IBRAHIM Balla has long been touted as one of the best products to emerge from the infamous Australian Olympic team that competed in London in 2012.
Blessed with the ability to render opponents unconscious with glancing blows, and a natural poise befitting to someone of his frame. The humble Werribee resident seemed destined for bigger things.
Effortless wins in state and national title efforts against Thongthai Rajanondh and Emanuel Micallef suggested that Balla had the tools to step into the muddy waters of the hotly contested super bantamweight division in the Orient and Pacific regions.
However, somewhere along the way things began to unravel for the former Olympian. Balla moved up to featherweight in an attempt to capture his first regional title last June, before failing to make weight against hard-hitting Filipino prospect Neil John Tabanao, who handed Balla his lone career defeat in three tumultuous rounds.
Since then, Balla (11-1, 7 KOs) has rebuilt and adjusted to life as a fully fledged featherweight, regaining the confidence of old in wins over Agus Kustiawan and more recently Vergil Puton, the latter whom Balla comprehensively outscored over the ten round distance in March.
In an interview with Aus-Boxing, the 26-year-old speaks assuringly about his progression in the last twelve months as he prepares to face rugged Filipino import Silvester Lopez (28-13-2, 19 KOs) on Saturday night at the Melbourne Park Function Centre for Hosking Promotions.
“I’m really happy with the progression I’ve had,” said Balla. “It’s been a good camp, I’m looking forward to fight night now. Basically, I will now be just sharpening up as I have done all the hard work. I’m now doing featherweight comfortably.”
“I have changed a few things in this preparation. I’m feeling sharp and strong.”
Lopez, 29, a former WBC super flyweight title challenger, is without doubt the biggest challenge of Balla’s professional career. A recent win over Japanese prospect Ryuto Kyoguchi alongside a competitive ten round decision loss to world rated featherweight Luke Jackson suggest that Lopez has the tools to threaten Balla’s featherweight resurgence.
As Balla notes, Lopez is well-travelled while having credentials that shouldn’t be overlooked at any point. To his credit, Balla is looking to test himself against quality operators and likes the prospect of challenging himself.
“My opponent is a well-experienced traveller,” he explained. “He has had a fair few fights and he has won a number of titles in the past. Lopez has fought quite a few good fighters – it’s a good fight for me – I’m really happy with what I have in front of me right now.”
“I’m looking forward to progressing through this fight. I’m really hoping to get a shot at a title around my waist to help me get ranked in the world so I can begin my climb up the ranks. I really want to get ranked in the top fifteen in a sanctioning body.”
In the lead-up to this fight, promoter Lynden Hosking has flirted with the idea of making a fight between Balla and Indigenous firebrand Nathaniel May, who holds a string of regional baubles at featherweight. When probed on the possibility of fighting May, Balla refused to acknowledge anything beyond Saturday night and Silvester Lopez.
“I’m not looking past this fight; I’m just focussing on the fight,” Balla rebutted. “That is for another day.”
For now, Balla is looking to make a statement. And while a win over Lopez may not provide the foil he requires, a knockout win certainly would.
“I think people can expect an exciting show,” he concluded. “Expect a lot of fireworks. I’m definitely going to bring it.”
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