By Jake Donovan
Jeffrey Mathebula knows the deck is stacked heavily against him. The 33-year old faces Nonito Donaire this weekend at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The bout marks his first trip to the United States, coming against one of the very best fighters in the world today.
Mathebula (26-3-2, 14KO) understands all of the risks involved heading into Saturday night’s super bantamweight unification match, which will air live on HBO. He also understands the tremendous upside that will come with pulling off a massive upset, which he strongly believes will be the case.
“This fight is the right opportunity at the right time,” believes Mathebula, who served on the South Africa boxing squad in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Mathebula’s hard-luck career hit paydirt with a career best win in beating Takalani Ndlovu this past March in South Africa. The bout was a rematch to their Sept. ’10 title eliminator, in which Ndlovu eked out a controversial split decision.
Three fights later, it was Mathebula who caught a rare break on the scorecards, taking a well-earned split nod over his countryman to win an alphabet title in a suddenly red hot 122 lb. division. The win came at the right time, as it followed Donaire’s arrival into the division after the Fil-Am star dropped and outpointed Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for a vacant 122 lb. one month prior.
From there, negotiations began for what will mark Mathebula’s second attempt at becoming a unified champ. The first came three years ago in his lone trip beyond his native South Africa, when he traveled to Panama to face Celestino Caballero for a pair of 122 lb. belts.
Mathebula came up on the wrong end of a split decision offering varying takes from the judges. The decision was in line with his feelings of the surroundings, that he was the loneliest fighter in the world at the time.
There is no such concern this time around; Mathebula and his team believe all will be on the level.
“Fighting Donaire in the United States is of no concern to us. My fighters never disappoint when they fight abroad.” insists Branco Milenkovic, who returns to the same venue where his bantamweight Vusi Malinga appeared in a losing effort against Leo Santa Cruz last month. “It can’t be any more hostile than going to Panama for the Caballero fight.”
The disheartening losses to Caballero and Ndlovu came in the span of just 18 months, leaving him to feel like a jinxed fighter. His spirits were considerably lifted in finally landing on the favorable side of the judges’ scoring in taking the title from Ndlovu earlier this year.
With that came the decision to take a major risk, believing the opportunity may never come again. It was less than six month ago when he believed the loss to Caballero was his one and only chance. Needless to say, fate dictated that he jump at the chance to shock the world.
“My confidence is back. Losing to Caballero and then against to Takalani, I began to believe that I just couldn’t get a decision. After winning the title in March, my confidence is sky high. This fight against Nonito Donaire is a huge risk, but I am up to the task.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox