By Dennis "dSource" Guillermo
As dusk weaved into twilight in San Mateo, California, it also signals the end of training camp for WBO super bantamweight champion Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire, Jr. The heavy work is done, and the dawn ushers in another fight week.
Just a few hundred miles south on July 7, Donaire will risk his crown for an opportunity to unify titles against IBF champion Jeffrey "Marvelous Mongoose" Mathebula of South Africa at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California to be televised on HBO's Boxing After Dark.
As expected, the Ring Magazines' #4 ranked best pound-for-pound fighter in the world Donaire is heavily favored to hurdle Mathebula by the savviest of boxing observers. But Mathebula is far from the dead underdog he is being portrayed in most boxing betting lines that have pegged Donaire as high as a 14-1 favorite to win.
Mathebula stands 5'10", at least four inches taller than Donaire, and a wingspan proportionate to Kevin Durant. Translation: He's tall and has a significant reach advantage. In addition, the former 2000 Athens Olympian knows how to box and utilize his advantages.
Donaire is more used to fighting opponents shorter than him, which is why he has stepped up his camp for this fight and employed much taller sparring partners. And I mean tall. One of the guys I caught Donaire sparring with looked more like a middleweight and was easily the biggest guy I've seen him trade blows with to date. They weren't taking it easy on Donaire either. Donaire took some heavy shots in several rounds of furious sparring sessions, but shook it off well.
"This is the hardest I've trained. Mathebula is a tough opponent, and I've rededicated myself in camp. You'll see a different Filipino Flash this time around," Donaire told me.
Donaire is very much conscious of the state his sport is currently in, which is why he wants to exceed even the loftiest of expectations, and his working hard to achieve them.
"This is going to be the first fight that I really, truly worked hard. Usually I'd go 2 or 3 times a week, this time I'm there every day. I'm taking this fight serious and see how I feel and hopefully I carry it on for the remainder of my career," Donaire said, obviously flirting with the idea of moving up in weight and challenging bigger names north of his division like Orlando Salido, Yuriorkis Gamboa, and Juan Manuel Lopez.
Just how far does he envision himself moving up to? "However far I can reach; as far as I can reach. I want to push my body further, and beyond what I can do and see how it is," Donaire stated, but remained guarded in his optimism. "I can't say I can go 130 or 135 or 140. I can't say that. This might be my last weight, or 126 could be, or 130 could be, or I can go beyond that. One thing is I want to be able to present myself in the best possible weight as see if I can conquer those weights," he added.
So in actuality, taking on Mathebula is but another step in the direction Donaire has set for himself. Sooner or later, he will have to face bigger guys anyway if he truly wishes to push his limitations and test his capabilities similar to how Manny Pacquiao climbed the weight classes en route to becoming one of the best boxers of his era.
Can he answer the call and dominate a taller opponent the way his did against shorter ones? Most importantly, can he exceed the taller expectations cast on him as one of the most skilled and respected practitioners of the sweet science today? Superstars do. And if Donaire wants to truly be considered as such, he should too.