MELBOURNE (5 October 2017) – No-one likes to lose – least of all boxers – so when Ibrahim Balla came up short against Filipino Neil John Tabanao in June last year, he was shattered.
The talented 27-year-old from Werribee in Melbourne’s western suburbs, who was undefeated in nine fights at the time, had a disrupted training camp and weighed in over the featherweight limit of 126-pounds.
The fight was split on the judges’ scorecards when Balla walked into a hard uppercut in the third round, followed by another. The referee took a long hard look at Balla and waved off the contest to save him from further punishment.
There is no silver for second in professional boxing.
“I wasn’t at my best, mentally or physically for that fight,” admits Balla. “You can make up a million excuses as to why you lost, but as a professional fighter I think the best way to look at it is he’s beaten me, move on from there and become a better fighter.
“I try to make no excuses. I lost fair and square.”
As a former amateur star who represented his country at the 2012 London Olympics, Balla had been largely untested in the pro ranks before being matched with Tabanao.
“That loss to Neil John Tabanao was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened, but it was the absolute best outcome,” says his trainer Lim Jeka, a former Australian junior middleweight champion.
“It made him have a look at himself and what he wanted to do and where he was going in the sport. It showed him what he needed to do to find that mental maturity. And that was something that had to happen for him.”
That maturity has been evident in his last three fights against increasing levels of competition.
In his last fight he put on a boxing masterclass against former world title challenger Silvester Lopez, who recently took Tasmanian featherweight contender Luke Jackson the distance.
In that fight Balla boxed superbly. His jab was sharp and accurate, his body shots were on-point and he moved fluidly around the ring.
Balla, 12-1 with 7 knockouts, will be looking for his fourth straight victory when he takes on Tanzanian Salim Mtango, 9-0 with 6 knockouts, at Hosking Promotions’ Punches at the Park 6 on 21 October at the Melbourne Park Function Centre in the heart of Melbourne.
Balla admits he hasn’t seen much footage of his opponent but says that he is ready for anything he brings.
“I’m definitely looking for the stoppage, to excite the crowd a little bit,” says Balla. “It’s always part of my game plan to chip away at my opponent, break them down, slowly take them into deep waters and eventually drown them. That’s always one of my goals towards the end of the fight, to actually stop my opponent.”
Balla isn’t the first boxer dreaming of a world championship to have a loss on their ledger. Nonito Donaire lost his second fight, Bernard Hopkins lost on debut, while Manny Pacquiao tasted defeat in his twelfth bout. All three went on to become world champions in multiple weight classes.
“Since his loss everything has just been getting better and better and better,” says Jeka. “His style is more developed and he’s more comfortable in his own skin. He’s just doing everything right now. He’s very content with where he is and with his style and what he needs to do. And he’s really looking forward to the future
IBRAHIM BALLA QUOTES:
On maturing as a boxer: “I think I’ve grown a lot as a fighter. Matured as well as a fighter. I am taking a little bit of time setting up my shots now, not rushing so much. That’s what my trainer Lim has been putting into my head, taking my time, setting up my shots. We do a lot of work like that in the gym.”
On his opponent Salim Mtango: “I haven’t seen too much of him. All I know is that his record is nine wins, six knockouts, so he looks like a decent customer. You never know what you’re going to get when you’re fighting people you haven’t seen much footage of. I’m expecting anything so I’m ready for anything.”
On his last fight against Silvester Lopez: “I thought I executed our game plan really well, with a little bit more sticking of the jab and setting everything up from there. A little bit of foot movement as well, which worked really well against Lopez. I was expecting a tough fight from him. He fought for a world title so he had a lot of ability and experience to him. I knew he was going to come out and try and focus on left hooking and body punching as that’s his strength. I was able to take away his strengths and use them against him.”
On his 12 month plan: “In twelve months’ time I want to crack the top ten in the world. I want to have a serious opportunity, even be fighting for a world title. I just need the actual sparring experience. With my amateur record I’ve been all around the world – fighting world champions, Olympic gold medalists – but the seasoning really happens in the sparring in the gym. I believe I have the talent to not just mix it with the best but to beat the best. I just feel like a couple more fights and a little bit more experience and I’ll be at that level.”
On his large supporter base: “It’s extremely important. Your supporters are pretty much what keeps our sport alive. I’m happy that I’ve got a lot of people that support me and help me out with everything. At the end of the day, it’s sad to say, but boxing is a bit of a business. If you can’t put bums on seats you’re not going to be put on cards. I’m happy that I’ve got a lot of support and a lot of people follow me and I hope to get a lot of people on the bandwagon again.”
About Ibrahim “La Bala” Balla
Ibrahim Balla was born into a family of Albanian boxers in Werribee in Melbourne’s outer western suburbs in 1990. His father Nuri was a Victorian champion while his uncle and coach Mitat was an Australian champion. Balla’s older brother Qamil is a successful professional boxer with state and national titles at junior welterweight. Ibrahim Balla won his first Australia junior title in 2001 when he was just 11 years old. By 2012 he had won five Australian titles and a silver medal at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune, India. Balla won the Australian and Oceania titles in 2012, leading to his selection in the Australian Olympic team. His nickname, La Bala, translates from Spanish as “The Bullet”. The 27-year-old Balla has represented Australia extensively at international tournaments, including at the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games, 2009 AIBA World Championships, 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games in the bantamweight division.
About “Punches at the Park 6”
“Punches at the Park 6” is presented by Premix King, Gruppo Alessi and Adara Apartments at the Melbourne Park Function Centre on 21 October. Doors open at 4:00pm with the first fight commencing at 5:00pm. The nine fight card will be headlined by Jason “The Smooth One” Moloney moving down a weight class to bantamweight where he hopes to claim the vacant WBA Oceania title from Julias Kisarawe of Tanzania in a 10-round international bout. Jason is world rated by all four major sanctioning bodies: WBA #8, WBO #10, IBF #13 and WBC #30. Also on the card is Jason’s twin brother and 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Andrew “The Monster” Moloney who will be making the first defence of his WBA Oceania super flyweight title against Hashimu Zuberi of Tanzania in a 10-rounder. Andrew is world rated WBA #6, IBF #13 and WBC #20. Ibrahim “La Bala” Balla is matched with Tanzanian’s Salim Mtango for the vacant WBA Oceania featherweight title over 10. 22-year-old Sydney southpaw Jai Opetaia puts his unbeaten record on the line against fellow undefeated cruiserweight Frankie Lopez, 22, from North Hollywood, California, USA when the two battle it out for the vacant IBF Youth championship over 10 rounds. Junior middleweight Michael “Pretty Boy” Zerafa is back in action after his frontrunner for “Knockout of the Year” against Tomas Andres Reynoso at the Melbourne Pavilion back in June when he faces an opponent to be determined for the vacant IBF Pan Pacific title. In other action bantamweight Cherneka “Sugar Neekz” Johnson faces Febriyanti Lubis, cruiserweight Dylan Goddard will fight an opponent to be named, Cliff Chamberlain Jr and Jayden “Plugger” Nichols collide at cruiserweight and welterweights Gregory Bell and Victor Odindo will open the show. Centrally located at the Melbourne Park Function Centre in the heart of Melbourne’s sporting precinct, the venue is just a short walk from the CBD and well serviced by trains and trams that take you right up to the front door.
Tickets for “Punches at the Park 6” are available from Eventopia by clicking on the following link: www.eventopia.co/PATP6 with general admission starting from $84.85. The event is expected to be a sellout so please get in early to secure your seat. The card will be broadcast LIVE on www.liveboxing.com.au and will be replayed on Fox Sports in Australia.
About Hosking Promotions
Hosking Promotions is owned and operated by Lynden Hosking, who represented Australia in the boxing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 69kg welterweight division. Hosking Promotions is committed to bringing world class, evenly matched boxing bouts to Melbourne to showcase the best talent in this country.