.”

Surveying the current landscape at light-heavyweight, he rates both Sergey Kovalev, the WBA, IBF and WBO champion, and Stevenson as outstanding adversaries.

“They deserve to be on top. They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t impress the world. I’d fight either of them. I’m ready now, I just need the chance. I want the big names.

”I know people said I looked good against Liebenberg, but that wasn’t my best. I was probably at my best when I stopped Evert Bravo in nine rounds in a title fight four years ago. As good as that was, though, my best is still to come.”

Oosthuizen’s new attitude, which suggests he may have finally left his tearaway days behind him, points to a dangerous fighter.

He needs to win well against Berridge this Saturday. Only then will the super fights he craves come into the reckoning.

Undercard action includes a WBA Pan-Africa lightweight title fight between former IBF champion Mzonke Fana and hot prospect Xolisani Ndongeni, plus Luyando Jako of South Africa against unbeaten Roman Zhailauov of Kazakhstan in an eight-round welterweight clash.

Heavyweights Ruann Visser and Steve Shumba clash over four.