By Jake Donovan
Don’t let his happy-go-lucky demeanor beyond the ropes fool you; Nonito Donaire is all the way in when it comes to boxing.
You wouldn’t know it from looking at him during Tuesday’s open workout at Fortune Gym in Hollywood, but Donaire is prepared for the fight of his life this weekend. Awaiting him is fellow 122 lb. titlist Jeffrey Mathebula, as the two collide in an HBO-televised unification bout this Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Both fighters were at the open workout session, providing a stunning visual – the massive height difference between the two.
Normally, it’s Donaire who enjoys a considerable size advantage over his foes during his years in the lower weight classes. This time around, the Fil-Am star is at a massive height and reach disadvantage in facing his tallest foe to date.
“Looking at this guy, he’s a tall challenge,” Donaire (28-1, 18KO) stated, a bit tongue-in-cheek while holding court with the local media. “We’re ready for it. I felt really good for my first fight at this weight. We’ve trained even harder for this fight.”
Donaire first arrived on the sport’s top level with an upset 5th round knockout of Vic Darchinyan, a win whose five-year anniversary comes on fight night. The victory marked the first of three divisions in which Donaire would claim a major belt, having also held championship status at bantamweight and now super bantamweight, along with an interim reign at super flyweight.
The past several years have seen Donaire emerge as one of the very best fighters in the world today. He’s reached a point where nearly every other notable fighter in the lower weights is steadily calling him out, though he’s humble enough to recall a time when he was still largely anonymous.
That very humility allows him to remain focused for the task at hand this weekend, facing the 33-year old Mathebula who is barely known beyond his South Africa homeland.
“I’m really excited knowing that I’m fighting a guy who is going to be a challenge for me,” Donaire says of Mathebula. “Nobody knew who I was when I fought Darchinyan and I knocked him out. Nobody knows who this guy is, but it’s a real fight.”
Both fighters gained 122 lb. titlist status within the span of two months. Mathebula (26-3-2, 14KO) claimed a belt with a 12-round points win in a rematch with countryman Takalani Ndlovu in March. Seven weeks prior, Donaire made his 122 lb. debut with a decision win over former titlist Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. to claim a vacant belt.
For that fight, Donaire was still growing into the division and far too focused on the grudge aspect of the matchup. The result was a credible enough performance to pull out the win, but uneven enough to recognize that more work needed to be done.
“There is definitely a lot more muscle on me now,” Donaire noted, lifting up his t-shirt to jokingly flash his rock-hard abs. “I felt like I was a lot smaller going into the fight (with Vazquez), but feel a lot stronger for this fight. I’m taking this guy seriously.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox