The odds against IBF/WBA 140-pound titlist Julius Indongo defeating one of the best pound-for-pound boxers (the consensus has WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford in the Top 3) are not as long as a boxer from Namibia rising to world champion status in the first place. So, do not fear Indongo showing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his tail tucked between his legs and defeatist thoughts before the opening bell sounds for the ESPN main event (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, if there is no other sport’s Hall of Fame ceremony going on). The little-known boxer, who plays the B-side rather well, scoring notable upsets in foreign lands, with a peculiar sounding surname, deserves some respect put on the end of that name. Sure, the odds are anywhere from 15-to-1 to 10-to-1, which some have said is too low but Indongo is an awkward boxer, who fought his way out of All-Africa qualifiers as an unknown for a spot in the Beijing Olympics. Again, defying the odds but can this improbable streak hold up against an elite boxer like Crawford in his home state?
I was not all that aware of Indongo’s, 22-0 (11) qualities until he rose to prominence with an unexpected, first round destruction of well-touted Eduard Troyanovsky in Russia. Indongo cemented himself as a real threat on the world stage by next traveling to Scotland and winning a wide decision over veteran world titlist Ricky Burns. In both cases, Indongo ventured into the lion’s den of a hometown favorite, besting a wily veteran and youthful young gun, in the process. Those displays show Indongo is not your typical African boxer, who relies on strength, stamina and the ability to take punishment alone. Indongo knows when to attack and how to employ his awkward tactical nous.
This Namibian nightmare is an elongated and rangy southpaw (has about a two-inch height and reach advantage), who uses his range and awkward attacking angles to throw foes off balance. There is some pop to his punches, as well, despite only a 50-percent kayo ratio, which he deploys as effectively on the inside, as from a distance. The British press was especially impressed by Indongo’s tactics in the Ricky Burns fight, using a stiff jab to blunt Burns’ attacks while countering or leading with one-punch salvos before restarting the process of correct punch selection. Indongo is able to do this because of deceptively sly footwork that may not look pretty but is extremely effective nonetheless.
At age 34, Indongo still looks in fantastic shape. He had a late start to his pro career and impressed a victimized Burns, who trades in strength and determination to grind down foes himself. Burns conceded in the post-fight interview, “The better man won. He was so awkward. He was a lot better than we thought and he can hit as well.” Trainer Tony Sims left the arena respectful of Indongo, as well, “I never expected Indongo to be that good. He could hit really hard with both hands. He was really good on his feet, really rangy and really fast. Ricky said he was getting buzzed by counters and said he had to be careful because he could be hurt or stopped at any time. But it wasn’t just that; it was the movement. He’s really good.”
The victories and international acclaim have elevated Indongo into a national symbol, as Indongo revealed to Tris Dixon of BoxingScene.com, “As a boxer in Namibia, we have to work three times harder than a boxer in Europe or elsewhere because we are part-time boxers. We have full-time day jobs and, when we have big fights, we have to leave to prepare. We are, however, very passionate about the sport of boxing and that is why we put in the extra work.” Indongo is delighted that he is not the only one rising to prominence, “We are certainly among the greatest boxing nations of the world, seeing that we only have a population of approximately 2.3 million people and already have produced four world champions.”
Namibia’s largest newspaper has reported extensively on Indongo’s rise, mostly through trainer Nestor Tobias, as Indongo is a low-key personality. There is a lot of satisfaction, having fought their way to this point, but not of the type of gratification that stifles their ambition. Tobias told The Namibian, “Through hard work and discipline, we have now come here. It doesn’t matter what happens; we have already made history for Africa and, in the world, by fighting for the undisputed junior welterweight title. I hope there are more to follow in my footsteps. Indongo had to wait a long time for this. He was dedicated‚ patient and humble and it took him 15 years to get to this level. But I told him‚ be patient; your time will come.” Indongo is the latest and best of a recent run of successes for Tobias, the fourth Namibian boxer, and the third trained by Tobias, to become a world champion.
Team Indongo is coming to America well-prepared; they previously traveled to New York City to witness Terence Crawford’s, 31-0 (22), most recent fight against tough Dominican southpaw Felix Diaz in person. Indongo’s promoter Nestor Tobias was complimentary but not overawed by what they saw, “Crawford put up a great performance against a world-class boxer and I would like to congratulate him for a job well done. For sure, he is one of the good boxers around and it will be a good fight against our own champion Julius Indongo. Each fight is different. Indongo has shown that he has quality and can deliver against anyone, so, we are not worried. We are not scared.”
I was surprised that Indongo only arrived in America two weeks ago to complete preparations and get acclimated but was encouraged that he decided to headquarter in Los Angeles, California, at the famed Wild Card Boxing Club. They say Indongo has been on weight since arrival and only needed to fine tune and round out specifics of their game plan. Tobias told BoxingScene.com, “Our training regimen was as usual. We are following a strict program. Julius sparred six frames, had four rounds of pad work, two rounds on the heavy bag and two more of shadow boxing.” Aiding Indongo on his path is accomplished countryman Paulus Moses as the main sparring partner, along with an up-and-coming prospect Mike Shonena.
Count Top Rank President Todd duBoef to the list of people impressed by what Indongo and his team have achieved to date. DuBoef spoke glowingly about the man who stands to ruin his grand plans for Crawford. “This is a global sport. In America, we’re relatively isolated to a small pool of fighters. What Indongo did was, the door of opportunity opened and he stepped through it. This goes back to what makes boxing so special. People take advantage of those opportunities and a diamond in the rough is discovered.”
Even if DuBoef had chosen to belittle Indongo’s style or cast doubts on his ability to compete with boxing’s elite, that lack of respect is not something Indongo has let get to him before other fights. In fact, the critics have never bothered Indongo, who said, “They will not be stepping into the ring. There will only be two people in the ring. I hope to be a long-reigning champion and do even more in the future.”
Whomever emerges victorious will become the only current boxer to hold all four alphabet belts at 140 pounds but that recognition comes at a price. BoxingScene.com’s Keith Idec reported that Indongo need to pay $100K for the rare chance to be recognized as champion by all four major sanctioning bodies. A much larger-than-usual fee because both men are receiving high purses, of which 12 percent will be shared by the governing bodies. It is a high price to become the first boxer since Jermain Taylor, in 2005, to hold all titles simultaneously. Still, it is another accomplishment no one could have imagined in Indongo’s future, as little as eight months ago.
I believe Indongo will do well in the first quarter of the fight but lacks the dynamism to carry that advantage for the totality of the contest. Once Crawford figures out Indongo’s angles and eccentricities, he should take over and march to victory, sweeping the final two-thirds of the bout. This, of course, is not an opinion shared by Indongo, who was the picture of relaxation at the final press conference. “I am a humble guy but I don’t fear anybody. I will step into the ring prepared and do the best I can, as I have been doing for my entire career. This is no different than when I went to Moscow or Scotland and was the underdog there. My focus, my game-plan, everything is in position. Although people never knew me, this is the right time to show the world.”