NONITO DONAIRE takes the first major step in his determined bid to unify the super-bantamweight division.
The “Filipino Flash” squares off with unheralded South African Jeffrey Mathebula in a title unification bout Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson City, California (Sunday, Manila time).
Donaire, 28, holds the World Boxing Organization version of the 122-lbs class, and vows to seize the International Boxing Federation (IBF) title belt owned by Mathebula by the time their 12-round match is over.
On the eve of the fight card that also featured former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, Donaire is an overwhelming 4-1 favorite to get past the 33-year-old Mathebula.
"The motivation is in my heart to work toward my goals and my dreams," said Donaire (28-1, 14 KOs), now based in San Leandro, California. “To be a unified champion, then challenge anyone out there and make it undisputed is a dream, and hopefully I can make it happen.”
But standing in Donaire’s way is the 5-foot-10 IBF champion from the Zulu tribe of Africa, who has a record of 26-3-2, with 14 KOs, and confident enough of pulling a major upset the way Timothy Bradley did against another Filipino in Manny Pacquiao just a month ago.
“I am bigger and stronger than Donaire at this weight. I came to the U.S. to win,” said Mathebula, who is fighting outside of South Africa for just the second time in his 11 year pro career.
Both fighters are defending the respective titles they won earlier this year via similar split decisions, Donaire against Puerto Rican Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. and Mathebula at the expense of countryman Takalani Ndlovu.
But the spotlight definitely falls on Donaire, one of the biggest stars in a division teeming with talents like Mexicans Jorge Arce and Abner Mares, unbeaten Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux, and Japanese Toshiaki Nishioka, who will be at ringside to watch the fight.
“Those who follow boxing know that the 122-pound division is chock-full of superstars,” said Top Rank promoter Arum. “We have a long list of guys who will be making tremendous fights. HBO has recognized this and will concentrate on bringing to the public the best of 122 pounds in a series of bouts.”
Donaire’s desire to unify all the 122-lbs. belt doesn’t exactly mean he’s already looking past Mathebula, whom he admitted is the biggest fighter, size-wise, he will be facing in the ring.
“We have looked at ways he is going to fight. He is going to use his range and use his height. He is going to go out there and throw combinations. But we are in tremendous shape and ready for anything -- that's why we are very confident. No matter what he brings to the table, we are ready for it,” said the three-time world champion.
Pat Russell is the third man on the ring, while the three judges scoring the fight are Jonathan Davis, Steve Morrow, and Deon Duarte.