by Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
For the second time, 29-year old Filipino WBO 122 lb. titlist Nonito Donaire (29-1, 18 KO) of San Leandro, California, holds two major titles in a weight class. This time, he did the unifying firsthand. For the second consecutive fight, Donaire captured a belt at Jr. Featherweight on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, adding the IBF belt of 33-year old Jeffrey Mathebula (26-4-2, 14 KO) of Brakpan, Gauteng, South Africa, to his resume with a unanimous decision. Donaire cemented the win with a fourth-round knockdown and a strong eleventh round against a Mathebula who gave him a long night.
Following the fight, Donaire gave his strongest nod to a future fight with Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka, a bout that could determine the fight’s true World Champion.
Donaire, reigning in his third division, previously won the IBF Flyweight title and the WBC and WBO titles at Bantamweight with knockouts of Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel respectively. He also won an interim belt at Jr. Bantamweight. Mathebula marked the sixth consecutive current, former, or future major titlist faced by Donaire dating to July 2010.
Donaire came into the bout at 121 ½, Mathebula at 121 ¾. The referee was Pat Russell.
A clipping Donaire right landed right away, Mathebula backing away and staying tall behind his jab. Donaire attempted a left lead, blocked, and Mathebula responded with a pawing combination. Switching between southpaw and orthodox stances, Donaire struggled in spots to find the taller man but when he did he made it count. The explosive Donaire struck with a big right to catch Mathebula’s attention in the middle of the round, Mathebula tripping over his own feet but staying off the floor.
The second was fought on closer terms, Mathebula beginning to let his hands go, touching Donaire with the jab and to the body while Donaire sought big bombs. To his credit, Mathebula kept his right in place and blocked the best Donaire lefts hooks with gloves and forearms.
Action slowed in the third and the pace favored Mathebula, Donaire able only to land sporadically while Mathebula controlled distance with his jab and managed some connecting if not hard combinations.
Donaire left his feet for a lead left hook and missed wildly to start the fourth. He would find it in the waning seconds. Mathebula attempted a wild, lazy right hand and Donaire exploded with his left, Mathebula going to his back and woozy even as he rose to beat the count. The bell saved Mathebula, the South African going to the corner to recover with crimson dripping from his nose.
Mathebula recovered enough to rally in spots in the fifth, even landing a stunning right hand, but it was Donaire’s heavy artillery telling the tale. Mathebula was affected by lefts and rights in the round, and Donaire remembered to wallop the body as well.
In terms of two-way hard shots, round six was the best of the night to then. Mathebula landed some stiff rights, and ate some, both men also landing some eye-catching lefts. Donaire closed well with Math near the ropes but most of the action lulls were controlled by Mathebula’s jab. The scoring possibilities were open.
The pace slowed in rounds seven and eight, Donaire appearing to land harder in the former and Mathebula boxing well in the latter. Neither man made much statement to kick off the first third of the second half, holding serve on where they’d been most of the night. Mathebula picked it up in the ninth, landing his jab and a particularly affective flurry as Donaire, swelling around the left eye, struggled to find the range.
Mathebula fought like the man in charge in the tenth, his volume of offense superior to Donaire’s increasingly desperate lunges. Donaire landed best to the body, but it was Mathebula landing the cleaner head shots and setting the pace. A feeling of shifted momentum hung over the bout headed into the championship rounds.
Donaire got off the better start in the eleventh. Using a jab he’d lost for a few rounds, Donaire’s power shots started to find a home and Mathebula quit throwing. A right hand appeared to rock Mathebula and blood could be seen welling in the mouth of Mathebula as the seconds ticked by.
The dramatic drop in offense continued from the eleventh, Mathebula is a largely defensive posture for large tracts of the final three minutes. Donaire didn’t produce a dramatic volume either and Mathebula landed some stiff rights, and a pair of lefts late, that at least made the scoring up for grabs. The matter went to the judges.
The judges saw a one-sided affair. Score read wider than the fight that unfolded at 117-110, 117-109, and 119-108. BoxingScene scored the bout 115-112 for Donaire.
Mathebula was not interviewed after the fight, leaving to attend to what was announced as a chipped tooth.
Speaking in the ring with HBO’s Max Kellerman, Donaire gave Mathebula credit for being tough and testing him with the jab. “His jab took the elements out of my power and I like that. I had fun with it. He’s a great champion. I rally give a lot to him because he wouldn’t let me get in there and work, not even to the body.”
