By Ronnie Nathanielsz
Macau - Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire confronts a formidable foe in WBC featherweight super champion Simpiwe Vetyeka of South Africa in his quest for a world title in a fifth weight division in what is considered a day of reckoning for the one-time top five pound for pound fighter who somehow lost his way on his journey to super stardom as heir apparent to "Fighter of the Decade" Manny Pacquiao.
In a crossroads fight in a fantastic three championship fight card of Top Rank Promotions aptly titled "Featherweight Fury" at the classy Cotai Arena here at the fabulous Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino which has emerged as the sports and entertainment capital of the world, Donaire will strive to relive a glorious 2012 in which he strung together four championship victories in an eight year, 16 bout winning streak that earned him the coveted honor of being named "Fighter of the Year."
But his twelve round unanimous decision loss to two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist and undefeated WBA super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux in a unification title fight at a sold out Radio City Music Hall in New York on April 13, 2013 not only cost him his world titles but also his standing in the pound for pound roster and forced him to rethink his career.
Donaire set his mind on recapturing lost glory and began by moving up in weight to face hard-hitting Vic Darchinyan in a much-awaited rematch on November 9, 2013. Down on the scorecards of all three judges going into the ninth round Donaire dug deep and nailed Darchinyan with his patented left hook to drop the Australian and then went after him with a flurry of punches that forced referee Laurence Cole to call a halt in the round.
Darchinyan who battles WBA champion Nicholas Walters said he is hoping to win and arrange a third showdown with Donaire but to see the trilogy materialize both Darchinyan and Donaire must win.
Venerable HBO Sports boxing analyst Larry Merchant believes its a 50-50 fight while Donaire's former trainer and 2012 "Trainer of the Year" Robert Garcia warned that "if Nonito doesn't fight smart he could be in trouble" against the supremely confident Vetyeka.
Vetyeka claimed in an interview with this reporter and ABS-CBN reporter Dyan Castillejo that he handpicked Donaire because after his impressive victories over Indonesian champions Daud Yordan and long-reigning WBA champion Chris John both of whom were stopped, he wanted another big name fighter as his next victim.
The South African champion told us with a victory over Donaire in his first title defense he would receive the recognition he deserves.
After the official weigh-in in which Donaire who was five pounds over the limit on Thursday tipped the scales at exactly 126 pounds and Vetyeka came in at 125 1/2 Donaire told the Standard "I feel great.This is definitely a must-win fight and I am excited. This is a new beginning" in reference to the lone setback of 2013.
He described Vetyeka as a champion who had "both speed and power" which guaranteed fight fans "a very entertaining fight" which will be telecast "live" on SkyCable pay per view and on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. on the No.1 channel in the Philippines, ABS-CBN.
Vetyeka was oozing with confidence and told us "I believe in myself. No doubt I will bring the title back to South Africa." The South African revealed that while Donaire's camp was concentrating on how to handle his strong right hand, he had a surprise in store for "The Filipino Flash" and promised to get him with a vicious left hook to te body.
But Donaire doesn't plan to let that happen. He has trained relentlessly for this fight and his rigorous strength and conditioning regimen under the keen eye of American Nick Curson has guaranteed that if he needs to, Donaire can go twelve rounds but aims to finish it much earlier.
Nonito received some encouragement from former trainer Robert Garcia who is likely to also be in Donaire's corner along with his father/trainer "Dodong" Donaire Sr. Garcia told the Manila Standard that Vetyeka is an awkward fighter and has a solid right hand but that Nonito "is a very smart fighter. He could feint and make Vetyeka throw punches and then counter. If he does that, moves in and out and stays on his toes he should be able to stop this guy (Vetyeka) , maybe hurt him and knock him out."
Garcia, in his own blueprint for the fight told the Standard "Nonito should stand in front of him but not too close, move in and out, wait for Vetyeka to throw punches and then counter with combinations. Nonito has tremendous power and one punch could end the fight."
He noted that Vetyeka "throws a long right hand so its perfect for Nonito to counter" which is exactly what his father/trainer ingrained in Donaire during training which was marked by Donaire's dedication to a back-breaking training program highlighted by a killer plyometrics regimen under the well known American strength and conditioning coach Nick Curson who regrettably fell ill with a virus and wouldn't take the risk of being near Donaire in his final week of training leading up to the fight tonight. But Curson and longtime Team Donaire member Mike Bassel who complemented Curson's work have been in constant touch and knows what to do.