About a year ago, after Canelo Alvarez had unified the super middleweight division and appeared to be running short on challenges, the name of cruiserweight Ilunga Makabu popped up as a potential opponent. He hailed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo – formerly Zaire, site of the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. And that was about the most famous thing about him.
Makabu owned a world championship. But, these days, that’s par for the course. Canelo eventually passed on the chance to win a fifth divisional title at 200 pounds. But the mystery of Makabu remains.
We hope to find out more when he makes his third defense of the WBC cruiserweight title, taking on former super middleweight and light heavyweight king Badou Jack at Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) Arena (2 p.m. Eastern, Sunday, ESPN Plus pay-per-view).
THE MYSTERY OF MAKABU
Boxing being the cynical industry that it is, the belief was that Canelo’s folks considered Makabu, 29-2 (25 knockouts), for the sole reason that he wasn’t very good. And, it being the global sport that it is, it’s hard to know – even at this point – whether that is an accurate assessment. Though the records of his opponents are solid enough.
Ilunga Makabu won the vacant WBC 200-pound title with a decision over 19-0 Michael Cieslak in January 2020. He defended with a knockout of 34-7 Olanrewaju Durodola (TKO 7) later that year. And he narrowly outpointed Thabiso Mchunu, 23-5, with a split decision in January 2022. Which is the last time he fought.
The trio of Cieslak, Durodola and Mchunu isn’t exactly a murderer’s row, but they are capable. A southpaw, Makabu looks like he can punch. He appears accurate, a good combination puncher and quick. He also makes good use of angles. One highlight showed a nifty Mike Tyson-like left to the head, followed by a left uppercut.
Of course, the guy he was fighting appeared considerably smaller. That said, for a fighter who is 6-foot, 200 pounds, the 35-year-old Ilunga Makabu looks like he has good speed to go with his power.
But it’s hard to know, considering the ordinary comp. Can the 38-year-old Jack be the one to tell us, while winning his third divisional title?
“The Ripper,” 27-3 (16 KO’s), a native of Sweden who lives in Dubai, is on a five-fight win streak since losing back-to-back decision losses to Jean Pascal and Marcus Browne in 2019. The Pascal fight was razor close. The Browne fight was a study in courage for Jack, as a nasty cut on the forehead bled profusely throughout and made Jack look like he was wearing a ghoulish Halloween mask. It was truly one of the most gruesome cuts in recent memory. But Jack fought through it, and lost a unanimous nod.
In 2021, Jack moved to the cruiserweight division. In his last fight, Jack weighed 199 pounds in beating previously undefeated Richard “Popeye” Rivera in August. Jack did what he needed to do, but he didn’t wear the weight well. He appeared sluggish in winning a nod that many thought he didn’t deserve.
GO WITH THE RIPPER
Dimension-wise, there’s not much difference between the two fighters, as Jack has a one-inch height advantage at 6-foot-1 and Makabu a one-inch reach advantage at 74 inches. There is the reality, however, that Jack is a natural super middleweight, and the smaller-framed fighter. The advantage for the Ripper is that he has been in with the best fighters in the world, from Anthony Dirrell (W 12), to George Groves (W 12), to Lucian Bute (W DQ 12) to James DeGale (D 12) to Nathan Cleverly (TKO 5) to Adonis Stevenson (D 12).
Ilunga Makabu can punch, so Jack will have to be quick, get his shots off first, and get out of the way. Staying in the pocket is a bad idea. Whether the naturally bigger champ can knock out Jack, who has only been stopped once in 33 fights, is the question here.
The guess is that Jack being the better all-around fighter, even being the “smaller” guy, will tell the tale here. It’ll be close, but The Ripper will win his third title in a third division by being busier.
Jack by split decision.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]