- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Few give obscure mandatory challenger Mzonke Fana a chance to defeat WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera when they meet Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $39.95) in El Paso, Texas.
Fana (22-2, 8 KOs) is not one of the doubters.
The soft-spoken South African believes in himself. He insists he hasn't traveled halfway around the globe simply to serve as cannon fodder for one of the best fighters in the world.
"Those people don't know me," Fana, 31, says. "They don't understand what I am about. But come Saturday, they will. They will know who I am.
"They will know I can fight. I came here to fight and to box. I know I am fighting a Mexican legend and a great, great champion, a champion in three weight classes. But I came here well prepared."
Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Barrera, says Fana shouldn't be underestimated just because so few have heard of him.
"I've seen tapes on him and he's a good fighter," De La Hoya says. "The American public doesn't know him but he's the kind of fighter who can come out and surprise you the way Felix Sturm did against me. Fana is ready to come and fight. It will be a hell of a fight."
For just that reason, Barrera claims to have trained harder and longer for Fana than he did for his 2004 fight of the year against rival Erik Morales in November.
"I see this fight as an even bigger threat than a fighter I know, like Morales," Barrera says. "I don't know who Fana is. From the videos I saw, he is a game opponent. Sometimes, these guys you don't know, you take lightly. But I did it in a professional way and trained more than usual to make sure I am in great shape."
Although Fana's résumé is devoid of any noteworthy opposition, he was appointed as the WBC's mandatory contender based on a split-decision victory (in which he was dropped twice) against equally unknown Randy Suico of the Philippines in May.
However, Fana, known in his home nation as the "Rose of Khayalitsha," strongly believes he deserves his shot at Barrera (59-4, 41 KOs).
"I believe I deserve to be the No. 1 contender," says Fana, a married father of two. "People can say whatever they want to say, but I deserve to fight Marco Antonio Barrera. I came here not to do anything else but to fight and to win the fight and take the title home to my country."
Deserved or not, Fana's road to the title shot is the culmination of an 11-year pro career. But he didn't always aspire to be a prizefighter.
As a child, Fana was more interested in soccer and karate despite the fact that his father, a police officer and former amateur fighter, had encouraged him to box.
But he did not pursue boxing until a friend who boxed persuaded Fana to go to the gym with him.
"One day, this friend took me to the gym to see what it was like and I started boxing in my school uniform," Fana says. "I enjoyed it in the beginning, but it wasn't serious. I was just doing it for fun because of my friend."
Fana spent a few years boxing as an amateur before giving it up for three years. But in 1991, at his father's persistent urging, he went back to boxing, eventually turning pro in 1994.
The fight with Barrera is only Fana's second outside of South Africa. In his other fight away from home, he lost a unanimous decision to Dean Pithie in England in 1999.
Fana, a close friend of former world champ Dingaan Thobela, says he learned from the experience.
"That was my first fight out of my country, and it was a good experience," he says. "I believe I was the winner of that fight, but they gave it to him. But it was a good experience because now I know what to expect."
Around the ring
Scale beats Anchondo: "Mighty" Mike Anchondo relinquished his junior lightweight belt on the scale Thursday when he weighed in at 134½ pounds, well above the 130-pound limit.
Anchondo (25-0, 18 KOs) was to have made the first defense of his belt against Jorge Barrios in Miami on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 ET).
The fight which shapes up like a barn burner will still go on. If Barrios who weighed 128 pounds wins, he will claim the title. If Anchondo wins, the title will remain vacant.
Barrios (42-2-1, 30 KOs), who was stopped in the 12th round of a sensational fight with then-champ Acelino "Popo" Freitas in August 2003, said he didn't care about the weight difference.
"I trained hard for this opportunity, and I am going to win," said Barrios, of Argentina. "I will not be denied."
As a sanction for Anchondo being overweight, Barrios will receive $30,000 from Anchondo's purse and the right to pick the kind of gloves they'll wear.
Brother is back: Wladimir Klitschko, the younger brother of heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko, returns April 23 against Eliseo Castillo in Dortmund, Germany. HBO will televise the bout on same-day tape on "Boxing After Dark" (9:45 p.m. ET/PT).
Klitschko (43-3, 39 KOs) once looked like the future of the division before being knocked out in two of his last five fights. And although he won his most recent bout in October on a fifth-round technical decision against DaVarryl Williamson, he was knocked down and looked very shaky.
The reason Klitschko is back on HBO is because the network promised him another fight in order to cement a deal for the Vitali Klitschko-Danny Williams bout this past December.
