Nontshinga and the art of the revenge knockout

When Sivetheni Nontshinga stopped Adrien Curiel in the tenth round in Oaxaca on Friday night, he did more than reclaim the 108 lb. belt that Curiel had ripped from him in November. He also placed his name, as commentator Corey Erdman noted, in select company as one of relatively few boxers to stop opponents who previously knocked them out.  

Knockout victims gaining revenge is, of course, hardly without precedent: Willie Pep outpointed Sandy Saddler in their second fight after suffering a fourth-round knockout in the first, Terry Norris did the same to Simon Brown, Anthony Joshua regained his heavyweight belt from Andy Ruiz, and just last year Leigh Wood outboxed Mauricio Lara after being poleaxed by the Mexican in the seventh round. Thomas Hearns arguably should have gone down as securing a rematch win over Sugar Ray Leonard, too. But it is one thing to box your way to victory over the man who previously relieved you of your senses; standing in the trenches and swapping punches with him with enough ferocity to fully return the favor is another matter. That’s what Rocky Graziano did to Tony Zale – and Zale in turn did to Graziano, and what Floyd Patterson did – twice – to Ingemar Johansson. Wladimir Klitschko bludgeoned Lamon Brewster after imploding against him in their previous encounter. Miguel Cotto famously exorcised his demons against Antonio Margarito – although his revenge was aided by the fact that in the time between their first and second meetings Manny Pacquiao had turned Margarito’s orbital bone into oatmeal. And, of course, having been battered by Max Schmeling to lose his unbeaten record in 1936, Joe Louis erased him inside of a round two years later. 

But Nontshinga is in more rarefied company still, because he knocked out his conqueror in his very next fight. That’s what Patterson did to Johansson, what Israel Vazquez did to Rafael Marquez, Lennox Lewis to Hasim Rahman, and Jose Luis Castillo to Diego Corrales, but not very many others. We remember such wins because they are so memorable, because they epitomize what we appreciate most in boxers: a brave willingness to lay it all on the line, confront their demons, right their perceived wrongs, and leave nothing to chance to prove who is the better fighter. 

What makes Nontshinga’s achievement all the more remarkable is that, through seven rounds, he appeared to be absolutely blowing it. Time and again, round after round, he retreated to the ropes, inviting Curiel onto him. At first, there seemed method to his madness, as he sought to pivot to one side as Curiel drove toward him in straight lines. But when, through a mixture of footwork and rope-holding, Curiel kept the South African where he wanted him, Nontshinga did not adapt. Each round began to resemble the preceding one, as Nontshinga gave the impression of being so focused on avoiding another right hand knockout that he was leaving himself open to just about every other punch in Curiel’s arsenal. 

Then, in the eighth, Nontshinga created some extra space and began to step forward toward Curiel; in the ninth, he rocked the Mexican badly with a fierce combination off the ropes; and in the tenth, another combo off the ropes led to the barrage that prompted referee Mark Calo-oy to bring a halt to proceedings. 

And, as Nontshinga trainer Colin Nathan told this website, that was the plan all along: “The strategy going in was to take the Mexican in the pocket,” Nathan told Tris Dixon. “Even though we were losing those early rounds – and I felt we were behind – but we were getting closer and closer. The Mexican was getting visibly slowed down to the body. His volume was higher than ours, he was throwing more punches than us and winning the rounds, but we were effective in losing those rounds, if that makes sense. He [Curiel] was winning at a cost.  

“And as soon as I saw Curiel wince to the bodyshot in the seventh round, I said now’s the time to switch to the second tactic of what we wanted to do, let’s establish our range and I knew then it was game over.” 

It was a dangerous strategy; and, in the hands of a lesser fighter-trainer combination, a potentially foolhardy one. But Nathan clearly had every faith in his boxer and a full belief in his superiority; and Nontshinga put all the chips on the table and bet solidly on himself. We can’t ask much more from our prizefighters than that. 




If it was a triumphant weekend for Nontshinga, two other once-promising careers seem to be at best at a crossroads. Six or seven years ago, I remember interviewing JoJo Diaz during a Las Vegas fight week, when he was 24 years old, unbeaten, and seemingly with the world at his feet. I commented that the only criticism that had been directed his way to that point was that he seemed just too damn nice, and he flashed that bright smile of his. Roll forward to 2024, and it’s a very different situation. Diaz has lost four of five and won just two of his last seven – which happens, of course. Boxers get older, they pass their peak, they begin a downward slope. But alongside his decline in the ring there has been a notable change in Diaz’s demeanor and personality. He has had to deal with a number of legal troubles, some of them very serious indeed, and the cheerful personality appears to have long since evaporated. He responded to his Thursday loss to Jesus Perez by muttering darkly about conspiracies on the part of Golden Boy, his promotional company. Boxing careers often end messily, but there is a worry that Diaz’s seems to be heading on an off-ramp to a dark place.  

Meanwhile, in Tajikstan, Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov suffered his second successive loss, stopped in the eleventh round by the relentless Eduardo Nunez. This time last year, Rakhimov was an unbeaten world titlist; his contest with Nunez attracted so little attention that, at time of writing, is still isn’t listed on Rakhimov’s BoxRec page. It is wrong to write off any boxer after two losses, even two in a row, but not all defeats are the same. His split decision loss to Joe Cordina last April was a brutal affair that had the Tajik fighter in desperate straits by the end; and, despite looking good early on, he was ultimately overwhelmed by the underdog Nunez. Fortunes change on a dime in this sport and having recently been at the top of the mountain, Rakhimov suddenly finds himself at the foot of the hill once more, with his path back to the summit highly uncertain.