Former IBF world champion Dee-jay Kriel has promised to entertain when he returns to the ring for the first time in almost two years, when he takes on Thembelani Nxoshe in an eight-round catch-weight fight at ESPN Africa Boxing 24 on Dec. 9.

The former IBF world champion and WBC International champion will be making his debut on ESPN as he plots a comeback after losing to Felix Alvarado in a IBF junior-flyweight title fight in January 2021 in Texas, USA.

It was only the second loss of his career, having gone 10 rounds against Alvarado, who won by a technical knockout after sending Kriel to the canvas in the second and fourth rounds. Kriel has not had a pro fight since.

Kriel, who was born in Johannesburg, moved back to South Africa from the United States after the Alvarado fight and has since found a trainer and manager in high-profile mentor Colin Nathan.

“Even though I haven’t been fighting, I haven’t left the gym,” Kriel told ESPN. “I’ve been in the gym for the whole two years that I have been off, but we know sparring and fighting are two different things. The fight is where it counts.

“Since the Alvarado fight I haven’t been living in the States, I’ve been back here in South Africa and my new trainer and manager is Colin Nathan, so that changed up. We’ve also got another trainer with us who is very good in Shannon Strydom.”

READ: ESPN Africa Boxing 24 goes global as India takes on the DRC

Kriel, though, has admitted to learning valuable lessons from the Nicaraguan boxer and insists that experience has transformed him into a ‘different beast’ that will demand respect from his opponents.

“We’re definitely going to see a new Dee-jay,” said the 27-year-old. “Even since the Alvarado fight, I’m a whole different fighter, a whole different beast. I really learned from the Alvarado fight and I want to put the hurt on people now.

“That’s what he did to me and it showed me how to get respect. If I don’t get that respect when I’m in the ring, that’s the kind of hurt and pain I want to bring to my opponents. I want to show them that they have to respect me.

“So, I’m bringing a lot more to the table and to my boxing style. I have improved my arsenal. Definitely expect a new Dee-jay and I want to entertain the fans, that’s our job.”

Being inactive for 23 months wasn’t entirely Kriel’s decision as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on sporting events worldwide, resulting in his last two fights being cancelled.

“I’ve been out for two years, but it wasn’t my decision that I wanted to be out for two years. It’s just that I wasn’t getting fights,” continued Kriel.

“For the last two years the first time I was supposed to fight was at the end of 2021 in Mexico. Actually, we were already there and the opponent fell through because he got COVID, so my fight got put off.

“Then we were supposed to fight again but the whole event got put off because two or three fighters got COVID. That’s when we decided to come home.”

Looking towards his fight on Friday, Kriel is relishing the opportunity to appear on ESPN Africa Boxing and sees it as a potential doorway to competing with the broadcaster over in the United States.

“This will be my first appearance on ESPN Africa and we wanted to fight on ESPN, me and Colin spoke about it,” he said. “ESPN is the biggest broadcaster for boxing in Africa, it’s big broadcasting and it’s all over the world, so it’s awesome.

“If ESPN is not the biggest boxing broadcaster in South Africa now it will soon be, so I’m excited to be on the big stage with ESPN.”

The main event for ESPN Africa Boxing 24 will be a 12-round match for the IBF International Super Welterweight Title between Emmany Kalombo (16-1-0) of the DR Congo and Shiva Thakran (16-3-1) of India.

ESPN Africa Boxing 24 – Fight Card:

– Main event: IBF International Super Welterweight Title, 12 Rounds: Emmany Kalombo (16-1-0) v Shiva Thakran (16-3-1)

– Co-main: Catchweight, 8 Rounds: Deejay Kriel (16-2-1) v Thembelani Nxoshe (19-9-2)

– Super Middleweight, 8 Rounds: Patrick Mukala (13-2-1) v Yanga Phetani (14-4-1)

– Middleweight, 6 Rounds: Darrin Rossouw (6-0-0) v Jacques Tshikubu Muvud (7-1-1)

– Female Bantamweight, 8 Rounds: Ellen Simwaka (11-5-2) v Asandiswa Nxokwana (7-4-2)

– Undercard: Welterweight, 4 Rounds: Phumelelo Cele (1-1-0) v Aaron Muteba (1-0-0)

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Dee-jay Kriel a ‘new beast’ at ESPN Africa Boxing in return from Alvarado defeat