Flyweight champ Hekkie Budler revels in 'great honour'

Challenger Hekkie Budler of South Africa punches champion Ryoichi Taguchi of Japan on his way to a close win, with a fall in the 12th round threatening Budler's victory. Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

South African boxer Hekkie Budler had his heart in his throat, and in the hands of the referees, during his fight against Ryoichi Taguchi, but was pleased with the 'hard result' after a narrow win in Tokyo.

Budler beat Taguchi by a close yet unanimous decision on Sunday to claim the World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and Ring Magazine light flyweight titles.

It was a tense night, as the Japanese fighter was granted an extra point upon review, after Budler was sent to the canvas late in the bout. The fall was initially ruled a slip, but reviews showed it was indeed a knock down. The point awarded did not affect the outcome, though.

"I've finally done it, it's a great honor. I've told people it's the second greatest honour of my life, after marrying my wife," Budler told KweséESPN, upon arrival in South Africa on Tuesday.

"It was a hard fight, hard result to get but I did it."

The road to get there was by no means easy. He lost via split decision to Milan Melindo in September 2017. The defeat led to the IBF ordering a rematch, but before Budler could face Melindo again, the Filipino took on the dangerous Taguchi and lost.

The 29-year-old Budler was the underdog against Taguchi, who had not lost in five years, not that he felt that way himself. He was a relieved man when the 12th-round fall didn't affect his win.

"At the time I didn't feel it was a knockdown," said Budler. "I actually saw the highlights and then realised it was a knock down. He did catch me with a left hook.

"I got worried when they said they were going to change the knockdown decision."

That moment was also difficult for Budler's trainer, Colin Nathan.

"Naturally I lost my temper because you can't change your decision after you've made it," Nathan told KweséESPN.

The trainer, however, did remember that he had signed an agreement which stated that the referee could change a decision after reviewing it.

"I acknowledged and accepted the changed decision," he conceded.

So what is next for the new champion?

"There's talk of unifications, there is talk of a rematch, we also have an IBF mandatory coming up," said Nathan.

"I'm just going to take my time and let Hekkie enjoy this moment and let it sink in. Hekkie is at a stage of his career where he deserves legendary status.

"He started out as a very good fighter and went on to be an excellent fighter and now we are on the cusp of being great and legendary."

'The Hexecutioner' is one of only three Africans to currently hold a major world title (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO). The other champions are Ghana's Isaac Dogboe and South Africa's Zolani Tete.