Nontshinga Gains Revenge Over Curiel Via Stunning Come-From-Behind 10th-Round KO

Three months after losing his IBF light flyweight title to Adrien Curiel via second round stoppage in a contender for both knockout and upset of the year, Sivenathi Nontshinga turned the tables in dramatic fashion in Oaxaca, Mexico on Friday night, stopping Curiel in the 10th round of a fast-paced slugfest to regain his crown.

For much of the night, the rematch seemed more likely to end in repeat than revenge, as Nontshinga struggled to repel Curiel’s suffocating attack. Curiel (24-5-1, 5 KOs) charged at the South African from the opening bell, and the two men spent much of the next nine rounds fighting in a phone booth with their foreheads pressed together – too closely together at times for referee Mark Calo-oy, who deducted a point from Nontshinga in the seventh.

After an opening pair of rounds in which Nontshinga (13-1, 10 KOs) met Curiel’s offense by pivoting and looking for angles of attack, the South African appeared to yield to his opponent’s relentless assault, as he retreated to the ropes and sought to land between the Mexican’s punches. Curiel, however, gave him no room to do so, smothering him and thwarting his efforts to slide along the ropes with good footwork - and by periodically holding onto the ropes outside of Calo-oy’s vision.

Time and again Nontshinga retreated to the ropes when it seemed clear that his better option was to try to box from mid-range, even as his nose was bloodied after three rounds, and even as Curiel ripped punches repeatedly to his body and head. By the seventh, each round had settled into a pattern: Nontshinga with his back to the ropes looking for angles and openings for counters, Curiel not giving him an inch of space, both men letting their hands go and Curiel in particular throwing a continuous fusillade without taking time to think or aim. It was frenetic, it was a testament to both men’s courage and cardiovascular systems, but it was beginning to settle into that rare but not unprecedented boxing category of high-paced monotony.

In the eighth, however, there was the first hint that change was coming. Nontshinga used his jab to create a little bit more space between himself and a tiring Curiel, and took advantage to land a strong right hand. Curiel fired back, but Nontshinga turned him around so that now it was the Mexican with his back to the corner and Nontshinga letting loose as the bell rang.

The beginning of the ninth round suggested that Nontshinga was allowing his new advantage to evaporate as he backed to the ropes once more. But then he unleashed a right hand, followed by two emphatic left hooks, and they had Curiel reeling and saved by the bell.

Curiel came out for the 10th round looking unsteady on his feet, and Nontshinga launched two more big right hands off the ropes that had the champion once more in trouble. As Curiel sagged against the ropes, Nontshinga unloaded with another volley of punches, and although Curiel slipped many of them, enough landed that Curiel slumped against the ropes some more and Calo-oy, judging that the ropes were holding him up, administered a count. Nontshinga immediately went back on the attack, and with Curiel not responding, Calo-oy stepped in to stop the contest at :44 of the round.

Nontshinga, who admitted to “crying so much” after his knockout loss in November, said afterward that, “He [Curiel] is a good boxer, but I have fought much better boxers than him. So, I knew it was just a mistake [that allowed him to be knocked out last time].”

His trainer Colin Nathan, hoarse from screaming instructions at his charge, claimed that Nontshinga’s seemingly counterproductive insistence of backing to the ropes was all part of the plan.

“He wasn’t expecting us to stay in the pocket, and when he tired we went long,” he said. “And he couldn’t fight from the outside.”

With victory secured and revenge gained, Nontshinga said he now has his sights on becoming the first ever undisputed champion from South Africa.