By Matt Winsper



Of all the quality jr welters in the world over the last few years, it seems strange that the WBA have decreed that their two top contenders for the now vacant 140lb belt will be little known Souleymane M’Baye and faded ex-lightweight champ Raul Balbi. However, those are the two guys they have chosen, and they face off at the Reebok Centre in Bolton, England this Saturday night on the Woods-Johnson III show. It is a head-scratching venue for a world title fight involving a French-Haitian and an Argentinian, but with Frank Warren promoting and with M’Baye fighting under his banner, the English fans on hand won’t be complaining.

M’Baye, a smooth and skilled operator with a decent 34-1-0 record, has been ticking over for the last three years since losing his sole venture into world class, when he was outscored by Vivian Harris for a devalued alphabet belt. Besides that loss, he’s scored some decent enough wins, including a decision over former world titlist Khalid Rahilou and unbeaten Russian Andreas Kotelnik, but these decisions shouldn’t really be the credentials needed for a world title challenge.

And whilst Balbi, 54-7-1, is a former WBA Lightweight champion, he has hardly been in scintillating form since Leonard Dorin outscored him twice for his belt. In fact, he was stopped in his first fight back by little known Dominican Jose Gomez, and has since kept busy with six wins over journeymen. Again, it’s hardly hall-of-fame stuff, but it’s enough in this modern era to earn a title shot.

Despite the fact that the two protagonists are a little way short of being genuine world contenders, they may still put up a decent fight against each other. M’Baye, 31, is a neat, tidy boxer, with little power but lots of skill, whilst 32 year old Balbi is a face first brawler with good power and a solid set of whiskers. Usually, those kind of stylistic match ups make entertaining spectacles.

On current form, though, the advantage has to lie with M’Baye. It is some five years since Balbi floored and outscored temperamental Frenchman Julien Lorcy to win his world crown. He lost it in a bloodbath to Leo Dorin in his first defence, and was convincingly defeated in the rematch, looking jaded and sluggish as though the effects of the gruelling first fight had taken their toll on him.

And will a bunch of wins over unranked journeymen prepare Balbi for a slickster like M’Baye? The Frenchman chased Ricky Hatton for a fight when Hatton was at 140, with Hatton’s former promoter Frank Warren taking up the charge for his new signing. There was little-to-zero interest in the fight, however, and Hatton was almost forced up to welterweight to get a meaningful fight.

Since the Hitman’s departure, the division has lost much of it’s appeal. New IBF champion Juan Urango does not inspire many, and the winner of this vacant WBA match will most probably be overlooked, too. After being the hottest division in boxing, the jr welters are now an unfashionable bunch, and we’re just hoping that M’Baye and Balbi can provide us with a decent twelve rounder to help us forget the state of the division at present.

The Pick: Neither fighter will top any pound-for-pound listings, but both are solid and respectable...which unfortunately is good enough for a world title fight these days. Of the two, M’Baye seems to be in better form, and will likely outbox his Argentian opponent for much of the fight. Balbi is tough and brave, and may give the Frenchman a few awkward moments as he brawls his way in close, but overall I expect Souleymane M’Baye to be crowned WBA Jr Welter champ on Saturday night. M’BAYE UD 12


Send questions and comments to: mattwinsper@yahoo.co.uk