Klitschko has a long road ahead in order to regain the stature he once had as Lennox Lewis' heir apparent, but he believes it starts with a good performance against Castillo.
"My goal is to [win] the heavyweight championship, but it is also important for me to win back the fans and the media," he said. "An excellent start would be to show them a great performance against a quality opponent on April 23."
Castillo (18-0-1, 14 KOs), a Miami resident who defected from Cuba, is coming off a lopsided decision last July against an out-of-shape Michael Moorer, a two-time heavyweight champ.
Baby boy: Heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko's wife, Natalia, gave birth to a boy April 1 in Los Angeles. The couple named their third child who weighed in at more than 9 pounds (a future heavyweight?) and measured 22 inches long Max. He was named after former heavyweight champ Max Schmeling, who recently died but was a hero and friend of Vitali and brother Wladimir.
"Max Schmeling was my idol and one of the greatest human beings I will ever meet in my life," Klitschko said. "This was our way of paying homage to him, not just for what he did as a boxer but for his many outstanding accomplishments out of the ring."
Big British weekend: Fight fans in the United Kingdom are in store for an intriguing featherweight title bout June 3, when belt holder Scott Harrison of Scotland defends against England's Michael Brodie in a fight between two aggressive boxers. The fight, which will take place in Manchester, England, kicks off one of the biggest weekends in British boxing history. The night after Harrison-Brodie, the same MEN Arena will host junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu's long-awaited defense against Manchester's favorite son, Ricky Hatton. Both bouts will be televised in the United States on Showtime, with Harrison-Brodie on same-day tape (11 p.m. ET/PT) on a special edition of "ShoBox: The New Generation." Tszyu-Hatton will take place at 2 a.m. England time so it can air live in the United States at 9 p.m. ET.
Lazcano out: Lightweight contender Juan Lazcano was supposed to fight Herman Galaviz on Saturday night in his first fight since a decision loss to champion Jose Luis Castillo last summer. But Lazcano unhappy with how Golden Boy Promotions has been handling his career is off the card for undisclosed reasons. The fight was to be part of the Barrera-Fana pay-per-view card. Instead of Lazcano, featherweight prospect Aaron Garcia (2-0) will be showcased in a six-round bout that opens the HBO PPV telecast.
Quick hits: Promoters Lou DiBella and Bob Arum are discussing a fascinating middleweight bout that could take place this summer between former welterweight champ Ike Quartey, who has moved up to 160 pounds since returning to the ring after a five-year hiatus, and power-punching prospect Kelly Pavlik. "Million Dollar Lady," Arum's promotion pitting rivals Lucia Rijker and Christy Martin, has been shifted to July 30 in Las Vegas. The match for which each fighter is guaranteed $250,000, with the winner earning a $750,000 prize to become the first $1 million female fighter originally was going to be July 9 in Los Angeles. Showtime PPV will carry the card. Former junior middleweight titlist Verno Phillips, who hasn't fought since losing his belt to Kassim Ouma in October, returns against perennial contender Teddy Reid on May 24 (ESPN2) in an Artie Pelullo-promoted elimination bout that figures to produce action. Pelullo announced that he has signed junior middleweight contender Rodney Jones (35-3, 22 KOs). "Rodney is one of the top talents in the 154-pound division. He's a tall left-hander who has proven himself against tough opposition, and he's ready to fight the best guys out there. We think he's going to be a world champion; all he needs is the opportunity," Pelullo said. DiBella has branched beyond boxing. The lifelong baseball fan is the head of an ownership group that purchased the Norwich Navigators, the San Francisco Giants' Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League. DiBella is the managing partner and team president. The purchase was completed in time for the club's April 14 home opener. Sugar Ray Leonard will be a guest analyst on ESPN's first boxing pay-per-view card April 23. The card which includes welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito vs. Kermit Cintron, lightweight titlist Juan Diaz vs. Ebo Elder and Shane Mosley's return to welterweight takes place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That's where Leonard waged many of his most memorable matches, including both fights with Thomas Hearns and his memorable win against Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Quotable: "He even sang to us once, at his house in Las Vegas. He sat at the piano and began playing. I was surprised I had no idea he was so good! Then I noticed the pedals moving automatically. His feet weren't on them. The piano was playing by itself. I realized you have to be careful with this guy. Everything is sleight of hand." heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko, recounting the first meeting he and brother Wladimir had with promoter Don King, who was trying to sign them, in an interview in the May issue of Playboy.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Mzonke Fana might be anonymous beyond his native South Africa, but he intends to change all that with a victory over junior lightweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera on Saturday.