Now a unified titlist, Donaire was asked about the future at 122 lbs. “My goal is always to be an undisputed champion, you know with the three belts…if you have three out of the four, that’s undisputed to me. That’s a dream and a goal to me. We have a lot of great guys. We have Nishioka, we have (Abner) Mares, we have (Guillermo) Rigondeaux maybe. We have, definitely, Nishioka. One more belt and I’m good to go to 126.”
The reference to Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KO) will appeal to hardcore fight followers. The Japanese battler held the WBC now worn by Mares, but was forced to give it up due to a layoff of less than a year. Nishioka was reportedly in attendance at the fight and remains regarded in some circles as the best Jr. Featherweight in the world.
A showdown with Donaire would be as close to an ‘undisputed’ contest as the class could offer no matter the beltless nature of Nishioka for the moment. It’s a must for the division.
In the televised opener, 30-year old former World Middleweight Champion Kelly Pavlik (40-2, 34 KO), 168 ¼, of Youngstown, Ohio, pounded out a solid unanimous decision against a competitive and spry 27-year old Will Rosinsky (16-2, 9 KO), 168 ¼, of Ozone Park, New York. Pavlik came into the Super Middleweight bout rated by all of the major sanctioning organizations, #10 by the WBC, #9 by the WBA, #8 by the IBF, and #5 by the WBO.
The referee was Wayne Hedgepeth.
Showing decent speed and ample energy, Rosinsky began the fight with lots of movement and attempts at combinations. Pavlik behaved as a veteran, waiting for Rosinsky to get in range to fire, patient throughout the opening frame even as Rosinsky scored with some eye-catching right hands.
Rosinsky again jumped on Pavlik in the second, letting loose with a volume assault. Pavlik let his man inside and began to find the range for his chopping right hand. Inside the second half of the round, it found the target and Rosinsky found the deck. Not badly rocked, Rosinsky beat the count and returned to bringing the fight to Pavlik, landing some quick shots and eating a hard left to the body.
It was Pavlik bringing the offense first in the third, Rosinsky answering with a sharp counter right. Pavlik struck with a booming right and left to the body at a minute in while Rosinsky played at circling the ring. Going to the ropes, Rosinsky was able to elude Pavlik’s offense but ate a clipping lead left hook at ring center. The exchanged in the last twenty seconds, both men missing more than landing with Pavlik landing just a bit more.
Both men had moments in a fairly even fourth, Pavlik suffering a cut on the corner of the left eye ruled caused by a punch in the ring (though replays suggested a clash of heads). Chasing Rosinsky in the fifth, Pavlik struck with a harsh left hook in the first minute but Rosinsky took it well and stayed working the perimeter and bouncing in with quick rights. Pavlik found another hook after taking a right near the minute mark. Moments later, Rosinsky scored with a combination to the body and finishing right to the face. Both men landed right hands in the closing seconds.
His cut still trickling blood, Pavlik had a solid sixth, chopping away with harder shots while Rosinsky mixed in quick offense in spots. Matters changed little in the seventh, a pattern of sorts having set in. Rosinsky rallied in the first two minutes of the eighth but, in the final minute, much of the action went to close quarters and Pavlik got back on track with hard body shots.
Round nine was a clinic of short power punching from Pavlik. Rosinsky was game and came up with some scoring combinations, but Pavlik’s recipe for success was simple. Land more. Land harder. With one round to go, it appeared Rosinsky would need a miracle finish to pull off an upset.
Halfway through the tenth, Rosinsky landed the sort of clean overhand right miracles are made of. Pavlik didn’t budge. Rosinsky did his best to steal the final frame with a busy effort, but he ate plenty of rugged body blows down the stretch to leave the round favoring Pavlik.
The final scores fairly reflected the fight at 97-92 and 98-91 twice. BoxingScene scored the contest 97-92 for Pavlik. Pavlik, now 3-0 since losing the Middleweight crown to Sergio Martinez in 2010, gave credit to Rosinsky for a hungry effort in the post-fight interviews and turned his attention to bigger game.
“Your (Carl) Froch’s, (Lucian) Bute’s, (Mikkel) Kessler’s, (Andre) Ward’s if he gets past (Chad) Dawson or not. All those guys. Those are the big names out there. Is it realistic or not? I don’t know. You know, these guys got fights coming up. Who know when it’s gonna’ open up. It might not be for awhile but we gotta’ make a move and if it’s not them guys it’s gotta’ be somebody close to them.”
Pavlik’s job is to keep winning until such opportunity arises. He’s holding up his end as his boxing rehabilitation continues.
The card was broadcast in the U.S. by HBO as part of its “Boxing After Dark” series, promoted by Top Rank.
Cliff Rold is a Managing Editor at BoxingScene, and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org