By Jake Donovan
Nonito Donaire overcame headbutts and a badly damaged left eye to score a technical decision over Simpiwe Vetyeka to win a featherweight belt Saturday evening in Macau, China.
The fight was anything but that easy to summarize, however. In fact, the entire contest - from the opening announcements to the final decision - was severely mishandled, only raising more questions than answers.
Donaire is 17 months removed from a celebrated 2012 Fighter of the Year campaign, but 2013 proved to be his worst year as a pro to date. The former three-division champion suffered his first loss since his 2nd pro fight, and looked vulnerable in a come-from-behind stoppage of a faded opponent he had easily handled six years prior.
Needless to say, Saturday's headliner at the Venetian Macao was a must-win scenario for Donaire if there ever was one.
It took a while for the Fil-Am boxer to get untracked, as Vetyeka forced a rough and ugly pace in the opening round. There was little separating the two since neither fighter offered anything of note.
The lone action worth talking about in the round was for all of the wrong reasons. The two fighters traded fouls towards the end of the round. With the two fighters tied up, Donaire attempted to fight his way out of a clinch but wound up landing a right hand on the back of Vetyeka's school. The bell sounded, but went undetected by the fighters and referee Luis Pabon, who couldn't have been more inept in his handling of the contest as a whole.
His reputation as a quality official in question long before Saturday, Pabon managed to miss a headbutt and punches thrown after the bell to end round one. Somewhere during the exchange, Donaire was left with a cut over his left eye as he dropped to the canvas in pain. No ruling was made by the referee, as the status of the fight remained up in the air for as long as the action lasted.
Vetyeka managed to clip Donaire with two more headbutts in round two, causing serious damage to his challenger's eye, which was gushing blood and on the verge of closing up. Time was called to allow the ringside physician to examine the wound before allowing the action to continue.
Donaire fought purposeful for the first time in the fight in round three, flying off of his stool and throwing caution to the wind. Vetyeka was legitimately rocked at one point, on unsteady legs and holding on the top rope to prevent from falling. The sequence should have been ruled a knockdown, but instead served as yet another moment in the fight to go undetected by the referee.
The lone official knockdown of the bout came midway through round four. A brilliant exchange took place near the ropes, before Donaire managed to slip out and land his signature left hook. Vetyeka hit the canvas in a heap, and spent the next few moments trying to regain his legs and senses.
The defending champion caught a break when Donaire - who enjoyed a huge momentum surge and was in a position to do some serious damage - strangely requested time to have blood wiped from his eye. Vetyeka managed to get a break to which he wasn't even entitled, though how much he was able to recover proved inconsequential.
Just as the action picked up, it was determined in between rounds that Donaire's left eye - now swollen shut - was too severe to allow the action to continue any further.
It was only then when Pabon - who to that point had never made a ruling as to the cause of the cut - was told by the ringside supervisor that an accidental headbutt was the reason Donaire was forced to quit on his stool.
Because the fight went full four rounds, it was declared an official contest, and thus went to the scorecards.
Donaire officially won 49-46 across the board. The 5th round was scored since the bell had rung, even though it was decided well before that point that Donaire was done for the night. The miscue was in line with the entire mishandling of the fight, as well as the unwelcomed debut of famed narrator Robin Leach as a ring announcer, who managed to mangle the names of nearly every fighter he introduced.
As dissatisfying as it was, Donaire has now won two straight as he becomes a four-division champion. To his credit, it wasn't at all how he envisioned his return to the title picture, nor was he in a celebratory mood following the announcement.
I want to give him a rematch," Donaire (33-2, 21KO) immediately declared. I cannot take the victory of this unfinished business. I have tremendous respect for them."
Vetyeka earned industry-wide respect following his incredible 2013 campaign which boasted stoppage wins over Daud Yordan and Chris John. The latter earned the South African the featherweight title last December, though his reign ends after five months and in utter disappointment.
"I didn't think the headbutt caused the cut or the fight to be stopped," suggested Vetyeka, who falls to 26-3 (16KO).
Where he left himself in position to have his title taken, however, was his own undoing.
"When I threw punches, I got careless," Vetyeka admitted of the moments leading up to his being knocked down in round four. "Before the fight, I knew he had power but I left myself open."
The final result leaves Vetyeka as an ex-champion. For everyone else involved, what's left is a bitter taste and foul stench to an otherwise solid night of boxing that deserved a far better ending.
The bout will air Saturday afternoon (Sunday in Macau) in the United States via same-day tape delay on HBO (4:00PM ET).
ADDITIONAL FIGHT REPORTS FROM MACAU
Undercard report: http://www.boxingscene.com/vetyeka-donaire-undercard-results-tso-avalos-win--78415
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox