By Ron Jackson
Thabo Sonjica, the SA junior featherweight champion, is likely to face a stern test from the more experienced Filipino Silvester Lopez when they meet for the vacant IBO super bantamweight belt at the Orient Theatre on Saturday night. The 25-year-old Lopez brings a record of 20-5-2, including 15 wins inside the distance, into the ring. He has been a professional for nearly seven years. Sonjica’s record stands at 17-2, with 12 knockouts. His professional debut was six years ago.
Guided by Eyethu Boxing Promotions, he has enjoyed a rather smooth path to the top since losing his first two fights, both by technical knockout to Macbute Sinyabi.
He beat Sinyabi on points in March this year to take the SA junior featherweight title and has also impressed by stopping Pfariso Neluvhulani and former IBF junior featherweight champion Simphiwe Nongqayi.
Lopez, from Paranaque City in the Philippines, won nine of his first eleven fights before claiming the vacant WBC international super-flyweight title with an eighth-round stoppage victory over Jong-Nam Park.
He retained the belt by stopping Katsumi Makiyama in the fifth round and the experienced Wandee Singwancha in the second but lost on a fifth-round technical decision to Juan Jose Montes in a WBC super-flyweight title eliminator.
In July last year, Lopez challenged Yota Sota for the WBC super-flyweight title but was well beaten over 12 rounds – 119-109, 116-113 and 118-110.
Since then he had to settle for a technical draw against Jhunriel Ramonal, a points win over Danilo Pena and, on May 18, a points defeat to Adrian Young.
Sonjica, 24, from Duncan Village near East London, is a southpaw with plenty of power. But he is up against an aggressive opponent who likes to brawl on the inside.
His first shot at a “world” title could be Sonjica’s toughest fight yet. He will have to keep Lopez on the outside by fighting from behind the jab.
Lopez has fought at a higher level than the South African but is only 34th on the IBO rankings list. Sonjica is at no 29. With so many fighters above them, it is rather surprising that they have been giving an opportunity to win the belt.
The Filipino missed a connecting flight in Hong Kong and was expected to arrive in South Africa only on Wednesday, giving him a mere three days to settle and focus on the job.
The tournament is presented by Mzi Mnguni of Eyethu Boxing Promotions.